The comic strip Pearls Before Swine, by Stephen Pastis, once featured Rat saying to his friend the goat, “I have not gone to church in a long time.” The goat responds, “Oh, yeah? Why is that?” and Rat replies, “I’m perfect, now.”
It is seldom a search for personal perfection that brings people into church. In a healthy Christian church we are made aware of just how impossible it is for anyone to achieve perfection in this world and we are drawn ever closer to the source of all perfection, Jesus Christ. So, why is it that many people stay away from church because of an awareness of their own imperfections? How many times have you heard a person say something like, “Oh, I couldn’t go to church. The roof would cave in.” These people are expressing, in a facetious way, their own fears of being found unwelcome or unacceptable to the church body. Or even to God.
After stumbling in their faith walk, even long-time church-goers can withdraw from the fellowship because of shame and the fear of rejection, at the very time when they most need the support of the church family.
I once visited a small rural church with “Welcome, Fellow Sinner” posted prominently over the entry. I learned there had been some controversy when the sign was first hung, but the congregation had gone on to embrace the philosophy it represented.
Although church discipline has fallen out of favor in today’s permissive climate, we need to remember that repentance comes before forgiveness. Guiding our fallen brother or sister to recognize the need to turn back onto the narrow path is one of the helping hands we are expected to give.
Church fellowships are designed by God to support and nurture believers as we stumble along on our walk of faith and obedience. Walking a rocky path is easier with others by your side holding your hands in the slippery places.
It is good to remember when reaching out to support someone in danger of slipping…or who has already fallen…that the path ahead contains many perils and this same person could be the one to help you just around the next turning.
Romans 3:23 (NIV) 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,