Are we a welcoming church?
If we want to be a welcoming church, we dare not ignore or try to explain away sin but instead answer tough questions with gentleness and respect.
Glenn L. Schwanke
I stood at the table Michigan Tech had assigned us for the Community Expo, an event held at the start of the school year so that local businesses, services, churches, and student organizations could make contact with the students. Some students approached our table with a bag, just in case we were giving away something good. Others stepped forward cautiously, with questions written all over their faces. One young lady, however, approached with clipboard in hand as if on a mission.
“Rita” (not her real name) spent a few seconds sizing up our table banner that identified us as “Peace Ev. Lutheran Church, Wisconsin Synod.” She glanced at the “Lutheran Collegian” materials on the table. She noticed the stack of Bibles. Then she looked at me, with her pen poised over her clipboard, as she asked, “Is your church a welcoming church?”
I responded, “I’d like to think we are! Our doors are open to everyone. When you visit us for worship, you will be greeted warmly at the door. Members or students in our Campus Ministry will be happy to help you follow along with the worship. And after every worship service, we have fellowship with snacks and beverages. That gives us more of a chance to get to know you.”
“But,” I added, “I’m guessing that’s not how you are using the word welcoming. Would you please tell me how you are using the term?”
Rita responded, “I represent the Michigan Tech Center for Diversity and Inclusion. And I’m doing a survey to find out which churches in our area are welcoming to the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) community.”
“So you’re asking me where our church stands on homosexuality? Do we view it as a sin? Ultimately, this isn’t about our individual views or opinions. But,” as I pointed to the stack of Bibles, “our teaching and practice are guided solely by God’s Word. And God’s Word is plain on the matter. Homosexuality is called a sin by the One who made us.
“Still, our doors are wide open to the LGBT community, just as our doors are wide open to any sinner who crosses the threshold, no matter the sin. When Jesus died, he died and paid for all sins.”
In light of this summer’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, I anticipate more questions and possibly even confrontations over our church’s stance on homosexuality. When that happens, will we be ready? “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, 16 HCSB). Will we be careful to be the kind of “welcoming” church our Savior wants? You see, Christ’s enemies once leveled this charge against him: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” (Luke 15:2 HCSB). But even as he welcomed them, Jesus didn’t try to explain away their sin. Rather he said, “The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31,32 HCSB).
If we want to be a welcoming church, we dare not ignore or try to explain away sin, for then there is no need for repentance or for the forgiveness our Savior so graciously gives. At the same time, our challenge will be to answer tough questions with “gentleness and respect.”
Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.
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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015
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