The subject line of an email I received recently was “Muffin Top Drop.”
I am not sure if it was a promotion for weight-loss or advertising a delicious pastry. I decided to forgo opening the email, assuming it was unsolicited. Besides, I like muffin tops and I do not need an email to convince me of it.
I am amazed at the emails that get filtered and never make it to my virtual desk and those emails, like the one I mentioned above, that make it through in spite of our filters.
For example, one day I received unsolicited emails promoting cigars, credit reports, memory loss prevention and something called a “belly buster.” I hope my emails are not some kind of profile.
When I accessed my junk file that automatically redirects emails from my inbox, I found emails from church members wondering why I had not replied to earlier emails, a poetry blog I subscribed to years ago, and something from Harvard (I am sure it was a delayed acceptance letter).
Some people I know could stand to work on their filters. Saying and posting whatever comes to mind or how one is feeling at a time of heightened emotions is rarely a wise choice.
God gave to us a frontal lobe and while not all lobes are created equal, a little reflection before speaking or writing is good for the soul and good for others, too.
So, should churches ever filter?
Apparently my congregation attempts to filter spam emails with our server, but it hasn’t been terribly effective lately. But that is not what I mean.
Rather, I am wondering whether churches should ever filter who is welcome and who is? Is everyone really accepted, unfiltered, just as they are?
I worry about those that are filtered out from the church. I know that we do not always intend to filter others out, but nevertheless it happens.
Our dress, language and innocent “cliques” can set up filters that make it difficult for others to enter in. Some of our ideologies may also stand in the way.
Political opinions, judgmental declarations and daily dramas can also serve as formidable filters that are difficult to get past.
Jesus tells a story in Matthew 22:1-14 of a king hosting a wedding banquet and when the invited guests do not show, he opens the doors to everyone.
“Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet,” the host instructs his servants (Matthew 22:9).
It is a great picture of what the kingdom of God looks like, a radically inclusive place where the hurting and dispossessed have a place at the table.
The story takes a strange turn, however, when someone shows up without proper dress – a robe – and is summarily kicked out to the streets.
At first glance, this seems rather harsh. Does it really matter in this story whether or not the guy has on the “right” clothes?
But this story is not about proper clothing. It is an allegory. The man accepted the invitation of the gospel, “but refused to conform his life to the gospel,” Douglas Hare explained in his Interpretation commentary on this parable.
Christians are called and loved without filters, but we are claimed with great expectations. We enter in singing “Just As I Am,” but we go out never the same again.
No longer can bigotry of any kind be “unfiltered,” for Jesus said, “Love your neighbor.”
No longer do our personal rights take “unfiltered” priority, for Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant.”
No longer will our greed be permitted “unfiltered,” for Jesus said, “What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul?”
The dialectical tension of the gospel is that we are loved and welcomed without filters and yet we are changed and transformed to live, love and do differently.
The church, God’s community here on earth, is not a place where we go to have our own ideas and biases supported and enforced. Church is where we enter unfiltered and sent transformed by the call, the invitation of Christ.
The central question becomes: how is God’s good news changing me?
Greg DeLoach is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in August, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Pilgrim’s Walk, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @GregDeLoach.
Greg DeLoach is Interim Dean at McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University and Director of Development at McAfee School of Theology and College of Professional Advancement.