In one of his posts John Meunier (johnmeunier.wordpress.com) quoted something that John Wesley said about the “principles of a Methodist” – “Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three — that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness. The first of these is the porch of religion; the next, the door; and the third, religion itself.”
I like this way of thinking about Christianity as having a porch, a front door, and an edifice. In an earlier post, John Meunier wrote about how he thinks the church needs to say to people just as clearly and as often as it possibly can – “Come as you are, (but) don’t stay as you are.” This, it seems to me, is the difference between the porch and front door of Christianity, and its edifice.
The front porch of Christianity is as wide as “whosoever” (John 3:16; Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; John 11:25-26; Revelation 22:17), and the front door of Christianity is held open by the nail-pierced hand of the Savior (John 10:7;9; John 14:6; Hebrews 10:19-20; Matthew 27:51; Revelation 4:1). The wide porch and open door of Christianity invite all and welcome all. I believe that the identity statement of my own denomination gets the Gospel exactly right when it says – “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.”
A Lord’s Table to which all are invited and at which all are welcomed because it is the sign and seal of God’s love in Christ for “whosoever” is a powerful witness to what the Gospel is about in a world that is intent on driving wedges between people because of where they’re from, how they vote, what they look like, what language they speak, who they understand themselves to be, where they struggle and are vulnerable, what they value, and where they need healing, and what shape their hope takes. There need to be churches and Christians who, as Sam Shoemaker (1893 – 1963) said of his own life and work, “I Stand by the Door” –
“I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind people,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.
The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for someone to find that door – the door to God.
The most important thing that anyone can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to a person’s own touch.”
Because this is how I read the Gospel, I have chosen to be a minister and member of a church with a wide porch and an open door. John Meunier says this same thing about his Methodist identity. “The atonement made by Jesus Christ is for all people everywhere,” he writes, adding, “I will shout ‘amen’ to anyone who proclaims that message.” But then he quickly reminds his readers that there’s more to Christianity than just its wide porch and open front door.
“What confuses me,” he writes, “is when Jesus Christ’s call to all people is treated as if it was the last word rather than the first word.” “People speak of all being welcome,” he observes, “as if Jesus said nothing about transformation and change.” Yes, yes, yes… Everyone is invited and welcomed into God’s kingdom,” John explains, “everyone… No exceptions.” “But we are called to put on Christ,” he adds, “we are called to be new creatures. We are called to holiness of heart and life. We are called to put off sin and put on Christ.” Once we’ve become Christians, once we’ve walked across the wide porch of the Gospel’s “whosoever” welcome and stepped through the open door of God’s grace demonstrated in Christ’s saving work, there then remains a long process of “being” a Christian. This is the “edifice” of Christianity, the new life in Christ into which we grow.
I became a Christian by a conscious decision of faith made in a moment of time nearly 60 years ago. I crossed the front porch of Christianity and stepped in through the open door that is Christ. The Gospel is a message about how all are invited to and will be welcomed in the embrace of God’s grace. I am glad to be part of a church that “gets” this.
But being a Christian is something that I’m still working on even as I now approach my seventh decade of life. It’s been a slow and often painful process. In the language of Colossians, there are things about me that are entirely inconsistent with Christ and what Christ is doing in me, and so I’ve had to change. There are things about me that I’ve had to “put away” and “put to death” (3:5-11). There still are. And in their place, there have been Christ-like qualities that I have had to “put on” because Christ has made His own (3:12-17). It’s taken time for some of these Christ-like attitudes and actions to take root in the sometimes hard, sometimes shallow, and sometimes crowded soil of my heart (Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23).
What Chuck Swindoll once said about remodeling his house applies equally to the “good work” of spiritual and moral renewal that Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior begins in us the minute we step across the threshold of faith. It will “take longer than you planned, cost more than you figured, be messier than you anticipated, and require greater determination than you expected.” But it will eventually get finished (Philippians 1:6) because Christ Jesus has made us His own (Philippians 3:12), and God is at work in us (Philippians 2:13).
God in Christ by the Spirit wants to save “all” of us, quantitively speaking. There is no one who is not invited. There is no one who will not be welcomed. There is nobody who is outside the scope of God’s saving purpose or beyond the reach of God’s saving hand. But God in Christ by the Spirit wants to save “all” of us, qualitatively speaking, as well. There is no part of us that God isn’t going to change in us for the better. As the old evangelist put it, “God loves us just as we are, but God loves us too much to leave us like that.” When we say that “all means all,” we need to be clear that we’re not just talking about the porch and front door of Christianity that stands open to all, but the whole edifice of our lives, every nook and cranny, that God in Christ by the Spirit is going to transform.