Can the "Welcoming Church" Speak the Truth?
One feature of life in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the unveiling of the annual buzz-word for our General Assembly. This year, the word is "welcoming." So far as it goes, this is a fine aspiration for our denomination. We, of course, want our doors to be open not merely to certain kinds of people but to one and all. We especially want to embrace the heart of our Savior for lost souls of all kinds. We have good news to proclaim, and our gospel is one of welcome from a God of grace in the name of his crucified and resurrected Son.
Moreover, there is a legitimate need to emphasize "welcoming" in our national context of polarized worldviews. Far too many evangelical Christians look upon their political opposites as culture war "enemies" rather than as neighbors to be loved, served, and evangelized. If, for instance, proponents of sexual perversity and gender confusion are perceived as our enemies, then Jesus has told us what to do: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 5:44-45). Unlike tax collectors and Gentiles, who love only their own, let us heartily welcome perceived enemies as neighbors who need to hear about our gracious God and his gospel.
It must be pointed out, however, that the context for "welcoming" as our new buzzword is not the polarized cultural struggle but its corollary within the PCA. In this context, "welcoming" is the self-embraced label of the progressive camp, which has assigned "fearful" as the conservative/confessional label. Commissioners are being urged to vote for "welcoming" priorities, which will likely be those that take a soft stance on homosexuality, gender egalitarianism, and other progressive priorities. The upcoming "Revoice" conference in St. Louis is providing an advance screening of what this looks like. This PCA event, much lauded by our progressive friends, advocates an "LGBT Christian" category and speaks of "sexual minorities"1 and even "queer treasure, honor, and glory" in heaven. Far from an irrelevant outlier, this conference previews where the "welcoming" agenda is seeking to go.
With this in mind, the question I want to ask is this: "Can the welcoming church tell the truth?" Amen to us welcoming sinners of all kinds with an open heart and ready embrace. On this point, progressives and conservatives sincerely agree. But, having welcomed one and all, do we then speak biblical truth about sexuality, gender identity, sin and repentance? For instance, what does the welcoming church say to the homosexual who wants to join its membership? We, of course, declare to them forgiveness and cleansing through the blood of Christ through faith alone. But do we add 1 Corinthians 6:9 and the Bible's insistence that homosexual desires be not merely accommodated but mortified and repented? When a new convert expresses disdain over the exclusive maleness of our pulpits and eldership, do we apologize and convey plans to become more welcoming in the future, or explain the Bible's teaching about male headship in the home and church? If they are secularists who assume an evolutionary worldview, at some point do they hear from us a biblical critique of evolution and an exposition of biblical creation?
Let me conclude by answering my own question. Yes, let us be a truly welcoming church, extending a warm-hearted invitation to sinners of all kinds, just as Jesus extended such a welcome to us. But then, for the love of Christ and those we welcome, let us plainly and thoughtfully speak the truth. For unless God and his truth are sovereignly welcome in our midst, our welcome to the lost will end up in vain.
1. See Kevin DeYoung's excellent critique of the phrase "sexual minorities," over at the Gospel Coalition.