‘People need to be really clear when they go to a church that that church is fully accepting and affirming.’
This is a statement I recently heard on a podcast, and it got me thinking.
Behind the statement is a really good question: ‘What should we be looking for from a church?’ This is a question we might ask when we move to a new location and are looking for a church in which to settle. It may also be a question we find ourselves needing to ask even if we’re not moving. We should never be quick to leave a church – a church is a family we are part of, and membership of a family comes with responsibilities of commitment and service – but sometimes it might be a question we have to face. But is such a statement the right answer to this key question?
In the context of the podcast, the statement was being made about transgender people. The speaker was saying that transgender people need to know that when they go to a church, that church is not only going to accept and welcome them, but is also going to affirm them if they choose to transition to live in line with their internal sense of gender. Some might make the same comment in relation to same-sex attracted people: not only do we need churches where we are welcomed, but we need churches that will affirm us if we choose to pursue a same-sex relationship. Presumably the statement could also be applied to many other people and situations. It certainly gives no indication why it should apply to only some people and some situations.
But that immediately makes us realise the problem with this idea. Do we really want a church that will affirm us in everything? Surely that can’t be right, because that’s not what the gospel is about.
Jesus doesn’t affirm us in everything we might do or desire to do. Therefore, neither should churches.
The good news of Jesus isn’t that we can be affirmed in everything we feel, desire, and do. The good news of Jesus is that we can find empowerment to live out God’s life-giving ways and that we can experience forgiveness for when we fail to do this. Jesus doesn’t affirm us in everything we might do or desire to do. Therefore, neither should churches.
Of course, churches should be welcoming and fully loving to all, just as Jesus was. But true loving will also involve challenge and a call to be faithful to God’s commands, his instructions which reveal to us his best plan for us. This is just what Jesus does.
I don’t want a church that affirms me in everything I feel, desire and do. I want a church that will help me to faithfully understand God’s word, even where I might not find what it says easy to hear or obey. I want a church that accepts and welcomes me as I am, but which challenges me to be who God wants me to be through obedience to God’s word, empowered by God’s Spirit.
So, what should we look for from a church? Not a church that will affirm us unquestioningly, but a church that will love us, challenge us, and walk alongside us as we seek to enjoy fullness of life through obedience to Jesus.