ReThink: Open Doors

The United Methodist Church has had as its slogan in recent years, “Open Doors. Open Hearts. Open Minds.” Of course the idea has been to project the church as a welcoming place that will not exclude anyone and will love everyone. It is an image of hospitality.

But the truth is, I’m not sure that the core of our Christian calling is hospitality. Hospitality is great. Creating a warm welcoming environment in the church is important, and thriving churches certainly do this well. But the new buzzword in Methodism is “ReThink Church,” so lets ReThink our open doors. What if we use the same slogan and simply adjust the metaphor?

We have long assumed that when we say, “Open Doors,” we mean the doors of the church, something through which an outsider could walk and come inside. A bit more sophisticated approach might be to think of “Open Doors” as the doorway into a relationship with God, and so the Church is a doorway into spiritual connection.

But I have come to believe that the most scriptural way to think of “Open Doors” as a slogan for the people called Christians is to think of the doors not as beautiful wooden doors like what you might find on a fancy house or church building, but as the metal barred doors on a prison cell.

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus spoke about why God sent him, he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… to proclaim release to the captives.” This is the mission of the Church. In fact, when we remember the true nature of the Church, it isn’t a building at all, is it? As a faithful Church, we need not be sure to open our doors to let people in. We don’t even have doors; we are not a building. There is nothing separating insiders from outsiders when we speak of the Church most faithfully. Rather, the doors in need of being opened are the doors to prison cells – doors that have made all of us captives in one way or another. The Church is the body of Christ, and the Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus to proclaim release to the captives, so also the Spirit of the Lord is on us to proclaim release to the captives.

Notice what happens when we envision a church of open doors – merely meaning we let everyone in – there is hospitality, but no clear message of renewal or growing righteousness. We accept everyone as they are, we have open hearts and minds and therefore do not challenge our guests or ourselves as perhaps needing God’s word of redemption. There is no renewal or restoration in this model. Assuming that Jesus actually meant that people were living in captivity to something, all we did was invite captives to come and be captive with us. There is no release – only fellowship among captives. This does not look like God’s Reign breaking in; it looks rather like hell.

But if as the church we cease to have doors, we find ourselves among all kinds of captives, not simply accepting them as they are, but proclaiming release: release to those captivated by alcohol and drugs, release to those captivated by all kinds of sexual immorality, release to those captivated by money, release to those captivated by gossip, release to those captivated by poverty, release to those captivated by depression, release to those captivated by pride, and release to those who would rather lock the doors in a fortress and never engage with the other captives.

How can we move beyond the ministry of hospitality and embrace the ministry of proclaiming release to captive hearts and minds? How can we stop viewing people as “church people” or “unchurched people” and begin to simply see us all for what we are: captives who are in varied degrees of being set free by the God who sent us Jesus for precisely that purpose?

Don’t open your doors, proclaim the gospel of Christ that will open the door not only to your own heart and mind, but also the door to the hearts and minds of all who have been held captive by all kinds of sin, all kinds of brokenness, all kinds of disease.

May the Spirit of God set us all free.

Eric Helms is pastor of The United Methodist Church of Somers Point in Somers Point, New Jersey.

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