Are the Church’s Arms Really Open?

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

Let me just say, I was nervous about posting this one. But lately God has been asking me not to hide who He has made me to be and to just act with complete trust in Him. So let’s go.

To give you some background, there were different “levels” in the temple in Jesus’ day. Each level was increasingly further and further away from the Holy of Holies, or the innermost sanctuary. Nearest to it was the Court of the Priests, then the Court of Israel, and then, at the outskirts, the Court of the Gentiles.

Here’s the reason Jesus was so angry at the money changers and the vendors: they were taking up all of the space in the Court of the Gentiles. They were denying the Gentiles access to God; robbing them of their place. I feel like I recommend too many books to you guys, but Killing Jesus goes deeper into this concept if you want to know more.

This morning I read this passage for probably the twentieth time, but as I did God whispered three disturbing words that I’d never contemplated when I read it before:

History repeats itself.

A couple of translations change “all the nations” to “all people” so that it says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” That’s how God asked me to read it this time. As I did, He showed me His heart and desperation towards people that the church today doesn’t seem to have room for, and my own heart broke. We ostracize so many without even realizing it, without realizing that God has just as much passionate love for those individuals as He does for you and me. There are so many groups out there that we have systematically excluded, but the two main groups that He highlighted in my heart were single mothers and gay people.

I know most of us would be quick to deny that we would ever exclude anyone from the church. And maybe we don’t, physically. We don’t take up space selling doves and exchanging money. But the way the church in America reacted to the gay marriage law, our quick little searches for a wedding ring on the finger of the pregnant woman who just walked in the door, and our avoidance of anything outside of the Christian bubble are all pretty indicative to me of the reality that we are prejudiced, and it is our prejudice that takes up the space God has reserved for those He is still pursuing. We disguise it with our condescending rhetoric of “Hate the sin, not the sinner,” when hating someone else’s sin opens the doors wide for judgment to creep in. He asked us to love people and make disciples. The church should be the most comfortable, welcoming place in the world for sinners and instead we have put up an invisible “No Trespassing” sign on our doors. We continue to believe that God isn’t really all that interested in these “unrepentant sinners,” as I’ve heard them called many times.*

What if He is more concerned about introducing Himself to these people than He is about whether or not they are perfect? I mean, I’m pretty sure we’d all be in trouble if He demanded perfection.

I realize this also means that we can’t ever expect the church to be perfect. We can’t always love people perfectly, the way Jesus did. We’re not Him. But we can keep in mind that our God is desperate for His people, for His bride, for those who don’t yet know His love for them. We can invite people who are different from us into our homes. We can genuinely befriend people who sin differently than we do without trying to “fix” them. Let’s invite them to church without asking them to seem perfect first. Let’s save the “fixing” for God to do during discipleship, as He has done for each of us.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a church that allows people to come as they are and be themselves without feeling the slightest bit of discomfort. It’s really a beautiful thing. I think the church was meant to be much more raw than we sometimes allow it to be. That night we had an open discussion about 2015 and one woman (I’ll tell you because it is relevant and will give you context for her comment, she’s gay) commented that some of her deepest hurts last year were inflicted by Christians, but some of the most profound healing also happened because of Christians. Let’s be the Christians who accomplish the latter. That sounds much more Jesus-like to me.

Let’s be the welcoming arms of Jesus until we get to meet Him face to face.

My prayer is that each one of my readers, even if you only happened to stumble across my blog, would experience more of God in 2016 than ever before. Here’s to a year of wholeness, healing, and joy.

Jenna