I was delighted to see pictures of South African socialite Zodwa Wabantu in church over the weekend. The assumption by many judgemental people, Christians too, is that Zodwa Wabantu is an immoral lady that would burn in hell because of her choice to- ‘go commando’.
Church must welcome all people regardless of where they are in their relationship with God. It would be hypocritical of a church or group of Christians to want to proclaim the Good news of Jesus Christ to “all the world” but not welcome those they deem worldly into the church. Shouldn’t we come as we are to find this Jesus Christ whom the church preaches about?
While the concept of “come as you are,” if understood correctly, is biblical, the precise phrase “come as you are” is not found in Scripture. But, again, the Bible does have a variety of verses that imply the same message, based on God’s amazing grace.
Truth is even though some conservative Christians are largely assumed to be unwelcoming, even hostile, towards people like Zodwa Wabantu, I am confident that in the vast majority of Christians that condemn the popular South African socialite are no angels themselves.
What kind of reception would your church give Zodwa?
My question is what kind of reception would Zodwa Wabantu find on a Sunday morning at your church?
Sure, some people in church might experience some initial uncomfortableness, not so much because their visitor is known to go commando (without knickers), but primarily because this is how humans typically feel when meeting someone well outside their own community. It would be just as if a crusty, leather-clad motorcycle-gang person, a Buddhist monk, a dreadlocked homeless person, or hippy dippy new-ager visited. It is natural to take a moment to adjust.
However, it would be the rare and unfortunate exception for the church ushers or stewards to check with the pastor if they can allow someone they deem dissimilar or ‘un-churchy’:
“Uh, we got a Zodwa Wabantu, out here who says she has no underwear and wants to attend our service! Is that okay pastor?”
One hopes that church is a place that welcomes everyone just as they are. Indeed, church should welcome all visitors, regardless of their story. Sadly, we do have very judgemental Christians who never welcome anyone who doesn’t conform to their standards into their circle even in church they will hound, shun and shame you out of church. In truth, some churches might tell the likes of Zondwa Wabantu that worshiping somewhere else might be right for them. They mistakenly believe some sins require exclusion from attending. Such congregations are thankfully rare and generally disapproved of by most Christians, as they should be.
Come as you are, is that what your church says?
God is amazing, gracious, loving, and forgiving, so He calls us to salvation, even though we don’t deserve it. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8), making it possible for us to receive forgiveness. He requires us to confess and forsake our sins when we come to Him, but He receives us just as we are, then begins to change us as we submit to Him in obedience.
Most biblically faithful churches realize they exist for all who might be interested in seeking Christ. Almost every good evangelical of a certain age was catechized with countless choruses of Billy Graham’s “Just as I Am,” after all. Most would be honoured God entrusted them with such visitors.
The famous get preferential treatment in church
In the world we live in today, the rich and the celebrities are still given preferential treatment unfortunately this has permeated into the church when someone famous or rich comes to church they are automatically given better treatment and love compared to a less known.
I am reminded of how PHD founder Prophet Magaya went out of his way to accommodate raunchy dancer Bev Sibanda in his church.
Bev Sibanda was among a few beneficiaries of Prophet Magaya’s benevolence as he opened a clothing shop for the dancer in the city centre. Some cynics saw this as a publicity stunt on the part of PHD Ministries, however, the majority Prophet Magaya genuinely tried to convert the raunchy dancer to a life of Christ.
The move backfired when Bev Sibanda for whatever reasons abandoned the business that prophet Magaya had helped set up for her and went back to her raunchy dancing. She nonchalantly staged a show at Zindoga Shopping Centre’s Manucho Club – a stone’s throw from Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Church in Harare’s Waterfalls suburb. As she joined a new rhumba group, Royal Court, playing a popular tune Sinamakosa on stage, Prophet Magaya was said to be conducting a service at his PHD Church across the road.
My point is Bev Sibanda was not your ordinary member she was popular and much talked about in a way she was a celebrity of sorts and thus, when she went to church it was big news considering her behaviour and the never before seen performances and acts she performed with a bottle on stage.
The church should be a no condemnation zone
Condemnation— is perhaps the deepest root of all problems in the church and the bane of all Christians.
When there’s condemnation, there’ll be fear. When there’s fear, there’s going to be stress. And when there’s stress, there’ll be manifestations of the curse.
The truth is that some individuals who call themselves Christians have acted hatefully towards others in church and outside church, and we need to begin by very definitely rejecting that reaction and expressing our sorrow that this has happened. In my work in different parts of the country I have encountered a surprising number of people in various churches who are struggling with the issue of condemning and judging the other. We need to take heed of this as Christians as we try to present what the Bible says about not judging others practice and remember that we are treading on incredibly sensitive ground.
A primary tenet of Christianity is the inherent dignity and worth of the person. Everyone must be affirmed simply for who they are: a never-before-seen image-bearer of the Trinitarian God. Full stop. This is absolute, and to say we should affirm people based on some individual particularity beyond their common humanity is actually a violation of equality itself.
Churches must welcome all and not try to change anyone let that be the prerogative of the Holy Spirit.