Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, NC, a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com
There was something distinctly odd about the way the lady visitor stood up in the ladies prayer room and chastised Vashti for disobeying Ahasuerus. She took a very strident position that wives must always obey their husbands in absolutely all things, no exceptions. Later she chastised me at the door of the church for daring to suggest that Abigail handled things right with her husband, Nabal. Abigail was just as wrong as Vashti, she said.
Normally visitors do not do that kind of thing. They also do not normally drive from a very long way away to get to a church, passing by countless other good churches to do so. The Holy Spirit seemed to focus me in on those things and nudge me to investigate what exactly was going on.
So I did. I got my wife to run a background check on the family, and I placed several calls to local churches near to their home. In very short order things became very clear. Dana handed me several mug shots of the lady’s husband and several pages of a lengthy criminal record for sex offenses involving children going back many years. How the man was not in prison forever is beyond me.
And then my phone started ringing. As it turns out, the reason the lady was passing by so many churches very near to them is that neither she nor her husband were allowed on the premises of any of them. This brainwashed lady had been her husband’s “scout” for the children he wanted to pursue. Churches have lots of kids, and he wanted them, and she was willing to assist him. The pastors, thankfully, spread the word in the area and thus doubtless saved many children from molestation. And we, being fairly warned, closed the door here as well.
I thought about that incident recently when I passed by the church sign that said “Everyone Welcome, No Exceptions.” I also thought about the missionary who raped a couple of girls overseas and managed to flee back to the United States and avoid justice on foreign shores. He went on to prey on several young girls in churches around the southeast before people finally caught on to him and put out the warning about his behavior.
“No Exceptions” is a dangerous term. Spoiler alert: I do believe in winning sinners to Christ, and I do believe that if a person has gotten born again, God has cast his or her sin as far as the east is from the west, and they are on just as high a plane of standing with God as me or anyone else. And I do believe in general that sinners should be invited to church to hear the gospel so they can be saved. But that said, I stand by the statement that “no exceptions” is a dangerous term.
I posted a picture of the sign online and stated my concerns. I was fairly surprised by the reactions, especially among some men whom I have always believed to be decent men who nonetheless wholeheartedly agreed with the sign.
I posed several scenarios, among which were these:
What if a woman has been beaten to a pulp by a man on Saturday night, and comes to church on Sunday morning seeking refuge, only to have him come in screaming and shouting for her, trying to drag her out and beat her again? Should he, under the “no exceptions” rule, be welcomed in?
What if a known sex trafficker shows up looking for some children to kidnap and sell into sex slavery? Should he, under the “no exceptions” rule, be welcomed in?
What if a rapist shows up looking for a woman or girl to rape right there on the altar? Should he, under the “no exceptions” rule, be welcomed in?
What if a staff member has been caught molesting a church child? Should he, under the “no exceptions” rule, continue to be welcomed in?
I assumed that these admittedly extreme examples would make clear the folly of a church policy of “everyone welcome, no exceptions.”
I was wrong.
For several hours I debated with people online, which I truly loathe ever doing. Most of the time I utterly refuse to do so, no matter what. But in this case, I pressed ahead intentionally, because innocent lives are literally at stake if the church in America gets this wrong.
The handful of people who disagreed with me, supporting the “everyone welcome, no exceptions” policy, did so on two primary grounds. One, that “Jesus would never turn anyone away.” Two, that “We are supposed to be winning sinners to the Lord, not pushing them away.”
Let me deal with both of those briefly and biblically. As to the idea that “Jesus would never turn anyone away,” we are dealing with what I have told my church repeatedly is a flaw based on a “made up Jesus” rather than the actual Jesus of Scripture. The world says a lot about Jesus, much of it is completely wrong, and all of it is designed to produce a Jesus that we can all be comfortable with. The church, sadly, has often taken that Jesus in, rather than the real Jesus, who did and said things that are distinctly uncomfortable.
The real Jesus will not only not have everyone in church, He will go so far as to personally refuse people entrance into heaven based on their iniquity:
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
The real Jesus, who started the church, gave instructions for the church that included removal of certain individuals:
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
The real Jesus chased certain people out of the House of God, not once but twice, and the first time He did so with a whip:
John 2:13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, 14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
Matthew 21:12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
The real Jesus, rather than being “welcoming of everyone,” called certain people children of hell (Matthew 23:15) told others they were of their father the devil (John 8:44) and called some snakes and vipers and told them they were heading for the damnation of hell (Matthew 23:33). Clearly, Jesus did not buy into the notion of “everyone welcome, no exceptions.”
