There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
The idea of opening doors has been on my mind a lot lately. Beyond personal experience, on a larger level, this is an issue that has demanded more attention from all of us for a long time.
Every day on the news we see people all over the world struggling through all sorts of horrible circumstances. Closer to home, we see people on the street who could use an invitation to prayer, faith, and understanding. We have a responsibility to them and to God, to open our hearts and welcome them to the Word of God. With that truth in mind, I have decided to dedicate this month’s posts to the subject of making more room for others in every area of our lives, starting with the church.
We know the stories of the religion in its earliest days as it opened its doors and offered faith to those who were previously unwelcome. We know the story of Paul, and we know about the mission to the Gentiles. But with all that knowledge, perhaps we forget the truly radical meaning behind that mission: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile.”
Think about that for a minute. To those reading Paul’s words in Galatia, the one thing they knew for sure was that the world was divided into only two categories—Jews and Gentiles—and everyone belonged to one or the other. Everyone on the one side belonged in the church, and everyone on the other side was meant to stay out. That’s how the whole world was set up. It was a truth everyone lived their lives by.
But Paul says that it isn’t true anymore. Can you imagine that shock? The old divisions don’t fit now, he says. We’re not Jews or Gentiles, he says. Nor are we slaves or free. Nor are we male or female.
“You are all one in Christ Jesus.” That’s what Paul wants us to know. No one is more or less welcome at a service, no one is more or less important. In fact, we aren’t different at all. God has made us one through Jesus. So, fine, we don’t care if someone was a Jew or a Gentile in the past. But Paul’s message remains relevant today. He might say in the 21st century, “You are not an American or an immigrant,” or “you are not conservative or liberal,” or “you are not black or white, nor rich or poor.”
Paul is telling us today exactly what he told the Galatians in the past: once a person arrives at the door with faith in his or her heart, once that person crosses the threshold into the church, all labels are meaningless. The doors to Christ Jesus are open to everyone, and space is not an issue.
And that revelation has profound effects on us, as well as profound demands. We are not to judge those around us. To fight judgements, we must make room in our faith, in our prayers, and in our pews to accommodate all who seek God.
Though we all come to God from different paths, Paul tells us we are all the same. Those standing outside the church doors need community and faith just the same as us. They need compassion and welcoming just the same as us. And they need God just the same as us.