Woe to You, Christians!

Let me tell you a story I recently heard.

A preacher was recounting a time several years ago when, during the “invitation hymn” after the sermon, a lady came forward to be baptized. Now the preacher had previously heard about this lady, as he had been told that she was currently living with her boyfriend, who was a member of the church. As they stood together in front of the congregation, the pastor reflected that he knew he “needed to confront her about her sinful relationship.”

And that is exactly what he did.

As they exited to change clothes and prepare for the baptism the preacher cornered her and said, “There is no way I can baptize you unless you quit living in sin.”

The couple gave him their assurances that they wouldn’t live together. The lady was baptized. And they never went back to his church again.

I wish I could tell you that a story like this is an anomaly, an aberration.

But it’s not.

I remember a time, when as a young man, I overheard chatter among people in my church about a lady who was wearing a mini-skirt and how she needed to be told to dress modestly in the “House of the Lord.”

As soon as the service ended, an elder of the church approached the young woman, who by the way had never been to our church before, and told her that if she was going to come back she needed to dress appropriately.

She never came back.

How have so many churches ended up comprised of “righteous gatekeepers” who believe it is their responsibility to manage and control who enters through the gates?

It is eerily reminiscent of Jesus’ strong words to the Pharisees when he said, “You shut the door of the kingdom of God in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

The absolutely fascinating thing about the words of Jesus, which ought to serve as a lesson to many, is that the very people who believed they were righteous insiders, were actually not even on the inside at all.

In fact, they were on the outside and preventing others from entering.

What do you think about that?

The Kingdom of God, of which Jesus spoke, is all around us, but it is a reality into which we enter, changing our hearts and giving us new eyes to see the world.  The Kingdom of God is the present, in-breaking reality of God’s presence in our lives. A reality, that once embodied, looks like the life of Jesus, a life ruled, not by heavy-handed laws and rules or by “who’s in and who’s out,” but by grace, love, and invitation.

And the door to the Kingdom of God is always open and there is not one religious person or leader who can stand in the way of you entering. There is not one religious leader who can decide whether you are in or out. There is not one religious leader who can keep you from a seat at the table.

The religious may stand on the outside and try to close the door, and prevent others from entering, but Jesus opens wide the door of God’s Kingdom and invites us all to a seat at the table with him, without judgment or condemnation.

No matter your background, your present life situation, your socioeconomic status, your level of education, your appearance, your diseases, your addictions,  your afflictions, your offenses, your burdens, your heartache, your despair, or even your past or present sins, there is no single person, not one religious person, not one holier-than-thou person, not even the most theologically-minded, well-respected, or studied preacher who can keep you from the love of God, who can keep you from God’s forgiveness, who can block you from entering into the kingdom of God, or who can take away your seat at the table of invitation.

You are an honored guest. You have been invited.

In another instance, I heard the same preacher recall a funeral he was to give to a 19-year old young man he did not personally know, but whom he soon found out was a biker.  As the preacher was on his way to the funeral, he detailed his approach to the funeral home, seeing a parking lot full of “stereotypical [bikers] with long hair and tattoos all over the place, right there in public smoking their joints and drinking a [beer] with several of them having their girls along with them dressed immodestly on the back of their bikes.”

And as I listened to these heartbreaking words and the tone in which they were spoken, all I could think was- Would Jesus be riding passed these bikers and their “immodestly dressed girls” in judgment based upon how they look and then thinking how he needs to preach the Gospel to them when they come into the funeral home- or- would he have gone out to them, embraced them, listened to their stories of how they knew the young man, and then told them about the beautiful invitation and present reality of God’s kingdom and how they may enter in.

To me, the answer is clear and evident throughout the Gospels. Jesus was always at the table of invitation with various sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.

As followers of Jesus, we have not been given the task of shutting the door or preventing “sinners” from entering into the Kingdom of God.

Rather, we have been given the task of entering presently through the open doors ourselves and accompanying every single person of the world to the table so that they, too, can taste and see just how good the Lord is.

The Kingdom of God is not a place that needs guarded or protected. It’s not a place entered into by the self-described righteous or religious. And it is certainly not a place where the untouchables, outcasts, or unholy sinners are banned or restricted.

The doors to the Kingdom of God are always open wide. There is always an invitation and a seat at the table. And Jesus is always standing there, at the head of the table, with his arms open wide for every untouchable, every outcast, every unholy sinner, every person ever pushed aside or crushed by the religious apparatus, and every single person who has ever been told that God doesn’t love them or that they are anything less than precious, worthy, and valuable.

The invitation into the Kingdom of God and a seat at the table is always there.

You are always, always, always invited.

Peace and love…

Brandon

11 thoughts on “Woe to You, Christians!

  1. How often have I failed to see the reality that I do not deserve to be at the table either. I have no right, no claim, no justification for being in His presence. His grace is available to all and it envelopes us because of His mercy and His declaring us righteous – His declaration, it is not mine to declare! Thanks Brandon. This area is so misunderstood, I continue to grow in grace and still have much to learn as a recovering fundamentalist!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mr. Andress, we have an adult Sunday School “Travelers” at First United Methodist Church, Columbus, IN and several of us read your column in the Republic newspaper on 4/22/2017 and thought that we would love to hear your comments about your faith journey and share ours with you. Would you consider talking to us at 10.00 am Sunday morning? Class is on summer break but will restart the last week in August.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome post bro and so true! Love ALWAYS conquers evil, even if that love is expressed in actions and service and acceptance and, as you said, an invitation. Lately, I’ve been really feeling that folks just need to know that their loved. I’m also discovering that our job as Christ followers is to simply be love…not always in words, sometimes only in action. God can work through a simple smile, or hug, or high five, or meal or whatever. He’s simple, yet so big. Being love and letting God do the rest….there’s freedom in that. God bless! – Paul

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Why are we so hung up on other people’s sins? My dad used to tell us kids to worry about ourselves when we were poking our noses in our sibling’s business. We would do well to follow that advice. Maybe we’d stop slamming the doors on people. I loved this. Well done. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Brandon,

    Thanks for the post.

    This is a difficult subject and I would consider it “difficult inconvenient truth”.

    My approach would be to separate “church” and “the kingdom of God” to help people enter the real kingdom of God. Let me explain more on that.

    I know church should represent God and His kingdom, but the difficulty inconvenient truth is that most churches today failed, struggles with denominational issues and politics, when we need to keep focus on the righteousness and justice of Jesus.

    And the other more difficult inconvenient truth is when non-believer looks at church as their standard and guild to God.

    As a personal approach, when I am given the opportunity to evangelize to non-believer, I do NOT invite them to “church”!

    Yes, I do NOT invite people to church! Really! Let me explain more on this.

    I first invite people to “enter the kingdom of God”. Mean first get to know Jesus, establish your covenant relationship with Jesus and the Father, and if possible get baptized.

    After the person establish his / her relationship with Jesus, then I help that person find a suitable fellowship to help that person grows towards fruitfulness and maturity.

    I felt our modern day Christianity and church growth seems to have done the opposite, by getting people to be “church member” before helping them to establish their covenant relationship with Jesus. Thus people get frustrated with “church policy” and “church politics”.

    But if our concern as sincere preachers is to help people first establish their covenant relationship with Jesus, we have fewer problems with people’s appearance and behavior.

    We know what this means when Jesus said –

    (Matthew 23:26) – “You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”

    Of course we want people to live righteous life, but that transformation will comes from Jesus and the works of the Holy Spirit is us.

    I hope people understand why I focus more on covenant relationship with Jesus more than “church membership”.

    On the other hand, “church members” with behavior problems needs help with their covenant relationship with Jesus. “church policy” is not going to help people change!
    Therefore end of the day, it is important to focus on “covenant relationship with Jesus” and instead of “church-membership”.

    In-His-Service

    David Z

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Wow – I feel like you have captured the a picture in my mind and transliterated it to words. Honestly though, I am really concerned many (but most certainly not all) “covenant gatherings” still operate this way. Religion is so oppressive… But everyone has to be on the same page relationally. Unencumbered trust is the substance of true peace…

    Like

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