Category Archives: injustice

Real Questions, Thoughtful Answers, Part 4: The Church as a Welcoming and Holy Community

A friend asked recently, “How does the church love everyone and maintain the holy standards of Jesus for believers in the church? We say, “Welcome!” and sincerely desire that everyone feel the warmth of Christ’s love through us. At the same time, when we call people to believe the gospel and follow Christ wholeheartedly, there are moral absolutes that many unbelievers think make us intolerant. What is a way forward?”

A great question, and even the most thoughtful answer will still upset some! We live in a world where meaning is malleable and morality is relative.  We live with competing world views and many looking at Christianity with hostility or indifference, seeing it in the rearview mirror of history.

It is essential that we define and integrate two key concepts so that we are loyal to the timeless faith once entrusted to the saints (I Corinthians 15:1-6; Jude 3) and timely in our presentation of truth with love, knowing that it is God’s will that the church reflect God’s glory, with women and men from all backgrounds, classes, cultures, and ethnicities (Galatians 3:28-4:7; Ephesians 2:11-21; 3:3-10; Revelation 7:9).

Hospitality to All

The first concept is the biblical call to hospitality: we welcome all seekers from any and every background to experience the love of Christ in community and discover, in the words of Augustine, “You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Both Old and New Testaments call upon God’s people to love and serve the “outsiders” in their midst. Moses’ marriage, the stories of Naaman the Syrian healed by the Prophet Elijah and Ruth the Moabite convert, and the Book of Jonah were provocative reminders to God’s elect that they were chosen as a light to all nations (Isaiah 42-43, 49; 60-61). F.F. Bruce said it well a generation ago: God did not choose Israel to be an exclusive community, but that through them all nations would be blessed. The journeys of Jesus and the Apostles in Luke-Acts reinforce this embracing of all people. Luke 4, 7 and 19 find Jesus commending the faith of outsiders, welcoming the outcast, and challenging his fellow Jews to learn from them. The progress of mission in Acts moves from a Jewish prayer meeting to a universal faith. For almost 2000 years the church has failed deeply and at times succeeded miraculously in experiencing the new sociology where former enemies are friends and diverse classes and cultures find community in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughtful believers affirm the wonder of the beautiful community the Holy Spirit creates when all are welcome and we dedicate ourselves to removing all human barriers to inclusion and empowerment (Ephesians 2:11-21; 3:3-10). Even more, we aim that diversity is not symbolic but substantive, not window dressing to assuage majority guilt, but in the water of the community as faith and baptism unite believers.

Practically, this means we welcome spiritual seekers and are unafraid to answer tough questions. We see every person we encounter as both beautiful and broken: a divine image-bearer and in need of the saving grace of Christ (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 8; Romans 3:21-31). We aspire to see all gospel churches filled with all kinds of people experiencing reconciliation, redemption, and restoration through the gospel and being included in the community (II Corinthians 5:11-6:2).

The call to follow

The second concept is a companion to the first: following Jesus requires the believer to die to their sovereignty – letting go of self-will, sinful actions and attitudes – and live under God’s loving and holy rule as a new creation in Christ, a member of the Body of Christ, and one liberated from darkness and called in to the light of faith and truth (II Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 1:15-23; Ephesians 4:1-12; 22-24). Put simply, being a Christ-follower includes obedience to God’s Word and a love for the ways of God – principles and practices that are much different that the unbelieving world.

We confess that too often the church has imposed religious traditions that are not rooted in the grace and truth of the Scriptures. With humility, we must repent of sometimes either being more religious than Jesus or making excuses for our proclivities toward idolatry, immorality, and injustice (Isaiah 44; Amos 2, 4: I John 5).

With love and grace, the church does promote the clear moral absolutes of Scripture. The Bible is replete with even the heroes of faith failing miserably. This does not however, change the divine standard or allow for excuses. When we fail, we are called to repent and allow the community to restore us (Galatians 6). If someone confesses Christ as Lord, they are incorporated into the Body of Christ and called to accountability in the local church (I Corinthians). Old beliefs and habits, attitudes and actions now yield to King Jesus, who calls us to a much better way – the way of humility and joy (Mark 10:45). 

