Week of June 6

Building a “Welcoming” Church Culture

Read: Proverbs 25-27; Romans 15
“Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Romans 15:7, ESV


In the words of multimedia journalist, Brooke Kato, the term “cancel culture” refers to the “phenomenon of promoting the ‘cancelling’ of people, brands and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive, or problematic remarks or ideologies.” One expert believes that the roots of cancel culture have been present throughout human history. Societies punished people for behaving in a manner that was thought to be outside the lines of perceived social norms. Such “banishment” was set in place to reinforce a set of standards. On the other end of the spectrum, Paul writes that Christians are to practice a powerful social norm known as “welcoming” (15:7).

Let's See What the Bible Says

We begin by establishing a clear context for our focal passage in Romans 15. Paul continues a discussion that he began in chapter 14. There were Jewish Christians in Rome, whom he called “strong,” whose “clear consciences” permitted them to partake of food that had been held to be ceremonially unclean (NAC). Other Jewish Christians in Rome had been reluctant, it seems, to give up certain “ceremonial aspects of their religious heritage” (NAC). These felt internal conflict between their Christian faith and Old Testament regulations, while the first group no longer felt such constraints (see 14:1-4). Paul referred to those who felt reluctance as “weak” (14:1) and those who felt no inner restraint as “strong” (15:1). The terms he used should not suggest that he was being judgmental, but rather descriptive, indicating that the goal is strength of faith. Got it? Let’s consider Paul’s argument in greater depth.

He emphasizes the point that even though a believer was free from ceremonial obligations regarding foods and observances of certain days, he or she was not free from the law of love. Here is where many contemporary Christians climb out of the “Love-mobile” and decide to hitch a ride for the rest of the way. They are along for the ride of love until they have to sit next to some types of believers (see Acts 10:14-16; cf. Galatians 2:11-14). The so-called strong were effectively “cancelling” other Christians because they did not operate by their own perceived standards.

They did not like being required to “bear the weaknesses of the immature” (15:1). We may learn much from Paul’s injunction because it teaches us that we need one another, even those whose faith is not robust (cf. Galatians 6:1-2; NAC). Paul had a key moral goal in mind with all of this social bridge-building. He called believers to join arms to reach the mark of Christian maturity (15:2, “build him up”).

Paul provides us with three powerful arguments to pursue this type of fellowship with our church communities. First, you and I know that the best example of this is Jesus Christ (15:3). He denied himself, took up the cross, and died for us when we were weak and incapable of shedding our own sins. Jesus did not lay out the plan of His life in order to please Himself and neither should we (Mark 10:45). Secondly, everything that was written in the Scripture in “days gone by” was written for us. Scripture teaches us endurance, and its encouragement enables hope-filled living. Since it bears relevance today, we are to apply it to our contemporary circumstances. Thirdly, we are to note the source of this ability to become united. This unity in self-sacrifice is not achieved by our efforts, but by God’s gift (15:5).

Paul shows the way forward when he writes to the Jewish Christians to “mind the same thing among one another” (15:5; NAC). He was not telling them to practice unanimity, but to allow God’s Spirit to guide the conscience of one another toward a unified perspective. In other words, seek the Heavenly Father’s face together. Jesus Christ is the model and is to be that perspective. Much of the silliness that separates us dissolves whenever we take on the heart and eyes and hands of Christ in our relationships toward other believers.

Let's Deepen Our Walk

It has been a tough year for some of my long-standing favorite Disney characters that were “cancelled” by folks that rejected them for behavior outside of current cultural standards. Take, for example, the animated cartoon character Pepé LePew. The malodorous skunk would become love smitten by beautiful felines and pursue them. The character drew protests because his behavior was thought to normalize aggressive sexual behavior. You may recall that the animal appeared in 17 cartoons from 1945-1962.

I must admit that I was a bit annoyed that Pepé had come under fire. I had always viewed the skunk as an underdog who just wanted to be loved. However, when I paused to consider how his unwanted advances might offend some women who have been victimized by abusive men, I decided to “mind the same thing” and to stand in solidarity with women who have suffered abuse. The love of Christ led to me see the deeper moral concern for their dignity and worth. The cartoon character’s ridiculous escapades had often made me chuckle, but sexual abuse is no laughing matter.

Here is a thought for our spiritual growth. It appears that much of our current disagreement with one another in church has shallow roots. We separate over superficial differences. Loving families do not behave this way. My grandchildren, for example, have varying tastes when it comes to their attire, but they all love one another in their home because they are a family. Unity does not mean uniformity. We should not “cancel” other Christian family members simply because they do not operate by our perceived standards. Paul calls us to make the love of Christ, and the endurance He offers, normative in our churches.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. What causes you to “cancel” others in your church fellowship? In 2020 it was to mask up or to refuse the same. I recall several similar koinonia divides throughout my lifetime: long-hair on men or clean cut, coat and tie or jeans and casual, and classic or contemporary worship music. How may Christ’s love enable you to be “welcoming” rather than “canceling” in your attitude toward others?

2. For families: This is a significant lesson for all of us today. Sometimes we “cancel” others, whether consciously or unconsciously, but need to be reminded that Christ followers ought not to do this to other human souls. A good way to help children learn this life-lesson is to teach Paul's message and memorize the verse together: “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7, ESV).

Now, encourage your children to think of classmates at school who were “canceled” because someone else did not like something about them (clothes, hair, skin color, etc.). Now that school is out, plan a morning or afternoon play date with that family and meet at a park for an hour. Bring a treat of homemade cookies or fruit to share. Or think of someone who has just moved to your neighborhood or church from a different country. Arrange for a time to get to know one another. Demonstrate hospitality that includes. Hold your family’s arms wide open. Welcome, Friends! What a lovely habit to build with your children. It will last the rest of their lives!

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock