“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede…”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
“The doors of the church are open.” I heard this every Sunday as a child. It was said after an invitation to discipleship. “Come to Jesus. The doors of the church are open.” The church was presented as the way to Jesus. Believe in Jesus and you can come in. Accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and we will let you in.
And I do not disagree in that the church is a community of believers, a community of faith, that we share a common bond in our relationship with Jesus Christ. I understand that is his story that we share in and look to celebrate, discuss and learn to live more authentically in that gathers us in classrooms and around the Communion table. I just wonder if the doors of the church should be open not only after the sermon and for the purpose of salvation through Jesus Christ.
But open to follow- up conversation and discussion, to fellowship, to pray and support those who may want to hear more about this Jesus that everyone else in the room seems to like. Because what if the Sunday morning sermon is not enough. If I have questions about this life- altering decision, I cannot raise my hand during the sermon to ask them. Sure, I could ask questions during Sunday School or perhaps, Bible study. However, it is often assumed that persons are in agreement or that they should be, that they are simply coming to learn more versus learning what life in community looks like and life with Christ means.
More and more, persons are entering the doors of the church as seekers, not as second or third generation Christians. And the church needs to open its eyes to this new reality. Leaders and teachers will need to be prepared to tell the whole story and not assume that they are talking to persons who have read or even been exposed to the Bible. And these persons will need more than coffee and cookies as proof of Christian hospitality, more than a handshake and a smile as an expression of God’s unconditional love. Because they will come for the coffee but leave as soon as they realize that this is more of the same old way of life that the world provides or the hypocrisy that they grew up with.
But, this is not all bad news. The church has an opportunity to reintroduce itself as one who has fully accepted the calling to be the new community that Christ died for. It will require the admission and acceptance that the church has been many other things instead. Because so often the church is not viewed as a community at all. With more than a billion Christians around the world, not only are we not in the same place geographically but also not on the same page theologically. When it comes to who we are to be in the world and to each other, community is not the consensus.
Instead, buildings and bureaucracy take up most of the definition of church. We spend so much time behind closed doors fighting with each other that we cannot open the doors of the church to doubters, to skeptics, to persons who are not yet fully persuaded. Our point, our perspective, our program, our position is too important. “They will be there. That can wait.” But, they are not. Persons are leaving church and not coming back. More so, there are those who’ve decided not to ever enter the doors of the church.
We are too busy wagging our finger in business meetings to hold the door open and because we don’t want the truth to get out that we not perfect, we won’t hold it open for long. So, we are waiting for the floor to make our motion and losing ground outside of the church doors. “The day of salvation is now” but for this generation and the ones to come, it might also be now or never (Second Corinthians 6.2).
So the church is open for choir rehearsal, for clothing and food distribution, community and prayer meetings, midweek Bible study and Vacation Bible School. Yes, the church is open for the annual car wash or yard sale in support of its summer missions project. But, can the church be open to more than the church calendar?
The doors of the church should always be open and this must be said more often than Sunday morning. The church is so often not the new community that Christ died for us to live in to but organized factions working around each other and the needs that really matter. People need to feel like they belong– not to a church building but to a community of believers whose arms are always open, ready to receive, never holding back but always pushing forward, always giving, never taking, helping not harming, reaching for and never pulling away.
The new community is one body– Christ’s body. It is his sacrifice not our strivings that define us. It is his blood that relates us– not the social construct of race, culture or country. Bonhoeffer writes, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.” We are connected through Christ or not at all.
“Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer