Recently, a few guys in my community group had a great discussion about how we can love people who believe differently than us while also upholding the truths of the Bible. That is, we believe that the twin ideas of loving people and standing for truth are not antithetical to one another. Indeed, faithful Christianity honors the God of truth and loves those God created in his own image. What that looks like in a confused age is worth a few community group discussions as we work through the complexities of life.
I want to suggest that in order to make progress in this discussion, we need to distinguish between the ideas of “welcoming” and that of “affirming.” If we are going to love God (which includes upholding the truth of his Word) and love people, holding ideas such as these in the right tension is important. The twin ideas of “welcoming” and “affirming” are not necessarily identical and, I think, we better serve those around us if we keep the differences in mind.
The difference is not tremendously difficult to understand, at least in the way I’m using the terms. First, welcoming someone includes making that person feel, at some level, accepted as a person created in God’s image. They should not come into our homes or our churches and feel like they shouldn’t be there. We want people from all walks of life to feel valued and cared for. Yet, that does not mean we affirm everything about a person. The adulterer should not find affirmation of their unfaithfulness, nor should the murderer, thief, rapists, abuser, glutton, or prideful man find affirmation of their sin. Those who struggle with such sins are welcome (with the right precautions in certain situations) in our homes and to gather with God’s people in our local congregations. When it comes to our churches, we genuinely desire for all people to know that they are divinely-designed image-bearers. We are eager for them to sit under the preaching of the Word, to hear the gospel, and to trust in Jesus. In that sense, we welcome all people, even the worst of sinners, in our midst. Yet, we do not affirm everyone’s lifestyle decisions.
Welcome? Yes. Affirmed? Not necessarily.
This discussion is one we should keep talking about as Christians. It has implications for how we open our homes and how we go about opening our church doors. Thinking through how we love people without capitulating to the culture by jettisoning God-given truth is worth the exercise of our God-given brains. In other words, this discussion has implications for how we can best fulfill the Law, which is summed up in love of God and love of people.
If you want to think a bit more deeply about how this looks up against the sexual revolution of our age, see Trevin Wax’s work, Welcome Everyone. Affirm No One.