We're continuing to look at standards of fellowship - those ideas we have about what it means to be a Christian and specifically, what it means to be our kind of Christian. We started with the idea of open and closed Communion, stemming from a question posed by the media (no doubt in an attempt to raise strife, as the story died out rather quickly when it didn't garner the kind of reaction that was expected).
We have seen that it's good - and even necessary - to have some standards in our fellowship, though. And the truth is...we all have them. Whether we like to admit it or not.
Not all of our standards of fellowship run on doctrinal lines. That is, they aren't always about what we believe. They aren't always about what we live, either. They aren't about our righteousness or our earnestness or our biblical understandings. Far too often, our standards of fellowship are about so many lesser things.
Go into any church and spend any time there, and it's not too hard to figure out who is on the edges of fellowship. It's not too hard to find the persons that the church tolerates, but wants very little to do with. It's not too hard to see who is working far too hard to find a way in, who has to walk the line in order to stay there, who is holding on for dear life to a fragile standing that feels so...precarious. Like if that person asks for anything, even prayer, the whole thing is going to crumble.
Go into any church, and you'll find the persons pretty quickly who don't expect the church to ever do anything for them. To even care about them. To even know their name. These persons either sneak in quietly after the service has already started, take a seat in the back, and leave a few breaths early...or they stand right up front and greet everyone who walks in the door, daring the church to ignore them one more time.
And you can tell when the church is ignoring them, too. Because the church will often send someone in to 'clean up' after this person. Yes, you can work in our greeting ministry, but we've got another face just down the hallway a little bit to tell visitors what our church is really about. Absolutely, you can man the coffee cart. But here's this person that we sent to 'help' you.
These persons on the edges of our fellowships are the ones who want to do more than we are letting them do, and they know it - and so do we. They are the ones who volunteer, and we kind of hem and haw and pray that someone else - anyone else - also volunteers so that we don't have to let them. They are the ones who stand in the lobby and get zero greetings, none, every Sunday morning. They're the ones we're afraid to talk to because we don't want to get sucked into whatever misery trail their lives are running down right now. They are the ones who show up on the prayer list one too many times, leading us to think their whole lives are a disaster and leading us to stay ten feet away, lest we become guilty by association.
Yes, it's true. There are persons in our churches that are on the edges of our fellowships for believing too much in the power of prayer. (Okay, let's be real - sometimes, the prayer list is used for lesser things...like gossip...or like attention-seeking. But if we were a real fellowship who wasn't pushing some to our margins, they wouldn't have to have a prayer request every week to get our attention; we would already know who they are because we love them.)
When we start looking at our churches, really looking at them, we know what our standards of fellowship are. We know because we see clearly who is on the edges of our fellowship...and why. We know what we value and what we don't value. And then so many of us have the audacity to question a church who comes right out and says what their standards are. Like...how dare they!
How dare they tell someone they aren't welcome at the Lord's table!
...but how dare we? Because we are doing the exact same thing every week, even if we do share our cracker and juice.
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