welcome1

I remember seeing a banner outside a church that said, "The Welcoming Place," or words to that effect. I was disappointed when I found out that that church's denomination owned the phrase and logo.

I liked the concept. That phrase and the hymn, "All Are Welcome in This Place" have become code that signals approval of all people, but especially the LGBTQ folks. I am taken back to some words of Paul in Romans, "Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you (Rom 15:7 ESV)." The NIV has it more to the point: "Accept one another as Christ has accepted you." Christian congregations that publicly profess to be welcoming places therefore have a standard by which to measure their welcoming endeavors: "as Christ has welcomed you." Using these words as a measuring stick, we may part company with those who also claim to be places where all are welcome.

Everyone should find a welcome in our congregations. We even have a hymn that proclaims, "Jesus sinners doth receive." If He will receive them, is there any possible reason that we should disagree with His welcome? In the so-called "Parable of the Prodigal Son," the elder son was not too excited about welcoming his brother back into the fold, but his father gently reprimanded him for his behavior. Jesus' welcoming attitude toward the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other "low-lifes" was well-known and went unappreciated by those who failed to understand their own condition before God.

It might be helpful to describe those who would not be welcome in our churches. St John writes, "If anyone comes to you and does not have this teaching ("Jesus Christ has come in the flesh"), do not take him into your house or welcome him. (3 John 9-10)." Paul warns the Thessalonians to keep away from those who live in idleness and do not live according to the traditions they received from him (2 Thess. 3:6). He also wrote to the Corinthians, "you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat (1 Cor 5:11)."

Some might see a disconnect between Jesus and Paul. "How could Paul forbid association with the very types with whom Jesus himself associated?" The difference is the person's standing. Someone who claims membership in the church ("calls himself a brother") should no longer behave as one who is outside the fellowship. Those who have been received into the fellowship ("washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God") are called to give up the old lifestyle for the new. St Peter likens someone who returns to their former way of life after receiving Jesus Christ as a dog who "returns to its vomit" and a washed sow that "goes back to her wallowing in the mud."

So, indeed, let's welcome all to our houses of worship to hear the Good News of Jesus. He welcomes them to live a life of repentant faith in His grace that washes away sin. He welcomes them to receive the power to turn from their former sinful lives. But if they deliberately continue to live contrary to what the Word teaches, or if they return to their former life, the welcome mat is no longer present. Lest they get the idea that their old way of life has God's approval, or lest they draw weaker Christians into their sin.