Yes, I want people with bad theology in the church.
This past week I spent a few days delivering Christmas card invitations to our surrounding neighborhood. As I did so, some thoughts occurred to me. There were two houses I almost didn’t deliver to. Why? Because the people in those houses have been a thorn in my side on multiple occasions. They are what a lot of people might consider “bad neighbors”. They complain and criticize a lot.
As I thought about it, it occurred to me that there are probably a lot of people that many Christians would also think “Oh man, do we really want to invite them to join us?” To me it is a lot like the immigration issue. Now I’m not talking about illegal immigration, but the regular kind. And no, this article isn’t about immigration, but I am using it as an illustration to make a point.
Relatively few people have fears of legal immigration here, but there are some. In some countries, like Sweden for instance, there are a lot of people who fear it. They have a small, declining, natural population and have millions of foreign immigrants coming in.
They are afraid of the same thing many Christians in churches are. Those other people are different than us. Their beliefs and their values are not the same as ours and they will change who we are and what we believe as a people. Fair enough. Some of these fears are genuine both in nations and in the church.
I do wonder if some churches today are letting go of their beliefs because they don’t want those to offend potential newcomers. They either downplay them or outright change them so as to, in their minds, be more welcoming to others who don’t share them.
In other cases there may be a real danger of people coming into the church and bringing other teachings with them. Teachings the church they are coming in to does not share. For instance, a “non-charismatic” church may fear that if many people joined them who come from a background in churches which practice “speaking in tongues” that they will alter their church.
The result of this is that people, while they might not admit it, might become less likely to want to do evangelism. Or they may even become outright hostile to the idea. The initial concern may be right “We don’t want to lose our doctrine or allow bad doctrine in.” but the method is wrong.
In Sweden (from what I can tell) the method is just wrong (if you want to keep Sweden Swedish) in that they are not making any attempt to assimilate the immigrants to their culture and instead are adapting their culture to suit the immigrants. Now, I don’t really care how Sweden manages its culture and population. This isn’t about immigration. But if Sweden were to suddenly say “Hey, we are losing our ‘Swedishness’!” then may I suggest that the answer is not to stop immigration, but to incorporate the new people into the ways of your culture. If someone from Somalia moves to Sweden, learns to speak Swedish, and starts to act, and behave in keeping with “traditional” Swedish culture (eating the foods, sharing the values, celebrating the holidays, participating in festivals, what-have-you) then I would argue that the only thing changing is the skin tone and if that bothers you, well then… that’s another discussion.
In the church, we should be throwing open our arms to people who have no religious background, and people who have different religious backgrounds than we do. Not to let them change the church we are in, but to have the church change them. Assimilate them into the culture.
We should not fear a tongue speaker to join our church. We should teach them what we believe the bible says about speaking in tongues. We should not fear a questioning Atheist joining the church, we should teach them what the Bible says about God. We should not fear a liberal we would barely consider Christian who believes homosexuality is to be celebrated. We should teach them truth about God and what he says about homosexuality.
In short, we should be really happy to have wrong thinking people join the church. Paul was exuberant about the people he brought into the church in Corinth and most of them were heathens of the worst kind. But we have to be willing to do the hard work of teaching them truth from God’s word. And that means that we have to know it really, really well.
Oh, and by the way we should not expect them to change overnight. Paul made numerous trips to Corinth and sent numerous letters to straighten out bad thinking. And decades later Clement was sending similar letters to the same church as they still didn’t have it down pat.