There's been a fantastic discussion going on my church's Facebook page the last few days (https://www.facebook.com/groups/8466882591/). The issue at hand emerges from a sermon that Pastor James Bergen and environmental activist Tom Cotter presented on Sunday morning. The two made the case for creation care as a form of biblical stewardship. While this could be a bit controversial, and hopefully provocative, for an evangelical/Anabaptist church like mine, the discussion has primarily centered on a secondary issue.
Ten environmentally conscious organizations set up displays in the foyer and encouraged people to consider options like recycling, solar power and bike riding. Some of the congregants felt uncomfortable with what could be perceived as "vendors" in church. Furthermore, it was hard for some to make a biblical connection to these "non-Christian" activists. The general question raised has to do with what is or is not appropriate to bring into the church. It's a great issue to consider.
One of the very large dilemmas Christians face is deciding whether something is Christian or not. We might want to say something should be kept out of the church because it is secular/non-Christian. But that presents at least three problems.
First, someone has to be the judge of what is Christian and what is not. What would be the test? In the case of inviting representatives from agencies, should we ask them whether they have made personal decisions to follow Christ? I know people who work for Planned Parenthood, an agency that would not be considered Christian by many, who would certainly identify themselves followers of Jesus. And I know some self-proclaimed Christian authors and artists who many faithful would regard as heretical. So it's a very big problem to start saying who is and who isn't a Christian and therefore allowed in the church.
For me, the scariest part of this dilemma is that the specific fault Jesus was continually accused of is that he hung out with irreligious people: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, sinners. The danger here is that I might be missing the very people God wants me to interact with because I view them as secular, irreligious or non-Christian.
Second, if by some process we can determine what things/people/agencies are Christian or not, and we commit to excluding those that we decide are non-Christian, we're going to have to throw all kinds of stuff out of our churches. Start by tossing the Christmas tree, which has a long history of pagan ritual usage. Then head over to the guitars and drums, invented explicitly for use in secular music. Even the organ has its origins in the ancient Greeks. The church building itself was first a secular court house (basilica) in the time of Constantine. Finally, the cross, the most heinous, cruel and secular symbol of the Roman Empire, would need to be removed. The history of the Christian church is replete with similar examples. Maybe the church is exactly the place where symbols of the world collide with the truth of the Creator.
Finally, I wonder what the representatives of the environmental organizations thought about our invitation to participate in the service. I wonder if they've been invited to many other churches. Or, have they been rejected by churches enough that they have a negative impression of Christianity? I hope they saw on Sunday a congregation of grace, one that cares for them and the whole of creation. Maybe for that reason alone some of them will be back to worship with us. Maybe they'll find a God in our church they never new existed.
It's wonderful to have conversations about the spiritual nature of things. I hope that these conversations will not divide us, but rather drive us to a broader understanding of our diversity in Christ. This probably says a lot about my values system, but I'll favor grace over exclusion every time. Which means I would never opt to kick someone out if they disagreed with me. :-)