Since becoming the Senior Pastor at Riverview Baptist Church a little more than a year ago, I have had three unique experiences wherein I was approached by people who wanted to attend Riverview as their home church. This is a common occurrence in my position, as many people want to meet and talk to the pastor and introduce themselves before committing to attend a local church. But these three instances were unique in that each one involved a person or people who were blatantly engaged in sinful behavior. The specific details of each situation were unique, but it was clear that these three groups of people were living lifestyles that were not conducive to biblical truth. In each instance, the inquiring party wanted to know from me if their chosen lifestyle would be problematic in regards to them attending our church.
In each instance, my response to their question was something like this: "All people are welcome to come to Riverview to hear the gospel preached. At this church we call all people to continually turn from their sin and toward Christ so that they might grow in holiness and righteousness and become more like him. And this includes you - you will likewise be called to turn from the sin in which you are living and turn to Christ, because we do not believe that the Bible condones your lifestyle. We believe that it is sinful, and that you need to turn from it and turn to Christ. So, yes! You are welcome to come to Riverview and hear that message."
The church is called to be a beacon of light and hope to an unbelieving world drowning in sin. And it is a place where sinners in search of redemption can come and find the healing that the gospel provides. For this reason, those who are lost in sin are welcome to come to our church to hear the glorious, life-giving message of the gospel. Indeed, all are welcome! In the end, however, none of the three groups of people I spoke to decided to come to Riverview as a regular attender.
But as we affirm that all sinners are welcome at our church to hear the message of the gospel, in the next breath we must also affirm that those who would seek to lead us away from the truth of God's word are most definitely not welcome at our church. For instance, those who are living sinful lifestyles are welcome to come to our church, but they are not welcome to promote or propagate their sinful lifestyle or thinking among those in our congregation. Nor can they promote or teach any thinking or doctrine that would lead our people away from the truth of God's word. There is a difference between sinners seeking redemption and wolves in sheep's clothing, sneaking into the fold to devour the sheep. We welcome lost sheep with open arms, but to allow wolves into the fold would be foolish and negligent.
This was John's instruction to the church which he was writing in 2 John. They were a struggling church, in which there were many false teachers who were in the church and drawing people away from the truth. John's instruction to that church was to have nothing to do with those who would lead the sheep astray. 2 John 1.10-11 says: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works."
The house that John describes in these verses is most likely not anyone's actual house, but probably refers to the "house" of God, or the church. So when John instructs them not to take any false teachers into their "house" he probably means not to let them into the church. Furthermore, John instructs them to not give a false teacher any greeting. The reason for these restrictions is a matter of appearances. John doesn't want the true believers of this church to give the impression that they condone or approve of the false teachings or teachers that were threatening the church in his day. To give such an impression could cause genuine believers to become confused, to doubt what they had been taught, or for some to even fall away from sound teaching. In other words, to give quarter and welcome to false teachers is to give the impression of approval of or agreement with, or at the very least, indifference to false teachings and teachers. The results of this impression are disastrous, no matter how you slice it. In fact, this is why John says that to give the impression that false teachers and teachings are approved is to "take part in his wicked works."
John wants clear, distinct lines to be drawn between the true and the false - both in matters of doctrine and in true believers and false believers. If the lines in either case are blurred, it creates questions and doubts among many in the church, and can cause them to fall away. For this reason, there needs to be a clear delineation between true doctrine and false doctrine, and true believers and false believers. And those who are found to be false must not be given a platform for their teachings, nor should they be made to be seen as being a part of the church, as such appearances can have serious consequences.
As a shepherd, one of my highest priorities is the health and well-being of the sheep, and I take my job seriously. These principles have guided my interactions with unbelievers who have desired to be regular attenders at Riverview. By all means, we want all who will, to come and hear the glorious gospel. But we must guard the purity of the church, and we will not sacrifice or endanger the Christian walk and growth of those who are in Christ in any way. We will give no greeting to those who would seek to lead others astray, and they are not welcome in this house.