Monday, April 16, 2007

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!"

Revelation 22:17 reads:
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
Especially among the newer, younger churches, there seems to be an emphasis on these words of Jesus to all who would come to Him and seek the gift of His transformative love. I find it amazing that in this Scripture text it mentions those who give the earnest, profound invitation: both the Spirit and the "bride". Where else does a wounded sinner belong but in the arms of Christ, and by extension, in the arms of His bride, the church, where can be found a company of the redeemed? But among the redeemed there can be found also the company of the seeking-sinner, who has not yet glimpsed the redeeming grace, who has not yet tasted the water of life. And therein lies the problem. Consider a recent post by Ben Witherington:

I once had an odd experience while staying in Atlanta some years ago. I had run into a man in the hotel where I was staying who said he wanted to go to church with me in the morning. Said he was a regular attender back home in Kansas. I thought, well sure-- sounds fine. He then proceeded to tell me he was in counseling for child porn and for fondling children and was doing better. He was a doctor who had lost his job. At that juncture I had a dilemma on my hands. I didn't think I could decide for the church in question whether he ought to be there or not. I honestly didn't know what to say or do. The next morning I got up and went on to church early , and this man showed up as well. Well, I sat with him. We sang the hymns together, but I have to tell you I was more than a little distracted. I was watching him closely more than I was paying attention to the service. I am still not sure what I should have done, if anything.
And here we have the classic conundrum for the church. Should this man be welcomed into the fellowship of the church? At first, the answer appears to be yes, especially in light of the text that we looked at above. Where else could this man find the healing grace of unconditional love if not the church? Where else could he be known for who he is and not despised? Where else could he find the loving care and call to discipleship that could lead to authentic transformation?

But at what cost? If the church is filled with people less than fully formed into the likeness of Jesus, what effect will his presence have on their faith walk? Certainly, a Christian leader in the church, full of the Holy Spirit, could take advantage of this vivid opportunity to call others to be like Christ and accept him. But what of the family with small children, loving, yes, but deeply concerned about the consequences of a single episode of backsliding? That is to say nothing of the unchurched family whose mother brought them to seek Jesus precisely because as a child she was abused at the hands of a similar person. Again, a vivid opportunity for her to learn about the need for unconditional forgiveness.

But will she stay long enough to meet Jesus? Or will she run in fear from this group of (in her mind) fools who are too naive to know the corrupting power which has soiled this man's soul?

This story hit me hard as I find myself wondering how I would approach this man and how I would shepherd the faith community for which God has given me responsibility. My heart would go out to him, eager to show him the transforming love which I have experienced at the feet of my Savior. I would challenge others to do the same, to reach out to him and become for him a community of friends in which he could grow and heal while confronting the sinful nature which had driven him to such acts.

But what of the five families who would leave because they cannot bear that call to discipleship (at least not yet)? Is their fellowship and journey of faith worth less than his?

We make choices with every person we invite alongside us on the journey of faith. We cannot be all for the sake of all, as much as great men like Paul have tried. In the end, he was called to take the gospel to the gentile churches, leaving the Jews to others. I hope and pray that should God call us to such a radical opportunity to show His love, that He guide us as we seek a way to honor Him and His sending purpose.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts. Thank you for the challenge.