It's so great to be back!
This year's Pastors' Conference was held on the Carnival Paradise cruise ship. We went to Ensenada, Mexico by way of Catalina Island. We had a great time and learned a lot. One of the speakers, Dr. Robert Newton, LCMS District President of the California/Nevada/Hawaii district, talked about why it is sometimes hard to get new Christians to stay in churches.
He talked about "Insiders and Outsiders" (not belly buttons). "Insiders" are the people who are already part of the group. "Outsiders" are people who want to join the group. For established groups, Insiders set the criteria for membership in the group. The goal of Insiders is to set up a boundary to keep people who do not meet the criteria, out. Outsiders must adapt to the requirements of the group they wish to join, to get in. For centuries, this was the way of the church. Insiders of the church determined the criteria for membership. It was the task of Outsiders to adapt to the group if they wanted membership.
However, over the past few decades the focus on who defines the group has moved from the groups themselves to the local culture. The people of this culture see themselves as the Insiders. It is the Group who is the Outsider. The people of this culture now say "If you want us to be members of your group, YOU must adapt to our needs."
And this is the source of the conflict. Church Insiders believe THEY set the criteria for membership and it is the culture which must adapt. Cultural Insiders believe THEY set the criteria and it is the Church who must adapt.
So who is right? Who is right?
In Jesus' time, the Jews saw non-Jews as sinners, "Outsiders." Yet Jesus would frequently associate with them. And this angered them. In answer, He told them the story of the prodigal son. Not only was the story about the love of a father for his erring son but it was also about the older "loyal" son. When the older son is angry that the father is celebrating the return of the "bad" son, more or less labeling the younger son as an Outsider, the father does not reject the "bad" son. But neither does he demand that the elder son adapt and just accept him, as is. Rather he says, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." (Luke 15:31)
The issue is not "Who is right?" or "Who must adapt?" When you are brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no Insider or Outsider. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3;27-29)
The church is not a club where the Insiders determine criteria which the Outsiders must meet. Any believer in Christ is already a member. Rather, the Church is a family. A new member joining that family not only adapts by taking on the culture and identity of that family but also adds to the family by bringing diversity. When any brother in Christ joins a congregation "Celebrate and be glad!" for our brother/sister has joined us.