It wasn’t one of my finer moments. The conversation started off just like hundreds of others that I’ve had. But by the time that it was over, I realized that I was more like a Pharisee than I cared to admit.
The man told me that he was interested in visiting the church where I am a pastor. I told him the times and that we’d be glad to have him. And then he started telling me about his church and the reason why he wasn’t happy there.
He wanted to find a new church because too many blacks were coming to his church and he didn’t like being around them.
My immediate response was, “Well, if that’s how you feel, I don’t won’t you at our church.” I didn’t say that out loud, of course. Just to myself. When our conversation ended I kept thinking about what the man said. And then I thought about how I responded in my heart.
If I don’t want this man coming to my church, who do I want coming?
What the man said was wrong. His words obviously came from a heart that was not loving God and neighbor like the Bible commands us to. To put it plainly, he was a sinner. But isn’t that exactly the kind of person we should want coming to our churches.
Churches talk a lot about reaching out to society’s outcasts. In reality, I’m afraid that we’re just interested in reaching out to society’s acceptable outcasts. Churches brag about reaching out to homosexuals, prostitutes and drunks. But let’s be honest. In our culture, those lifestyles are fairly accepted.
Thankfully, blatant racism is less accepted than it once was in many parts of the country. But that doesn’t mean that the sinners behind the racist comments should not be accepted in our churches.
When I was a kid, I heard a preacher say that churches should move the altars out in the parking lot so that people could get their act together before coming into the church. I’ve spent my entire ministry ridiculing that argument. It wasn’t until quite some time after my conversation with the racist that I realized that I was becoming the preacher I had been criticizing. I wanted the racist who was interested in coming to my church to get his act together first. I wanted altars in the parking lot.
Jesus doesn’t call us to get ourselves together before coming to him. He comes to us. Even while we are still his enemies.
That goes for prostitutes and homosexuals.
Our churches, if we take the Bible seriously, should be open to sinners. Not so that sinners can feel comfortable and affirmed in their sin. And not so that sinners can take things over and start running the place. But rather so that sinners can become saints by the grace of God.
As Christians, we should all ask ourselves the following question.
Am I reaching out in the love and truth of Christ to social outcasts in need of the gospel because I love them or am I simply reaching out to society’s acceptable outcasts so that I can feel better about myself?