With the thinkgospel bus ad in place in the city of Victoria the following question came to me via email. I give it here verbatim:
One Sunday morning, inappropriately half way through the service, a visitor walks in. She is twenty-some, hair dyed red and purple, silver pieces through nose and cheek, bare midriff and tight designer jeans. Into our hushed and respectable-appearing atmosphere she comes. What do we do?
In the previous post I considered the human response to the scenario of a punk rocker walking into the Lord’s Day worship service. We saw then the responsibility we have as Christians to display the nature of Christianity in how we treat the individual. I want now to address the second issue that confronts us in this situation. The temptation is to change how we do church in order to make the unbeliever feel at home among the saints. By doing this we allow the human response to squeeze out the divine response; we consider the sinner’s comfort more important than the worship of God and consequently pander to the whims of a fallen world. There are a few buzz-words in current evangelicalism (missional, contextualization, etc.) that are used with the working assumption that the church exists only for evangelism. This is a false assumption.
The church exists for the worship of God. If we keep this proposition in its place, then all other areas of church work and social life will find their appropriate places also. When the church meets, it meets to worship God. The preaching of the Word as an act of worship in the act of proclaiming divine truth also exhorts the saints to worship Him in all of life.
Unbeliever therefore are not at home among the saints; they have no Father there, no siblings, and they cannot be nourished and consoled by the mother church (Galatians 4:26), since they have not been born of her. This is not to say that they are not welcome as visitors and observers, but simply states the biblical fact that they still belong to those whom Paul spoke of as being “
There are a number of presuppositions that must be in place therefore as we consider the unbeliever’s attendance in the public worship.
1. The unbeliever is not to be taken into membership. The Acts of the Apostles identifies clearly the church of Christ as “the number of the disciples” (Acts 6:1). It is the duty of the church eldership to safeguard that number by trying—as far as is humanly possible—to discern by a credible profession of faith those who are the true disciples of Christ (see Acts 8:21 where Peter tells Simon, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God”).
2. The unbeliever is not to have any part or influence in the operation of the church. Throughout the New Testament the apostles continually emphasized the need for discernment and the danger of an unreserved reception. Paul tells the elders of Ephesus that there would rise up from among them men who would prove dangerous to the flock of God (Acts 20:29–30). Peter warns his readers that in the church there would be “false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1), and John says in light of this truth we are to “try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). As far as the church can read the heart, it is to identify and keep those from the people who would be potentially dangerous to the gospel. Contrary to popular opinion and modern theories of love, there are certain people who are not welcome in the church of Christ, and we are not to bring them into our homes nor bid them God speed (2 John 10-11).
3. Attendance at public worship is regarded differently from participating at the Lord’s Table. While I have stated in the previous post that we are to welcome the unbeliever into the public worship, the Lord’s Table is not regarded as public worship in the same sense. The fact remains that the unbeliever is always an observer, not a participant in worship. Participation at the Lord’s Table is specifically enjoined with a warning (1 Corinthians 11:20ff). There is with the Lord’s Table self-examination and heart searching, and it is the task of the church to reiterate this warning for the good of all present and to keep from the Table those whom it deems are unfit to participate.
To be continued