As to the second argument, that “We are supposed to be winning sinners to the Lord, not pushing them away,” there is absolutely a great deal of truth in that. But though there is absolutely a great deal of truth in it, it is not an “absolute truth” when it comes to the local church. In other words, it is not everything you need to know on the subject, and it is not everything you need to consider in reference to the church. As I explained to one gentleman who was arguing on my post, I will go most anywhere to win any sinner at all, no exceptions, to the Lord. But that is a far different matter than saying “everyone welcome, no exceptions” when it comes to the local church. The man I referenced at the beginning of this paper, the sexual predator who wants to get into churches for the specific purpose of getting to children, though he claims to be saved, is clearly lost. We actually went to his house with a Bible and the gospel, to no avail. I would gladly do so again and again if he were willing to receive us. But I will not allow him to darken the doors here, knowing that he has an insatiable appetite for innocent children.
So, does “winning souls” trump everything in the local church and in the duties of a pastor? No. Winning souls is a vital part of what we do; it is one-third of the Great Commission, in fact. But God did not leave the church “the Great Commission to guide us,” He left the Bible to guide us. And the Great Commission is but one part of that Bible. And in that Bible that He left us He gave us a great many instructions concerning the church, including this one:
Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
These instructions were given to pastors, the elders of the church at Ephesus. The church was called a flock, a group of sheep. Paul warned those men, the “overseers of the flock,” shepherds, in other words, to be on guard against the wolves that were coming. What possible reason could he have for doing that? Did he not understand that the church must have an “everyone welcome, no exceptions” policy? And if it does, then wolves are to be every bit as welcome as the sheep they are there do devour…
Surely the folly of that is evident. Sheep and wolves do not mix.
Again, I am not talking about sinners seeking a Savior. I am talking about wolves seeking a sheep. As hard as it may be to do so given a wolf’s tendency to be adorned in sheep’s clothing, pastors must give all diligence to distinguish between those two different things. When a sinner comes into church seeking a Savior, we should rejoice and lead that sinner to him, no matter how stained and vile they may be. But when a wolf comes in seeking a sheep, they must be removed and barred before they devour so much as a single one. Paul went so far as to apply this truth to heretics in Titus 3:10-11, saying “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; 11 Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” He also gave us the instructions concerning church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, which ended with the words “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” He did so based on the truth in verse six that “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” In other words, what one person does affects everyone else. And if this was true in the case of much lesser things in that chapter, how much more true is it concerning things like rape, molestation, and the like?
Yes, we must welcome sinners seeking a Savior. But no, no, a thousand times no to the idea of throwing the door of the sheepfold wide open and smiling pleasantly as wolves growl their way past us, hungrily licking their chops at the sight of the helpless sheep.
One gentleman inferred that I was a legalist for holding this position. I told him that “not allowing a molester to get near children” and “not allowing a rapist to get near women” was an “odd” definition of legalism, and could he please give me a chapter and verse for that? He could not. But he could (and did) block me.
My wife and I discussed all of this brouhaha at length, and, as usual, I believe her evaluation is spot on. “All of those men agree with you,” she said, “they are just too proud to admit it at this point. They staked a firm position, and then when you started giving ‘for instances,’ they felt like they could not back down and admit they were wrong.”
I suspect she is right. And I suspect it because, as I said, these have, to my knowledge, always been pretty good men. One of those good men, in fact, after some discussion, finally understood exactly what I was saying, and wholeheartedly agreed. And I believe with all of my heart that if any of them, even those who did not ever finally agree, walked into the nursery and found a molester in there attacking a child, they would immediately beat the perpetrator within an inch of his life rather than “be welcoming of a sinner they want to win to the Lord.” But the problem with basing church policy on cute platitude (“everyone welcome, no exceptions”) or even defending that platitude, is that somewhere out there are pastors and churches who will take it at face value.
Policy cannot be based on platitude, and wolves cannot be welcomed among sheep.
Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his books and audio downloads are available by clicking the “Store” link above.
Feature photo by Pastor Bo Wagner