The sign inside the historic Church of the Open Door, once in downtown Los Angeles, is remarkable if you think about how many churches would be willing to put “ALL HAVE SINNED” over the front of their church. Think of what that would do for people visiting. Think of what that would do for the regulars. I can think of only good things coming out of that.
Church is home for bad people. Jesus didn’t come for good people; He made that very clear. And yet, why does this always seem like such a radical concept? Like, once we are in church, we are all supposed to be good? It should not be this way. This should be the most obvious thing about being a Christian — a continual sense of astonishment over God’s grace to the undeserving — us.
Church is a place where everyone is welcome but no one deserves to be. Church should be a place that is bathed in grace. Everyone, from the pastors to the people, should be in a perpetual state of amazement that they actually get to be a part of the body of Christ. No one ever gets to a point where they take this for granted. If they do, there is something wrong.
We have gotten away from the fact that church is for sinners, most likely because we have failed to be honest about our own ongoing real struggle with sin. Sinners are only tolerated outside of salvation. Once you are saved, you are expected to not be sinning anymore, so there is a good deal of hiding going on in most churches. If the gospel welcomes a sinner like me, it welcomes anyone. This is the way we need to think.
How damaging is this best-foot-forward prevailing thinking in Christendom, when the bottom line of the body of Christ is the love and acceptance of forgiven sinners? Damaging enough to undermine our message. This is the day of salvation. This is the open-door policy. This is the Gospel of Welcome.
I grew up listening to J. Vernon McGee from the Church of the Open Door — the one with the neon “Jesus Saves” sign on the top of the building. The sign, now a Los Angeles icon, has been relocated to another downtown building, but the church building, which used to seat up to 4,000 people, was torn down 30 years ago. The church body has been relocated to Glendora and still goes by the same name, but its legacy as an open door for sinners in downtown Los Angeles is no longer a presence.
There is something sad about that, and something that needs to be resurrected, if not in name, at least in practice, although I love the name, too. If you and I are the true church — the body of Christ — then we should be the Church of the Open Door, and our doors are open to anyone and everyone. And write this over the front so as never to forget who’s here and who is welcome here: “ALL HAVE SINNED.”