I was running late, so I quickly walked past the front desk of the dining establishment where I was to meet a member of the congregation. Immediately the hostess came running after me, “Sir. Sir.” She sounded quite alarmed, so I turned to determine the cause of her concern.
“Are you a member?” she inquired. I told her I was not, when she explained to me, in a tone which bordered on the condescending, that this was an exclusive club for members only. Fortunately, the person I was to meet came quickly forward to rescue me, informing her it was all right, as I was his guest. The hostess returned to her station, but she gave me a look one might give to a kid who walked on the carpet with mud on his shoes.
It occurred to me that this hostess’ job description involved more than welcoming guests; there also must have been a very important clause concerning the responsibility to exclude as well. She was the designated gatekeeper. She was entrusted with the task of determining who could enter the promised land and who could not.
When people of faith gather, there occasionally arises a discussion revolving around the question “Who is Christian and who isn’t.” I must confess I have been involved in such discussions myself. However, such a topic can put us onto dangerous ground if we begin to envision our role as that of gatekeepers instead of those who are called to serve.
As long as there has been religious expression, there have been those entrusted with the responsibility of determining who is in and who is out. Denominations, congregations and religious communities of all stripes tend to establish boundaries and borders which define the faithful. It’s true that definitions and doctrines are, and possibly necessary, when it comes to providing specificity and clarity for identity, mission and proclamation. The danger exists when we assume that our definitions and boundaries are shared by God as well.
During Jesus’ ministry he was constantly amazing and disturbing the self-appointed gatekeepers, be they the religious establishment or his own disciples.
His grace and mercy were constantly extending beyond well defined boundaries, moving into previously uncharted territory. Those people who were always considered outsiders were closest to his heart, whereas his most heated confrontations occurred with those who would strictly define the borders of God’s kingdom.
We are not the gatekeepers. One wise man of faith once said to me, “Jesus never called us to ‘save’ anyone; salvation is strictly God’s business. Our defined role is to make disciples.” And making disciples simply involves inviting folks to follow where our lord leads.
Honing our mission might well involve the work of making careful distinctions and doctrines. Yet we must always bear in mind that God is not restricted by our decisions and limits. Ultimately we, along with all those throughout the centuries who have attempted to serve as God’s gatekeepers, had best be prepared for the shock and sweet surprise of the immensity of God’s grace. Christians follow the one who consistently blew the borders away.