The wiry baserunner sprints the last 30 feet toward home plate, then glides beneath the catcher’s outstretched mitt. He is . . . safe!
The young mother holds three children closely, watching smoke billow from a forest fire across the valley. When the wind at last changes direction and the threat is past, she posts to her Facebook account that she and her children are . . . safe.
The 17-year-old with the pierced lip and the purple hair clutches the invitation to the vegetarian cooking school in her left hand as her right reaches for the front door. She has walked past this church for three years now, but this morning she is ready to take a chance. She summons her most confident self and steps into the shadowed foyer. She is . . . safe?
We describe so many different life experiences with one short but multivalent word. There’s little in common between the elation of the baseball fan when the umpire shouts a judgment and the unmeaning silence that greets newcomers in a somber sanctuary, and yet we reach for the same adjective. One moment is transient and forgettable. The other is life-altering, offering either warm community or continued isolation for days, months, or years.
The vigilance we expect in protecting our children from predators must become a vigilance to protect those young in faith from the loveless lectures of some seasoned “saints.”
It’s ironic that remnant people painfully aware of the devil’s historic hostility toward both faith and the faithful have had remarkably little to say about the church as a place of safety. We haven’t lost our confidence in Revelation’s vivid depiction of last-day events, but we rarely see the gathered church as the primary actor in the drama.
We typically frame the struggle in highly personal terms: we’re tempted to overeat at potlucks; lose our tempers with colleagues at work; visit websites where no Christian ought to go. The church as we often imagine it is chiefly a collection of individuals, each fighting private wars within a larger conflict. Sabbath morning too often becomes only a rendezvous where solitary soldiers reconnect after six days of skirmishing.
But the apostle Paul reminds us that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16). John the Revelator consistently pictures the gathered church as the great object of the plan of salvation, the focal point of a massive, heaven-guided protection plan.
So it is that we who are protected and made safe in the conflict of the ages must think seriously about how we offer the Lord’s safety to all who seek shelter and fellowship with us. This requires not only that we remove tripping hazards from the church sidewalk, but that we create a caring, hospitable environment when newcomers make it halfway down the center aisle. The vigilance we expect in protecting our children from predators must become a vigilance to protect those young in faith from the loveless lectures of some seasoned “saints.” Pierced lips and purple hair can be—should be—welcomed with the same protective love that guards against piercing words. The Lord reminded us, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered”—including any purple ones.
Jesus offers us the standard of care in His great prayer for His church: “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” (John 17:12). He who kept us—keeps us—safe expects that we will do the same for all the broken, wounded people He is calling to His remnant in these last days.
That’s why the church I want to belong to is . . . safe.