Friday, January 23, 2009


The way is shut.
It was made by those who are Dead.

And the Dead keep it.

The way is shut.

This verse is from The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien. It involves the Dead Men of Dunharrow, and the plot around their interesting, though brief appearance in the story. They were soldiers who had been called upon by a great king to fight in an epic battle. The breaking of their oaths to this king by not coming to fight, resulted in these men being cursed.

Interesting to me is that these soldiers, who rejected their purpose, seemed to shut the way for anyone else who would dare come through. These are exactly what many people encounter when they attempt to visit churches for the first time. The oathbreakers, those who have rejected God's purpose for themselves, are trying their best to shut the kingdom out for everyone else as well!

Almost every fellowship or church, has it's own subset of unofficial greeters, who's only purpose seems to be getting people to stop attending that church. "Hello, and goodbye!" "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?!?" "Don't let the door hit you, where the good Lord..."

One of my favorite greetings is, "We're so glad to have you with us This Morning!"  Certainly the phrase is innocent enough, depending on the emphasis.  It could mean:  This morning is the only morning we'll ever be glad to have you. If you return on any other morning, we won't be so glad. In fact, it's best if you just don't come back at all! 

So who are those who shut the way, and keep anyone from entering through the way? Who are these "dead," who want you to stand in the foyer of God's Kingdom, and never quite make it into the place of worship and fellowship? They seem to fall into two basic categories, summarized by these two quotes:

"We're too good for you"

"You're too good for us"

We're Too Good For You
These are the courtesy greeters. They stand by waiting to let you know that you've just walked into the Holy Zone! "You're going where dressed like that, young lady?!? I don't think so! Our church has a standard, and you're not it!" I understand some situations need to be handled. Some dress, or lack thereof would not be appropriate on a public sidewalk or Sunday Service. I realize that if we invite "Bubbles" to church right after her dance routine at the club, someone may need to keep an overcoat handy.

The Good News offers a simple answer. Without Jesus "Bubbles" is not worthy to walk into God's magnificent presence, and neither are the members or the pastor. But the same God who made me worthy in Christ, can deliver her and make her worthy in Christ! Then we can all walk in together!

You're Too Good For Us
This greeter is a little more subtle. They sneak in close to those who are new to a church, ready to point out all of the flaws from which said church is suffering. They reveal that this church lacks unity, the pastor's wife calls the shots, and there are cliques related to family, status, popularity, and anything else you can imagine. Oh, and there's sin in the camp.  Imagine that; people here actually sin. 

My first response to such revelation is, "Wow! This church has people who are just like those in every other church on planet Earth! How Shocking!" If I were the new guy, hearing this negative review, my second response would be this question: "If this place is so bad, why are you still coming here?"

I've always wondered about that one, but have never gotten a satisfactory answer. If the church is as bad as you're telling me, why have you been sitting in its sanctuary for the past 20 years? "Because, I was sent here to prey, uh, I mean pray!" Often the informant is simply confessing their own sins. They've just change the names to protect the guilty.

If you've been living your life as an unofficial church greeter, consider thinking of all the great things about the group of people with which you worship. Try running through that list with the next newbie who walks through the doors. If you are concerned about something, take it to your pastor and pray about it.

If you're a newbie, just walking into a church for the first time, consider the first source you encounter may not always be the most accurate. Those terrible things you're hearing may turn out to mean that this church, like every other, is made up of people who are just like you! Try a little patience.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. -Matthew 23:13-14 (NIV)

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