Have you heard about the “disfellowshipping” taking place? It is not a new phenomenon, but a practice that from time to time manages to rear its ugly head in the Christian faith. In Roman Catholic tradition the word “excommunication” is a close proximity to what other churches practice when they disfellowship. Both mean the same thing: to throw someone out of the church.
Churches that choose to follow such a practice clearly take their cues from the writings of Paul. At least twice he writes of separating certain ones from the church. Two things should be observed though: (1) The individuals were intentionally disrupting the fellowship of the church. In association with that they also commit some abhorrent acts (such as incest) but the cause for the separation is the disruption, not the fact of the sin. (2) Paul always aims at reunification.
Unfortunately some in Christianity have chosen to apply this practice for as simple a violation as not agreeing with the leadership over an interpretation of scripture. It is also applied very unevenly. For instance one of my relatives living in the antebellum South was disfellowshipped for his drinking problem. The one who led the charge to remove him owned slaves. This causes me to ask which was the worse sin? Which sin was too horrible for the church to endure?
The history of the Church is replete with example after example of how unkind, uninformed, cruel, and dead wrong it has been excommunicating members. It is a way of ridding those from our presence who don’t fit in and calling our actions “righteous” that disturbs me the most. Churches, in “Jesus’ name” mind you, have kicked out unwed mothers, divorced people, drug addicts, and the list goes on and on. This was not because they were seeking to destroy the local church, but because they were seeking God’s grace. And sadly they could not find it.
There is an interesting story in the cross pictured above. It now rests in the fellowship hall of a loving church. I know its pastor and congregation. They don’t wink at sin, but they do believe that the church of Jesus is the place for sinners. They also realize that we don’t all agree on what is sin, so we ought to be very reluctant judges of others and instead thank God that he has forgiven all sin.
Prior to the arrival of that cross it was displayed in another church a few miles away. That church practices disfellowshipping people for “certain” sins. I’m not sure which biblical list of intolerable sins they are reading, but it seems they have it pretty clear in their minds where God draws the line. For instance one young woman was tossed out because she was living with a man to whom she was not married. I do not mean to condone that activity, but only to wonder if that was the only sin that required dismissal.
Now back to the cross. It was made by a Christian who also happens to be a florist. He gave that cross to the church and it originally hung there.The twisted vines beautifully depict the timbers of the cross. I see that as our twisted lives and how they intertwine and meet at the cross. The Cross of Christ is the place where we are all welcome, all forgiven, all cleansed. At the Cross I have a hard time looking down on my brother or sister. There my sin is nakedly exposed and dealt with by God. That is what I see in that cross created by an artist and a believer in redemption.
The florist is also gay. And when that came out the church could no longer accept him. But it also could no longer accept the cross he had created. How could it? Its meaning no longer applied. They threw out the cross.
I take my cues from Jesus here. He told a powerful story that challenges the practice of throwing people out. He said:
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:10-14 (ESV)
So I might be crazy here, but I just don’t see throwing anyone out of the church, but if I did I might as well throw the Cross out too. But if I want to keep singing the old hymn “There’s Room at the Cross” then I will welcome all.
The cross upon which Jesus died
Is a shelter in which we can hide
And it’s grace so free is sufficient for me
And deep is it’s fountain as wide as the sea
There’s room at the cross for you
There’s room at the cross for you
Though millions have come
There’s still room for one
Yes, there’s room at the cross for you. Amen!