Pastor’s Corner: A life lesson in welcoming church guests

Bunyan Cocar

Growing up in a conservative Baptist church there were a lot of rules. Most of us knew the rules, but some of us wanted to change the rules. The rules were well intentioned, but as I found out later, not necessarily Biblical – more cultural.

One Sunday, a friend of my sister’s came to church; she was not a church-goer. It was a big deal for her to come to church since most of the church service was in Romanian, and she was Mexican.

She thought highly of my sister as her friend to come to her church, even though she didn’t understand the language. On our way out the door we were approached by an elderly lady. This lady was saintly, always at church and well versed in the Bible. She came up to my sister and I, asking us to translate a verse she was pointing to in her outstretched Bible. It was intended for our guest.

The verse was Deuteronomy 22:5, “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this (NIV)”. Our female guest was wearing slacks, not ripped jeans or a short skirt – nice dress slacks. But because of this lady’s interpretation of that verse, she felt that our friend needed to be corrected. She took it upon herself to make our guest feel judged and inappropriate in her attire. My dad, the pastor, wrote it off as the church member was well intentioned. He did however, agree that wearing pants or not was not a real issue that mattered to God.

This incident has stayed with me over 20 years because of how unfortunate it was. Well-intentioned Christians can still cause harm and grieve the Holy Spirit. This verse was written hundreds, maybe thousands, of years before the time of Christ. Obviously they didn’t wear pants in ancient Israel, and the author had no idea what pants were. The original intent of that verse had nothing to do with our current culture or situation. It was a case of applying a verse out of context. For the church to be taken seriously in the public discourse we must jettison those things that are culturally based and maintain the foundational values of Christ.

Would our church lady friend have been OK with a guest that wore a proper skirt but was selfish, mean spirited and arrogant? Those sins are not as easily spotted yet are much more sinister and spiritually damaging than clothing.

We all sin differently, so let us be slow to judge others. Everyone is fighting a battle that we don’t know anything about. The visitor to your church has had to overcome the uneasy feeling of not knowing anyone, not knowing the customs, or rules. Realize that hospitality and kindness are as important as good theology and following the rules.

Finally, it is not up to us to maintain the purity of the church. Each person will be judged by God; it is not our job to judge, but rather to love, to welcome and be gracious. Always consider how you treat the guests that come to your church. Always be welcoming and hospitable, because your guests have overcome a lot just to attend. Always be empathetic toward visitors. We are not better than them, we are all sinners saved by the grace of God.

Let us read the Bible with the intention of becoming more compassionate, not more legalistic. We are all beggars; some of us just know where to get some food.

Bunyan Cocar is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dixon.