“But you have received the Holy Spirit and He lives within you, so you do not need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know and what He teaches is true, it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Jesus Christ.” 1 John 2:27
When I was visiting Spain last year, I had coffee with a local pastor who ironically hails from Guatemala. Somehow, the conversation turned to homosexuality and the church. It seems he had four young men who wanted to join his evangelical Pentecostal church, but confided in him that they are gay. The pastor seemed anxious to discuss the topic, so I ordered a second cup of coffee.
This pastor is a youthful and enthusiastic preacher and leads the kind of church many young Christians would be attracted to. But when asked why they wanted to join the church, the four men in question said, “We want to get closer to God.” That kind of makes it impossible to turn them away, doesn’t it? I can’t imagine Jesus would be too pleased if we were to put a barrier between Him and any of His children.
We are charged with spreading the Word to everybody. My NJ church has at least one openly gay member. He and the pastor are friendly, but our pastor hasn’t preached any differently since this man joined the congregation. The message doesn’t change based on who is filling the pews. I advised the Spanish pastor, “Be faithful to what you know is true; to what you believe is true; and to what God commands us to do.”
Some of you may not know that I am divorced. For many years after my divorce, I had it in my mind that I could never remarry as long as my first wife was alive. I read, re-reread and re-re-read the Bible over the years and the notion of remarriage just got shunted to the recesses of my mind. Then my Guatemala miracles started happening. It’s a long story of how I got to where I am today, but ultimately, I received a very intimate and joyous revelation from God that I am supposed to be married to Yesenia.
Occasionally, this leads to some awkward moments. Listening to a pastor preaching against divorce and how remarried couples are living in adultery makes me a little uncomfortable. The reason used to be that I felt guilty, but now it is because I want to jump up and share everything I have been enlightened about through the Holy Spirit. I can imagine how a homosexual, who is possibly struggling with the Biblical aspects of his lifestyle, feels when a preacher says that sexual deviance means he cannot share in the Kingdom. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible that some homosexuals have received a message from God that they are okay with Him, too.
My point today is not whether homosexuality or remarriage after divorce is sin. What I am trying to discuss is how do we deal with people- ANY people- who want to join us in following Christ, but do not meet our definition of a good Christian.
Personally, I feel we are treading dangerous ground when we start deciding who can or cannot attend our churches. My own total life-makeover started when I stepped into a new church. If we start excluding people, I worry that we are impeding the chance for someone to be saved. Many of us cannot fathom that homosexuality is anything less than a great sin, an abomination to Christ; but why are we not also remembering that Jesus came to walk among the sinners and call us to salvation? Jesus liked to share meals with tax collectors and had conversations with prostitutes and all sorts of sinners. He did not exclude anybody. Who are we to deny the Word to anyone now?
And as many times as I’ve read the Bible, I still can’t find the part where Jesus says to remember Him by sharing His body and sharing his blood with everybody except the divorced people. So the sexually immoral folks, along with the idolaters, the greedy, the drunkards, the revilers, and swindlers are welcome to the table; but not divorcees or homosexuals? Really?
I am not condoning or blessing any of these lifestyles. And I am not asking you to do so either. Indeed, “you must remain faithful to what you were taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the son and with the father. And in this fellowship, we enjoy the eternal life He promised us.” (1 John 2:24-25). We can believe these lifestyles are unacceptable, but we must also remember the person in the lifestyle is our brother or sister. As a zealous missionary friend of mine once said, “Every person here has a soul in peril and just maybe we’re the guys to save ‘em!”
We know that we are all sinners. It is not important whether we killed someone and did nothing else wrong; or whether we remarried after a divorce; or whether we are practicing homosexuality and do nothing else wrong; or whether we have broken every single commandment several times over; we are equally sinners (James 2:10). We are all on a level playing field when it comes to seeking forgiveness and entry into the Kingdom. This is what the Bible tells us.
When a pastor or a church decides who can and cannot enter or join in part of a service, they have gone past making a Christian judgment; they have also invoked a sentence or a penalty. This is the realm of no one but Jesus Christ. I choose to believe we need to welcome everyone in and let them hear us proclaim what Jesus taught us; let them listen to our words and songs of praise; let them participate like part of our Christian family; let them feel the joy of being in the Lord’s presence. Then we can let Jesus discern whose hearts are softening enough to change and be saved… along with our own.
Love each other. Keep the faith. Spread the Faith…to everybody.
Short of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, I found very few New Testament discussions of putting people out of the church. However, Paul goes there a couple of times. For instance, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13: “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES!”
So…… am I wrong on all of this? What is Paul saying? Can we really have a sinner-free church? Or is it something else? Share your thoughts!