Women and men who come to our churches carry burdens and scars, histories of hurt, the strongholds of false ideologies and religions, as well as amazing potential as those for whom Christ died. We welcome all – and we call ALL to repentance and renewal, unselfish love and holiness born of gratitude for God’s grace (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Ephesians 4:1-6). Here are some examples of what changes when Jesus is Lord:

  • Gospel grace means sexual ethics are now celibacy for singles and fidelity in biblical marriages…and the community will walk with people from all arenas of gender identity as they learn conformity to Christ (not fallen subcultural norms).
  • Business ethics change completely as all work is now for God’s glory and the good of others.
  • Relationships of all kinds change for the better as unselfish love and wisdom guide deeds and words instead of selfish advancement.
  • Political service is now for the common good, not personal power.
  • The creative arts are unleashed, exposing our deep wounds and offering hope and healing.

Compassion without compromise and patient pilgrimage are the order of the day, in a world where inversion and perversion are celebrated (Romans 1:18-32). The early church faced similar challenges and rose to the occasion well. The Acts 15 council united Jew and Gentile around a common faith and morality. Gentiles did not need to become Jews to be included in the community and Jews did not need to reject their heritage. All followers of Christ were expected to say no to any other gods, reject sexual immorality, and live at peace with each other (I Corinthians 8-10).

Historians say that the reason Christianity grew in influence in the Roman Empire was the love and morality of the believers. Julian the Apostate, a pagan Emperor in the 360s AD, lamented that he could not rally people around the old Roman gods and virtues the way Christians could mobilize their communities for good. A century earlier, Roman governors in a variety of provinces asked that they be allowed to delay persecution of Christians because the Christians were helping serve the victims of the plague. The incarnational apologetic of a changed life and virtues born of gratitude are powerful demonstrations to God’s grace.

In sum, we are called to joyful hospitality, opening our communities to people of every background. We are also called to articulate clearly the holy love expected of followers of Jesus and aspire to the obedience of faith. We will be met with opposition, declared intolerant, and often marginalized for our “backward views.” In the words of N.T. Wright, we must remind ourselves and the world around us that the ethics of Scripture are the “radical” ones and represent a departure from the norms of pagan (and 21st C. neo-pagan) culture.

May we discern well how to welcome all around us and embrace the cross in our discipleship.

A Prayer of Consecration

As we lament and repent, we are also called to a new hope, a new obedience rooted in love and the fear of the Lord. Here is a prayer for us to align ourselves with God’s reign. In the coming weeks I will be offering serious critiques of issues and policies from the new administration, as well as insights on geopolitical hot spots around the world. All of this must be rooted in prayer.

Holy and Loving Lord,

We offer these words of consecration with humility, trusting only in your mercy. We plead that you will empower us to put off all that enslaves and ensnares us, and put on a new heart, mind, and will that honor you and serve others well. Help us, O God:

  • To put off all idolatry. Forgive us for crafting a deity to our own liking, either reducing you to a feeling or capitulating to fatalism. We put on awe and reverence and submit to you on your terms. We put off using our perceptions of your guidance as an excuse for manipulation of power. We put boldness and courage that aims to serve. We put off the idols of ideology, cherry-picking Bible verses to suit our opinions and refusing to listen to the voices of others who also cry out to you. We put on engagement in the public square with prophetic distance, allowing us to confirm and critique from a pure heart. We put off the idolatry of self-fulfillment, choosing to follow in the pathway of Jesus, who, secure in his identity, became a servant, our sacrifice for sin, and now as the Risen Lord, a preview of our future.
  • To put off all immorality. Forgive us for excusing the sins of those we like and magnifying the mistakes of those we hate. Forgive us for replacing intimacy with you with unholy substitutes objectifying others and escaping from reality. We put on agape love, seeing everyone we meet as sister or brother made in your image. We put on delight in prayer, learning to listen to you as well as pour out our hearts. We put off the immorality of greed and lust for power and put on the virtues of diligence, generosity, and stewardship of your gifts and opportunities.
  • To put off all injustice. Forgive us for blindness to systems that keep too many from access, equity, and opportunity. Help us put on advocacy and actions so all can flourish. Forgive us for ceremonial gestures without substance and hospitality that is hollow, expecting others to conform to our expectations. We put on listening ears, and an open table where you are present. We put off avoiding uncomfortable contemporary and historical issues and our tendencies to choose narratives that conform to our preferences. We put on a fearless pursuit of the truth, knowing you are at work in and through all circumstances.

Gracious Lord, empower our repentance and resolve. Keep our hearts tender and our minds discerning.  We put off our self-deception that displaces your eternal principles with our human preferences. We put off naïve nationalism and visceral hatred of our country and put on humility for our deep flaws and hopefulness that our highest values may be realized. Have mercy on our land, and every land. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

A Prayer of Lamentation: January 7, 2020

Holy Lord, we weep today. Forgive our corruption in high places and the hidden places of our hearts. Forgive our anger that destroys pure affection and sullies our actions. Forgive our winking at evil, wherever it is found. Forgive our self-righteous selectivity concerning what is good, forgetting that your ways are eternal. Forgive our idolatry as we cozy up to power, regardless of party. Forgive our immorality as we defy your Word concerning the marginal and vulnerable, from conception to coronation, from every culture and country. Forgive our injustice as we have failed too often to make a way for all to flourish.

