Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is church too "clean?"

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God - the LORD, the God of his fathers - even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary." And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. -2 Chronicles 30:18-20

I read this passage during my daily Bible reading today (Thank you, Richie!), and this verse got me to thinking. It is story of the celebration of the Passover by Hezekiah. In fact, it was the first mass celebration of the Passover in quite some time. What is interesting to note is that Hezekiah had sent out couriers to the the whole nation of Israel, including the northern kingdom, inviting them to come celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. These Israelites from the northern kingdom were the ceremonially unclean referenced in the above passage. Hezekiah does not stop them from participating until they are clean, because there hearts were seeking after God, but rather prays that the LORD will accept them as is, and the LORD hears Hezekiah's prayer.

What got me thinking was the similarities between this story and several passages in the New Testament. The first is the parable of the wedding banquet. The father is throwing a big party for his son, who is getting married, but none of the bigwigs will come. So the father goes to the street corners and allyways and brings all the dirty, lower class people to the party, where he gives them clean robes to wear. What is relevant in this instance, is that the people were dirty when they came, but that the father (God) cleaned them up after they came. The same happens with Hezekiah. The people come unclean, but the LORD sanctifies them after they come.

This is also the debate that the apostles struggled with. Must the Gentiles become Jews (or "cleaned up") before they could become Christians? God's answer, as given through the story of Peter and Cornelious, is NO! It is Christ's blood that washes us clean after we come to the cross. Do we, as the church, still struggle with this today? Do we expect people to clean up their act somewhat before they enter our doors? Do we simply encourage all who wish to seek God and worship him to come on in, as Hezekiah did? Do we remember that it is Christ who sanctifies, not obedience to the Law or rules? I believe a good example of this is with a homosexual. The point is not to get him to leave his homosexuality, but to bring him to salvation. God will then clean him up (or not, which raises the question of how we deal with those who don't seem to be leaving their sin as quickly as we feel they should). In other words, we are not to become "clean" in order to seek God; we are to seek God, welcome all others who do, and leave the cleaning up to God.


Terry said...

I'm glad Tim brought up homosexuality as the example because this is something that has caused evangelicals to get a bad reputation.

I can categorically state that the elders of CBC would welcome someone who struggles with and/or participates in homosexuality to CBC if they approached it as those who were ceremonially unclean but with the right heart. By that I mean a recognition that homosexuality and acting on that urge is sin -- just like adultery or living together befor marriage (just to keep this in the realm of sexuality). We would welcome any one into our service who was seeking to overcome their sin and restore their relationship with God.

The issue that many of us have is that many activists don't come with a heart attitude recognizing their sinfullness but want us to accept their lifestyle as pure and simply another way to express sexuality. This is in direct contradiction to scripture. Same it an adulterer or polygamist came into the fellowship and stated that their lifestyle was pure and not sinful. We would have the same reaction -- when you are remorseful of your sin and wish to change direction we welcome you as fellow strugglers with the sin nature. If you choose to ignore that sin then we need to help you meet Christ and like Tim says let the Spirit convict.

I believe that whatever sin it is that holds you down you want others to accept as normal behavior is wrong and if you are a believer it is up to the leadership to look at church discipline for unrepentance.

Chad said...

I think we should "welcome" anyone into our church. We can be loving to someone while at the same time pointing out that sin in their lives needs to be addressed. How is someone supposed to learn?
I don't think we can judge someone immediately upon meeting them whether or not they are interested in changing their life style. I know that I've had sins in my own life that I wasn't ready to get rid of, but God worked in my heart over time to make me repentant and want to change. Someone who struggled with homosexuality should be kept out of places of any kind of leadership or service (from group leaders, to door greaters), but they should always be welcomed and taught the scriptures. I think after a time, then we can be discerning about them whether or not we've seen God work in their life for change to see if they were fit to be part of the church body. Then we can lovingly say that they need to address that sin in their lives before we would continue to have them participate in church. This would demonstrate that we actually cared about the person and want the best for them.

So I'm glad CBC would welcome someone who had a right heart but maybe still struggles. But I would say that people search for God, and come to church to find him. They might not know him for a while, but would we kick them out the doors before they find him?

But if you mean by "welcome" someone to the church as in keeping them from becoming members, then I totally agree. I would then say that any kind of church leadership or service needs to be withheld to members only. I'm actually a little surprised people let me lead worship without having me become a member. I have every intention of doing so, and I'm sure you've used discernment to know that I am follower of Christ by my lifestyle, but I think someone should have asked me to do so beforehand.

Terry said...

good comments from Chad and another opportunity to clarify my statement. We all struggle with sin and we would not turn away someone seeking God but still not understanding that certain practices in their lives are sin according to scripture. Remember the law was given to show us where we fall short of God's holiness. So what I'm really talking about is a seeking heart and willing to learn what scripture says over the long run.

On membership -- our practice here at CBC is a recognition that if you are a believer you are a member of the body of Christ. And just as we practice "open communion" we allow believers who wish to serve that ability to serve. Membership at CBC involves agreeing with the CBC constitution and statement of faith. There are regular attenders who have some slight disagreements with our statement of faith that prevent them from making the membership committment but they are still committed to CBC in terms of attendence, service and giving. Basically the only difference between being a member of CBC and not is the ability to hold office and vote. I think this is another destinctive of CBC that you might not find elsewhere in a baptistic fellowship.

Speaking of baptist - we are more a community or bible church than a traditional baptist church because of the evolution of the fellowship over time.

So if you are a believer in Christ you are free to serve in this fellowship with few restrictions.

Tim said...

Welcoming an individual does not mean welcoming the sin. Indeed, in the story of Hezekiah, he welcomed them first, but then prayed that God would remove their sin. He was not accepting their sin as ok. But he wanted all men to feel free to seek God. In the same way, I don't believe that the church should accept the sin to welcome the sinner. We must always allow the individual to participate in church and to seek God (unless, say in the case of a homosexual, he was flaunting his lifestyle in the church, at which point he should be removed from the congregation),but this does not imply that we must allow him to become a member, teach, lead, etc., etc.

I do think, however, that welcoming is not always a matter of rules, but also of attitude. How would we react to a dirty, smelly homeless guy walking into the service and bebopping around the gym during worship? I know I would be a little put off. Or again, if a "sinner" came in, I would most likely have feelings of pride and self-righteousness, "oh, I am better than him. He needs to clean up his act." I believe this Club attitude is part of what led to Israel's downfall. They had been given the Word of God, had direct contact with Him, and had been given the means to know Him. This should have filled them with the joy to tell the world. But they did not. They sat in their little corner of the world, and looked down their noses at the gentiles. It is this attitude that I believe can also trip up the church. We have mental picture of what a Christian, or fellow church-goer should look like, when the real question is whether he or she is seeking God. Besides, we cannot help someone out of their sin until they seek God, but they are not likely to seek God if we insist they meet an arbitrary standard of goodness before they come through the church doors. After all, we all have sin in our lives. As John Newton says in the movie "Amazing Grace," "I am a great sinner, but He is a great savior!" Amen!

Chad said...

Bebopping, haha.
I have this mental image of a homeless guy doing the disco in circles around the congregation. Too funny =p

Terry said...

could start a male creative movement team ;-)