Monday, September 17, 2012

ReThink: Open Doors

The United Methodist Church has had as its slogan in recent years, "Open Doors. Open Hearts. Open Minds." The idea has been to project the church as a welcoming place that will not exclude anyone and will love everyone. It is an image of hospitality.

But the truth is, I'm not sure that the core of our Christian calling is hospitality. Hospitality is great--creating a warm welcoming environment in the church is important, and thriving churches certainly do this well. But the new buzzword in Methodism is "ReThink Church," so lets Rethink our open doors. What if we use the same slogan and simply adjust the metaphor?

We have long assumed that when we say, "Open doors," we mean the doors of the church--something through which an outsider could walk through and come inside. A bit more sophisticated might be to think of "Open doors" as the doorway into a relationship with God--and so the church is a doorway into spiritual connection.

But I have come to believe that the most scriptural way to think of "Open Doors" as a slogan for Christians is to think of the doors not as beautiful wooden doors like what you might find on a fancy house or church building, but as the metal barred doors on a prison cell.

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus spoke about why God sent him, he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me... to proclaim release to the captives." This is the mission of the church. In fact--when we remember the true nature of the church--it isn't a building at all, is it? As a faithful church, we need not be so concerned with how we open our doors to let people in. We do not even have doors to open--we are not a building. There is nothing separating insiders from outsiders when we speak of the church most faithfully. Rather the doors in need of being opened are the doors to prison cells--doors that have made all of us captives in one way or another. The church is the body of Christ, and if the Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus to proclaim release to the captives, so also the Spirit of the Lord is on us to proclaim release to the captives.

Notice what happens. When we say that we are the church of open doors (meaning we let everyone in) there is hospitality, but no clear message of renewal or growing righteousness. We accept everyone as they are, we have open hearts and minds and so do not challenge anyone (including ourselves) as perhaps needing God's word of redemption. There is no redemption in this model. Assuming that Jesus actually meant that people were living in captivity to something, all we did was invite fellow captives to come and be captives with us. There is no release--only fellowship among captives. This does not look like God's Reign breaking in, it looks rather like hell.

But if as the church we cease to have doors--and we find ourselves among all kinds of captives, and we do not simply accept them or, for that matter ourselves as we all are. Rather, with the Spirit of the Lord upon us, we proclaim release: release to those captivated by alcohol and drugs, release to those captivated by poverty, release to those captivated by the love of money, release to those captivated by all kinds of sexual immorality, release to those captivated by gossip, release to those captivated by depression, release to those captivated by pride, and release to those who would rather lock the doors in a fortress and never engage with the other captives...

How can we move beyond the ministry of hospitality and embrace the ministry of proclaiming release to captive hearts and minds? How can we stop viewing people as "church people" or "unchurched people" and begin simply seeing us all for what we are: captives who are in varied degrees of being set free by the God who sent us Jesus for precisely that purpose.

Don't open your doors, there should be no door to open. Rather proclaim the gospel of Christ that will open the door not only to your own heart and mind, but also the door to the hearts and minds of all who have been held captive by all kinds of sin, all kinds of brokenness, all kinds of disease.

May the Spirit of God set us all free.

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