“You are invalidating and rejecting people with your narrow-minded intolerance.” “The Bible is full of ideas that are outdated.” “You preach about loving everyone, but where is your call for justice?” “Yes, abortion is bad, but it is not the only issue.” “You keep wrapping the cross in the American flag.”
Biblical Christians and their communities are attacked daily with the above accusations, and much more. On one hand, rejection and even persecution are expected for Christians. On the other hand, Jesus said we were blessed when persecuted for righteousness’ sake, not our self-righteousness or religiosity. Recent events have uncovered the church’s deep need to reckon with and repent of many historical and contemporary hypocrisies and injustices. No one and no institution are immune to the trappings of false idols and ideologies, the lure of power, and the temptations of narcissism and pleasure-seeking.
From a posture of humility and fidelity to the gospel, what is a way forward for Christian witness and the Church in our era of accusation, cancellation, and rebellion?
Mining the riches of Scripture and history, there is an “ancient-future” (thank you, to the late Robert Webber and Pastor Dan Kimball for this term) posture that can transform the life of church, improve the credibility of her witness, and open doors to spiritual seekers. The criticisms above are sometimes the words of rebellious enemies of the gospel. More often, they reflect the heart-cries and confusion of those that desire to know Jesus and be in community, but cannot reconcile the chasm between declaration and demonstration, preaching and practice.
The private and public posture for the path forward is uniting holiness with hospitality. There is no need for doctrinal and moral compromise and the doors of relationship and grace are wide open for all. Sounds great in theory, but what do these terms mean in practice?
Holiness begins with reverence for the Almighty, surrender to his will, and finding our identity in Christ before any other loyalties of blood or soil. Holiness is not a “holier-than-thou” attitude – just the opposite. It is fidelity to the covenant and community through the Cross and Resurrection and a continual conversion of life away from self and sin toward service rooted in love for God and neighbor. Holiness means the ways of God are not optional, yet life is not reduced to rules. Holiness is more than particular deportment and discipline regarding sex or lifestyle choices. Holiness touches all dimensions of life. We worship the Lord God, not our idols. We are becoming whole, not living for self. We have healthy relationships, and do not see people in merely utilitarian ways. We have a sense of calling that is more than our current work, and our work is offered to God as worship. We desire all come to Christ, and that people of all faiths or none share in the common good we help create. A holy life is one of integration, where joy and justice, generosity and liberty, truth and toleration, and open-handed leaning and service are brought together.
With holiness as both passion and practice, hospitality is the natural companion. Jesus ate and conversed with both religious leaders and the marginal, exposing hypocrisy and delivering from destructive patterns. Hospitality has been a hallmark of the church from here earliest moments of fellowship in Jerusalem (Acts 2-6) to learning to live in community with diverse people (I Corinthians 10-14; Galatians 3; Colossians 3), and inviting seekers to hear the gospel and join the Church (Acts 13-28).
Christian hospitality helped create the first hospitals and hospices, hotels and homes for orphans. I am not claiming a Christian exclusive on compassion, just noting the goodness of persecuted believers who cared for plague victims in the 3rd century and have pioneered the private and public institutions we take for granted today.
On a more personal and practical level, hospitality means welcoming seekers struggling with sin into the community, and walking with them as they consider the claims of Christ. Unconditional love and uncompromising holiness unite as we call everyone to submit to Christ and befriend and care for others. If our friends desire baptism and membership in the church, they are agreeing to learn to walk in the ways of the Lord and conform their lives to Scripture. This does not mean instant perfection nor should standards be changed. Business leaders must bring their daily ethics to the Cross. Addictions need counsel and healing. Lifestyles contrary to Christ are gradually abandoned in favor of pleasing God. Greed, classism, racism, sexism all yield to the Cross. And when we fail, there are friends and leaders ready as agents of forgiveness and restoration.
Keeping holiness and hospitality in divine balance will restore credibility and community. Loving God will open our hearts to repentance and loving our neighbors will create a receptive atmosphere for healing and hope. Knowing we are loved by God will help us confront personal iniquity and systemic injustice. Relativism yield to true righteousness and intolerance becomes inquiry. May we have the courage to take this pathway forward.