It is easy to forget the basics. Too easy. Like with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” As Stuart Chase recently reminded us in his excellent article, The Greatest Verse, this verse contains the greatest truths! Though this verse is deeply profound, it is nevertheless simple enough that a child can memorise and believe it.
Unfortunately, sometimes as we grow older in the faith, our deepening grasp of theology (which in itself is a good thing) can morph into a bad thing—bad in the sense that the truth of God can become a merely intellectual pursuit. And worse, we might use truth as a weapon to bludgeon rather than to bless. The result is that church gatherings can take on a disposition that repels, rather than invites, all who will come. In other words, we can lose our sense of wonder in the gospel to the point where verses like John 3:16 are dissected but not demonstrated.
I don’t want BBC to be like this. And I am sure that you don’t either. Rather, increasingly, we want our gatherings to be welcoming to those who feel their sin, even welcoming to those who do not sense their sin yet who need to.
This morning I happened upon a church website with this wonderful invitation—an invitation that helpfully reminded me that the gathered church is to be, in a very important and defined sense, welcoming to all who are willing to come.
To all who are spiritually weary and seek rest;
To all who mourn and long for comfort;
To all who struggle and desire victory;
To all sin and need a Saviour;
To all who hunger and thirst after righteousness;
And to all who will come.
This church opens wide her doors and offers welcome
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Kenwood Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky USA)
This sums up so well the gospel invitation. It therefore sums up the welcoming disposition that our church should have.
The church gathered should have the aroma of Christ-centred hope, a gospel-driven hope that is so fragrant that whoever comes, with whatever baggage, will be powerfully confronted with the love of God. This is a worthy goal; it is also a very challenging one. For you see, we too often forget where we came from. We too often suffer from a form of spiritual amnesia. We forget that we were once darkness before God made us light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8).
We need to reflect upon the reality that our society is filled with sin-shattered people. It is filled with those who are continually missing the mark of God’s glory, evidenced by their confused worldviews and lifestyles. Many feel the weight of their sin; they are spiritually weary and even despondently depressed because of sin-fuelled rebellious living. They need the gospel. They need to come to where that gospel has gathered former sinners who, though still struggling against sin, are yet owned by God as saints.
The doors of our church are open to all who will come. We need to maintain this welcoming ethos. Of course, this does not mean that we affirm sin. We should not confuse welcoming sinners with affirming that which God call’s evil. If we love God and if we love people, we will not confuse the two. But with Christ-caused compassion, both our hearts and our hall should be so open that we will earn that wonderful reputation of being the “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). That is an accusation that we should long for!
Too often, churches can morph into an enclave of self-righteous prigs (a self-righteously moralistic person who behaves as if superior to others) who unhelpfully boast in their commitment to truth. Now, being a lover of truth is indeed a characteristic of the Christian. But why do we love the truth and what do we do with the truth? Those are inseparable considerations when it comes to our professed love for God’s gospel truth.
If we truly love God’s truth, we love what it does. And fundamentally what it does is to set us free (John 8:32). Gospel truth, which we embrace by the Spirit of God, sets us free from the just penalty of our sins. It also sets us free from the power of sin and, one day, it will forever set us free from the pleasures and the presence of sin. The gospel truth sets us free from being enslaved to self, sin and Satan as it brings us to an unbreakable reconciled relationship with God. And those who have been set free long to see others set free.
This existential and experiential freedom is to be celebrated as we gather to sing God’s praises together. It is to be valued as we pray and learn together. And to the degree that we do so, those who come to our gatherings just might come to this same experience of freedom from sin that we celebrate together (see 1 Corinthians 14:23–25).
I dare say that if each member of BBC remembered the spiritual weariness from which Jesus Christ relieved us, if each of us was sufficiently humbled by our ongoing struggles with sin, if each of us recalled our own straying from the chief and good and great Shepherd, we would more heartily, more humbly, and more happily concur: “This church opens wide her doors and offers welcome in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; to all who will come.”