"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:1-4)
"If the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:23-25)
These two passages come from very different contexts in the Scriptures. But here’s what they have in common: They give evidence of guests being present in Christian assemblies. Now I am a believer in the primary purposes of worship assembly time to be the glorification of God and the edification of the saints, not primarily focused on a message to non-Christians. That’s what the rest of our week should be about. People are rarely converted to Christ just by randomly walking in and hearing one Gospel sermon from the pulpit. However, these two passages are reminders to me that we must be conscious of the fact that we have guests among us - those who may or may not be followers of Jesus at this moment.
James’ focus is on the impression that we give in how we treat our guests. Do we show them the same kindness, love, and respect that we do to fellow members? Would we still do so if we thought their attire to be “inappropriate”? What if the individual is openly LGBT? What if someone is “unchurched” and doesn’t necessarily get the cues of when to talk and when to be silent? What if they are introverts and aren’t comfortable being surrounded (or demands for personal information or participation in artificial “hug and handshake” sessions, etc.)? What if they are extroverts and linger afterwards “forever"? What if they have actual need requests? Are we prepared to treat people with the same welcoming love, regardless of these factors? James says that we should be.
Paul’s focus is on the impression that our worship practices give to our guests. This is the same chapter that speaks of maintaining a decent order in how we worship. Here are some factors we need to consider in how guests may perceive the worship: Is it Christ-focused? Is it pure (in spirit and in truth)? Does it match the practices of the early church if the guests check their Bibles? Do we speak as if we are only speaking to "insiders" (phrases like "EVERYBODY knows the story of the Exodus"...or using theological terms without explaining them...or assuming all listeners to a sermon or Scripture reading know how to find that passage in their own Bible)? Is it understandable? Is it orderly? Is it edifying? Are we putting unwanted, uncomfortable, or unnecessary pressure on guests?
I will add one more thought when it comes to our comments in Bible class settings. Be conscious of the guests from many backgrounds who may be present. Let us try our best to evaluate teachings and practices in light of the Scriptures and not by calling out specific denominational names. Think of how guests may perceive our “gospel” to be a “Baptist-bashing” or “Catholic-bashing” gospel rather than a Christ-exalting Gospel if these are the comments they hear. Focus on teachings and not on name-calling. Try wearing their shoes. Ask yourself what would help you to feel engaged, loved, respected, and healthily challenged if you were to visit somewhere new.
To His Glory,