I have watched changes occur in my church over the years–some changes good and some not so good. But one thing that seems to always stay the same is our tendency to have people among us that are “outsiders.” They worship with us, they love our people and we love them, but they will always remain outsiders because of some idiosyncratic distinction that sets them apart from us. It is usually an outward thing, an application of scripture that they interpret differently than the rest of the church. We view it as the one thing that they refuse to “give up.” And because of that “one thing”, they will always remain an outsider. We don’t deny that they are believers, we don’t doubt their salvation, we just can’t include them as being a true part of our particular assembly.
We point out our “outsiders” to others and say, “Look how inclusive we are! We have people from the community that worship along with us.”
Never mind that they can never be members. They are and always will be permanent visitors unless they are willing to give up more and look like the rest of us.
Is that being inclusive or exclusive?
Recently I was reading about some exclusive social clubs and I was struck once again by the similarities of many of their requirements and the requirements of our Anabaptist churches.
What is a social club? The Wikipedia defines it like this: “a social club may be a group of people or the place where they meet, generally formed around a common interest, occupation or activity.”
There are many different kinds of social clubs. Many are centered around golf, others around art, hunting, sailing, yachts, music, writing, etc. Basically, you could probably find a social club for whatever interests you may have. But in order to join a club, you must be able to prove that you are worthy to be a part of the club before you can be a member.
In some clubs, anyone can apply for membership; in others you can only apply if you know someone who is already a member. In one club, the Loblolly Pines Club, a current member must sponsor you and four others must second it before you can even apply. The most exclusive clubs do not allow applications– you can only become a member by invitation. For others, lineage and money are the key to get in.
All clubs have some standard or expectations you must meet in order to join. Some are not open about information regarding their membership requirements, saying, “If you need to ask, don’t bother..” Dress codes and decorum are strictly enforced, and rules regarding language, etiquette, and lifestyle keep members from being an embarrassment to the club. Not keeping up with all expectations could result in getting your membership revoked. Some clubs, such as the Plainfield Country Club, will give the errant member a written reprimand, and if they receive several written reprimands, their membership is suspended.
The purpose of a club is to foster a sense of community, a feeling of belonging. It promotes the idea that people will grow closer in their relationships with each others that have the same social status, interests, and lifestyle. The idea is to be with those that are like-minded and to keep out the undesirables.
Exclusive clubs vary in their levels of exclusiveness. Some will allow visitors to come freely, others will only allow visitors to come with other members, and the most exclusive rarely allow any visitors. For some, visitors are allowed only at special events, and then only to observe. Each club has their own rules about visitors, but the most exclusive clubs tend to look down on those clubs that are not as exclusive as they are. Each club varies in what visitors are allowed to do, but none allow visitors to participate in all that members can do.
So I ask again, are we as Anabaptists inclusive or exclusive?
If we claim to follow Jesus, we should do as He did. Did Jesus ever turn certain types of people away? What about the early church? Was there ever a dress standard or social status or lifestyle that needed to be met in order to be considered a “member in good standing?”
Certainly, if there is sin, it needs to be rebuked; but that is not what I’m addressing. When other believers are at a different place on their road of life than we are, are we willing to be patient and let the Holy Spirit work at His own pace? Or do we insist that all who wish to be a part of our assembly should also be at the same place that we are?
That is where I see the resemblance of an exclusive social club. We wish to keep out those that are not of “like-mind”. We tend to view those who don’t look like us, talk like us, and live the same lifestyle as us to be an undesirable that we really don’t want to share membership with us unless they are willing to change to become exactly like us. It’s a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of mentality. If we can do it, you can do it! We don’t leave much room for the changing power of the Holy Spirit. We want to see change before you join.
An exclusive club generally only attracts those that want to look like, sound like, and be like those in the club. Only a certain type of people are attracted to that specific club. Is this what the body of Christ should be like? Did Christ die for all, or only the ones who manage to clean up and look right on their own first?
If we really believe that Christ died for all, then we should want to extend His invitation to all, not just the ones that are like-minded with us. If our evangelizing becomes more about telling people what they need to be willing to give up (in order to look right and meet our church dress standards) than it is about what Christ did on the cross, we are not comprehending the Gospel or the Great Commission.
Most of the time we are content not evangelizing. It’s hard inviting someone to a church that will require an entire cultural change in order to be accepted. We figure if someone wants to join an Anabaptist group, they will find one to join. So if I’m only going to tell someone about Jesus, I need to have a church ready to recommend that they could join in case they don’t want to look like us.
When someone from a non-Anabaptist background wants to join an Anabaptist church, there are often so many unspoken rules (along with the written rules), that they end up discouraged and give up– even if they were trying to follow the written rules. And I am suddenly hearing “If you need to ask, don’t bother…”
We view those with some sort of an Anabaptist background as having a better chance at fitting in. There is usually some truth to this because they are already somewhat familiar with the culture. But here I see “lineage” being of importance to us. We think this raises the chances of them fitting in our club better.
Having money helps too. In our culture, we believe this shows that you are a good steward. Those that don’t have much money will be spoken of negatively as others critique any financial decisions and purchases made.
Many of us don’t know what to do with the “outsiders” in our groups. Some members complain. They worry that they might have a bad influence on the rest. But it’s not just the “outsiders” that other members complain about. Anyone who deviates at all from the standard is viewed as a troublemaker. Have you ever heard remarks like, “Why can’t they go find a church where they can be with people more like themselves?” Or if people do leave, comments are made such as, “It’s just as well. They didn’t really fit in and they didn’t meet the dress/social standards anyway.”
I wonder what Jesus says when one of His lambs goes astray? Does He say, “Oh well. He/she never fit in well with the others anyhow. He/she didn’t look the same and didn’t perform as well as some of the others.”
(Luke 15:4,5,7 “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing…likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”)
Maybe the reason we aren’t concerned is because we know they aren’t lost sheep. They just have a different view of scriptural application than we do. So we don’t want them in our club.
Some of my sources: