As I prayed about this last post on this series, I believe, this is what God wants me to say to His Church, the Body of Christ: “Call my children back to me; spare no effort to call them back to me.”
Our Lord is calling His own to Himself. His own includes the lost without Him and the lost in Him. Theologically, if you are in Him you can’t be lost, but, in reality, there are many Christians who have real questions about their faith or may not practise their faith as they should, as a result of which they doubt if they are truly Christians. If they don’t get any help to resolve those doubts and questions, they may grow further and further away from the faith and eventually turn their back to it altogether.
I think most Christians know there are such fringe Christians around, but, maybe, they are not given the priority they should. We place a great deal of effort and resources on reaching the lost, but may not consider fringe Christians as “lost” to want to direct concerted action to draw them back into the fold.
Luke 14:13-14 says: “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” These are the people we normally don’t invite for Christian functions. They live on the periphery, estranged from the mainstream. Such people are not just the poor and the physically disabled like the crippled, lame and blind. They include the spiritually estranged, and these are the ones in Christ whose faith is at risk. And our Lord is reaching out to them before His return for He would not want even one of His to perish!
Surely, we all know that He reaches out through His Body, the Church of Christ?! There is a need to call out to the spiritually estranged and embrace them back into the fold. In the Parable of the Great Banquet, in the same chapter of Luke 14: 15-24, Jesus tells the story of the man who prepares a great banquet and invites guests who turn down the invitation. They give a bunch of excuses. The owner of the house gets angry and tells his servant to “go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” (v21) The servant does and reports back: “What you ordered has been done, but there is still room.” (v22)
Jesus then says: “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” (v23) The meaning of this parable is clear: Those on the formal guest list will not get “a taste of my banquet” (v24) but the unrelated, forgotten, abandoned, and the crude even, will.
The point I want to make here is how the servant got those in the periphery into his master’s banquet. He worked for a man rich enough to prepare a great banquet. But, he didn’t issue a new set of invitations to those in the periphery. Neither did he sit ensconced in his ivory tower and trumpet to everyone to come. Nor did he sent emissaries out. He did the most important thing necessary to reach out to those in the fringes: He himself stepped out of his ivory tower and went out to the streets and alleys of the town and the roads and country lanes — where the hurting live and the needs are — and engaged them, and in doing so, was able to “compel” them to come to the master’s banquet. And he succeeded. The banquet was a full house!
If the servant had sat on his high horses, he would never have been able to fill his master’s house!
As a former fringe Christian myself, I can tell you that if you want to bring our Lord’s lost back, humble yourselves, step out from the high, beautiful protective walls of church buildings, and go where the the fringe Christians are and build relationships with them.
Nothing will comfort him/her more than the warm embrace of a Christian who accepts him/her the way he/she is and reaches out to him/her.
In earlier posts I mentioned how a fringe Christian can return to faith. Firstly he/she must be open to the existence of God (Jan 3 post). Secondly, if you are His, you will be able to recognise His voice when His word is spoken (Jan 10 post). Thirdly, you need to find friends among Christians. Fourthly, you need a church where you can bare your heart to, at least, one Christian leader.
The fourth point is, to me, the most important. The fringe Christians’s experience is different. He/she may think differently and/or have experiences that make it difficult for him/her to relate with others. That inadvertently isolates them from others. But, their greatest need, really, is to connect. If you can’t understand that, then you’ll probably leave them alone and that’s the worst thing you can do to them because you cut them off from the love of Christ. If the love of Christ compels you, in your confidence in Him, you will find a way to build bridges with him or her.
In our zeal to help, sometimes, we pigeon-hole people into conformity to our rules, regulations and protocol for the sake of efficiency. That would only drive fringe Christians away because they can’t fit in. You have to give them the emotional space to just be, and slowly build trust relationships with them; it will soften their hearts and they would likely become good soil for the Word of God to germinate.
This post ends the “Returning from the fringe” series.
NEXT FRIDAY: The beginning of seeing