The contemporary church slogan “All Are Welcome” is certainly warm but it is not only warm, it is fuzzy. On the one hand “All Are Welcome” shouldn’t even need to be stated. It should be part of any church’s basic self understanding. Saying “All are Welcome” always strikes me as just a little bit creepy. I’m reminded of a banner I once saw over a school saying, “Children are welcome here.” Well, duh. It’s a school.
Anyway, I think the “all Are Welcome” slogan fits pretty neatly with the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity agenda that is also a current trend in the Synod of Synodical Synods for a Synodical Church of Synods. But of course all are welcome. That’s the mission of the Church. To welcome all to repent and believe the gospel. All are welcome to take up their cross and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
However I feel this is not really the message the pastors and prelates of NuChurch have in mind. Instead, it feels to me that the “welcome” is a call to open the church to everyone regardless of their actual relationship to Christ. Indeed, some of the quotes coming out of the synod would suggest just that–that we welcome into the fellowship those who are not Catholic, those who are not even Christians. But if this is the case, how exactly do we do that? What is the means by which they are welcomed? Is it simply a matter of affirming them and giving everyone a big hug? Do people really want that from a church? While that is all very nice and warm and cozy, is it actually Christianity? Is it even religion or is it just being jolly nice people?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should NOT be warm and welcoming. I’m not suggesting that we should be mean and nasty. I’m just asking, “Is that all that is required? If we are welcoming people what are welcoming them to? Is it a self help group? a community forum? A religious instruction class? A therapy session? What? If it is the Catholic Church, then it is through the preaching of the gospel and calling people to repent and be baptized–to receive instruction and become Catholics, that we welcome people. That sort of welcome works. We can do that.
But Pope Francis has repeatedly discouraged people from proselytization. He has discouraged Protestants from converting and told Catholic young people not to attempt to convert their Muslim neighbors. What then do they mean by “All are welcome?” It’s confusing.
I think it helps to remember that Pope Francis is an Italian, first generation Argentinian. In other words, he comes from a world where it is assumed that everyone is Catholic. Pope Francis is of the ethnic Catholic generation. One of his basic assumptions must be that everyone he knows, everyone in his culture is Catholic. If this is the case, then it is easy to understand his position on “All Are Welcome”. If everyone is Catholic, then the church’s task is to reach out and help them to be better Catholics. The pastor’s task is to seek the lost sheep and welcome them home. Thus Pope Francis wish for the divorced and re-married to find a way back to the sacraments. Thus his pastoral wish to welcome all those who have strayed from the church, been alienated from the church for whatever reasons, and for those who, through their sinful choices have wandered from the path.
If I am right, then that helps me understand the “All Are Welcome” slogan.
The only problem therefore, is the fact that not all of us come from the ethnic Catholic world. Furthermore, that ethnic Catholic world is dying out. Even in the traditionally Catholic countries the number of people identifying as Catholic is shrinking. Many of them have only ever been ethnic Catholics if they were Catholic at all, and while it is a good thing to call them to an intentional and real faith, the task is difficult because along with the poor catechesis they received as cultural Catholics, the cultural tide is now turning against the Catholic Church.
Merely putting up a banner and playing nice to win them back is unlikely to succeed.
What is needed in addition to the message “All Are Welcome” is a proclamation of the old, old, story of a sinful humanity in need of a savior–the call to repent and be baptized and the need for genuine evangelization.
But this reveals another underlying assumption of the priests and prelates of NuChurch. Not only are they under the impression that all the people in their old time Catholic countries are already Catholic and just need a warm hearted nudge to return to the fold, but there is also the underlying assumption or universalism.
Why do the leaders of NuChurch simply say “All Are Welcome” without making a call to conversion?Why do they tell Protestants there is no need to come into full communion with the Catholic Church? Why do they tell people not to convert others, not to proselytize, not to baptize non-Christian people?
It is because they really do believe it is un-necessary. They believe everyone, if not already saved, will eventually be saved.
This universalism is idiotic and it ignores a basic question the disciples asked Jesus: “Will many be saved?” and he answers, ““Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” In other words, “No”
So during this season of Lent we should remember that the gate is narrow and few there be who find it.