Lord, your kingdom is established through love and humility, peacemaking and reconciliation, hospitality and holiness. Too often we have taken your place as the arbiters of others’ souls and failed to let your Spirit do surgery in us and in the systems we live in.

We weep for the unprotected unborn, the forgotten aged, and the sisters and brothers deprived of access and equity. We weep for those ensnared in ideologies antithetical to true freedom. We weep over the passivity of so many while shrill voices dominate public discourse. Forgive us, merciful Lord.

Forgive our fatalism and hubris, our cynicism and hedonism. Our happiness is not your first concern, but a consequence of a life lived for your glory and the good of others. Forgive the privileged for abusing their opportunities to serve.

Lord, you raise up and bring down nations and empires, and our beautiful and broken land is not exempt from your scrutinizing sovereignty. Have mercy on our land. We do not deserve your mercies, but please hear the unseen prayers of the humble and extend your grace, offering a season for repentance and righteousness, renewal and reform.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Amen.

A Time for Repentance and Reflection

In the wake of the events following the murder of George Floyd, Made to Flourish issues the following statement. I think it is a clear, fair, and wise expression and I hope you will pass it on.

We join a chorus of voices in the unequivocal condemnation of the brutal killing of George Floyd, which followed the recent tragic killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Of course, these are only the most recent examples among the long scourge of institutional and systemic racism and brutality against black and brown brothers and sisters who bear God’s image. We lament in the fullest biblical sense the injustice that has been perpetrated towards people of color which events like the killing of George Floyd continue to expose.

Above all, our righteous God is angered by injustice. And because the church is the visible representation of his voice and work in our world—the body of Christ—the church has a responsibility to offer prophetic critique and model a new way forward. Many churches have understood this calling, especially among our African American brothers and sisters. For many others, there is much work that needs to be done, undergirded by humble listening and sincere repentance. Corporately, we confess not only our sins of commission, in ways that the church has been complicit in racism, but also our sins of omission, as we have not loved justice and sought change that is consistent with God’s character and will.

As an organization, we exist to empower pastors and their churches to integrate faith, work, and economic wisdom, for the flourishing of their communities. Safe to say, our communities are not flourishing, and they haven’t been even long before the unrest of these past few weeks. Why? In part, we believe that the church has not been all that it is called to be in society. We say this not merely as a critique, but in humility, realizing that we have not embraced the totality of God’s mission in our world, the reconciliation of all things to himself, which entails reconciliation to one another.

While there are many ways to frame our current moment, one could say that our current crisis is a crisis of work, vocation, and economics. How will the people of God respond and live in their work environments? Will city government workers seek to build bridges in their communities? Will police chiefs and departments continue to inspect every system and incentive that leads to injustice? Will workers in unions not only protect their own but also embrace accountability? Will pastors and churches seek unity and partnerships, first among themselves, and also among the many non-profit, governmental, and for-profit companies engaging in redemptive work in our cities? Will each individual recognize and act on their responsibility to seek the common good of all in their community?

And of course, economics. Much has been written on the racial wealth disparities in our country, and how they undergird many of the challenges we face in our communities. The causes are myriad, some as old as the founding of our country. But how might the church embrace and call for expanding economic opportunity, rooting out bias in hiring and promoting, support for those looking for jobs, expanding access to social and financial capital, and calling for equal pay for equal work? In the model of sphere sovereignty, the institutional church is not always or even usually the final actor. But the scattered church, followers of Jesus deployed in every sphere of society, bring the aroma of Christ wherever they work.

We long for churches, alongside so many other important initiatives, to embrace the integration of faith, with work, and economic wisdom, for the flourishing of their communities. And we need to hear your stories of creative response and engagement. God’s Spirit is not done with his church. Through repentance and in humility, the church plays a central role in God’s redemptive plan, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

We end by praying for justice in our communities, that God’s justice would be made known in our cities where there has been rampant injustice. We pray for peace, not merely the absence of conflict, but the holistic flourishing of our communities under the reign of God. We pray for conviction in the face of our apathy and the seeming entropy of our concern. And we pray for hope, among what seems like a hopeless situation. Our God is more than able.

“And now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13