This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for August 16 2020.
“Who is church for?” It is a question I have heard discussed and debated numerous times. I have myself. I have noticed that opposing answers are frequently affirmed without clarifying what the other answer is attempting to preserve.
There is a difficulty in the wording that I think confuses the conversation, in which some clarity would help move the discussion forward. The difficulty can be seen by comparing the use of the word “for” in the following sentences:
- “Church is for Christians”.
- “Church is for non-believers”.
No one who has stopped to think about this would affirm that church is “for” both of these groups in the same way.
Clearly, when differing viewpoints collide there is a lack of clarity concerning just how this simple word “for” is being used in each sentence.
In favor of church being “for” Christians, a cursory reading of the NT letters with this question in mind should establish that the communities that were addressed were comprised of people who were committed to a Christian identity. These sought to establish and maintain Christian faith and consistent Christian living. There is no indication that these groups deliberately gathered in order to provide a context for non-Christians to join their faith.
Nevertheless, we also know that inviting non-Christians to church gatherings is often the entry pathway to their joining the faith. Doubtless this has happened in many contexts since NT times, and is possibly reflected in 1Cor. 14:24-25. We would certainly want to facilitate rather than hinder this possibility.
My own position puts more weight on the former option. But the impulse to outreach and inclusion that is a hallmark of evangelical Christian piety is a healthy one that must be given expression while preserving the primary functions of Christian gatherings.
I once saw a description of church that called it a community that had ‘exclusive boundaries with open doors’. I thought that was helpful.
Perhaps our church would do well to clarify how exactly it is that LRBC is ‘for’ Christians, and the different ways it is also ‘for’ non-Christians. Having done that, we can consider how best to ensure that our gatherings fulfil both sets of purposes.