Who can worship at your church? Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it? The church should be a place where anyone can come and feel at home. I agree. Churches should be open to all, for indeed we are all sinners in need of God’s grace! But, we all know churches where certain individuals or groups would not be welcome. Westboro Baptist Church anyone?
What about your church? Is anyone and everyone truly welcome to attend your church’s worship services on Saturday night or Sunday morning? Do you throw open the doors to any “guests” who might choose to stop by your church on any given Sunday? Don’t misunderstand. I’m talking about someone simply attending your church’s worship service, not joining the church through formal membership. That’s a post for another day.
Before you answer those questions, think about the diverse multitude of people who could potentially walk through the doors of your church this Lord’s Day. What about the person who is of a different race or ethnicity than the majority of your church folk? The man who can speaks English as a second language? The two women who tell you they’re new to the community and introduce themselves as a “couple?” What about the young man and young woman who start attending your Saturday night worship service and casually let it be known that they are living together without benefit of marriage? Or the tattooed, ear-ring wearing, ex-con who just got out of prison and comes to your Sunday morning “traditional” service and sits right next to one of your blue-haired “saints?”
Every Sunday in America, churches welcome these types of diverse guests into their houses of worship. Sometimes we know the background of the guests. More often than not, we are blissfully unaware of the dirty laundry that they have stuffed into the bags they bring with them. Sometimes, we forget that we have re-packed our own bags with the filthy clothes of sin that we once wore.
However, too often, when we discover what’s in a person’s bag, we become less welcoming that we were at first. Periodically, I’ll have a church member ask me if I would “allow” a homosexual couple to attend worship. Without blinking an eye, I tell them, “Absolutely!” In fact, I’m sure that we have had gay individuals or couples who have worshiped with us in the past, are worshipping with us currently, or who may worship with us in the future. I say, “Come and be our guest.”
That goes for the out-of-wedlock pregnant teen who doesn’t think she has any hope. Or for the newly divorced father of two who is facing one crisis after another. And the young couple who have just moved into together to test the waters before they get married.
When you are our guest at church, that means that you can come, just as you are, and you will be welcomed and loved by those within the church. When you’re our guest, what that does not mean is that we affirm you just as you are. Our guests will hear that God loves them so much that He was willing to send His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to so that they might not stay as they are, but become a new creation in Him. We will share with our guests the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, that He came to save sinners and to take away their filthy rags of sin and to clothe them in His righteous garments as they turn to Him in repentance and faith.
Sunday is coming. You should expect that guests will attend your worship service this week, perhaps for their first (and maybe last) visit to your church. And they’ll come with bags packed full of their dirty laundry of sin.
It reminds me of when I came home during breaks from college. I brought home suitcases full of dirty clothes, but my mom always welcomed me with open arms. When I left home for a new semester of college, my suitcase was full, but my clothes were clean. Will your church be a home that welcomes sinners who bring their bags packed with dirty clothes? And, will you help them receive new garments of righteousness that Christ offers? Who can worship at your church?