Who keeps the church door?

Delegates to the United Methodist Church General Conference held recently in Fort Worth, Texas, debated — among other things — the role of pastors in determining someone’s readiness for membership.
The issue, according to a Religion News Service report, was raised by an Ohio pastor who said her congregation was used.
A bride-to-be joined the church to avoid paying the non-member wedding fee, the pastor reported, and then was never seen after the ceremony. Her only interest in the church was the one-time use of its center aisle.
But quickly the UMC delegates turned the discussion to whether gays and lesbians can be excluded from membership. Of course, many discussions in church life today concern homosexuality. It is the hot-button issue that will not being going away soon.
One delegate in the Fort Worth meeting described the debate as being over discernment of membership versus Christian hospitality.
Many of us remember when an African American joining (or, in some sad cases,only seeking to join) a white congregation was big news. Therefore, restricting the invitation to membership in any way feels uncomfortable.
Yet, on the other hand, one can sympathize with the pastor who picked up on the ulterior motive of the bride-member, but felt she could do nothing about it.
Interestingly, the UMC debate took place in the same town where a Baptist church has recently struggled over whether gay members could be pictured with their partners in the church directory.
The word “hospitality” sounds so gracious. But often the debates over how churches relate to all persons can be less than hospitable.


  1. “Papa” Joe Hendricks at Mercer once told me about a church in Woodland, GA. It was during the civil rights movement that this church was having an internal debate about whether or not to allow African-Americans into the building. One member stood up and said that he’d be OK with allowing these visitors into the services as long as they could stop them at the door question their motives. Mr. Goolsby, known for his support of the Civil Rights Movement, stood and said that he would honor that request as long as it was modified so that everyone would be asked about their motives prior to entering a service.

    I tend to view church membership in a similar way. If we become bouncers at the door and keep people on the outside of the church, where else do we expect them to find such a saturated presentation of the gospel? We (church members) tend to expect people to be like us and believe exactly what we believe before they join our church. However, they have to go out and find out all the details on their own because we can’t associate with them or tell them about it because they’re not members. You can’t get in until you know and you can’t know until you get in. All the while, we’re amazed that statistics show a decline in Christianity.

  2. Good point. And re: the UMC example, a church could charge members and nonmembers the same rate for holding a wedding at the church.

  3. I’m late on this, I suppose, but Mr. Goolsby was my Granddaddy, and his way of dealing with the race issue has affected how I handle other issues of exclusion from the church. For that’s what it is: exclusion. What right have I to shut someone out from the family of God? Regarding the homosexuality issue, I have no idea what the answer is or how to draw the fine line, if it must be drawn. All I know is that shutting people out for reasons we sinful humans determine are fitting is not following the example of the one we claim as Lord. As for the use of church facilities, as Johnny said, it’s probably best that membership not afford certain privileges for activities unrelated to the workings of the church.


  4. Real Baptists have ever considered it the right of the congregation to vote members in an out. Those on the Baptist left may consider these passages errant, they are still in the Scriptures which true believers believe are all inerrant:

    JESUS: “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. 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. 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. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

    PAUL: “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

    For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

    Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

    I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

    For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”

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