I hear a lot of concern about our church putting up barriers. The pitch usually runs something like “I’m sure you mean well, but your ancient approach to worship puts up barriers between the Lord and the people you are trying to reach. They just can’t relate to that stuff.” or “Don’t you know that being so picky about doctrine puts up barriers between the Lord and people who believe all the main points. Don’t worry so much about the minor points.
They aren’t important anyway.” or “Relax. When you insist on doing things a certain way you put up barriers between the Lord and his people. We need to change with the culture or we’ll die.” Then comes the sales pitch. There’s a new way to eradicate any barriers in the church so that people will flood in. I say sales pitch, because it really is almost always for sale. Seminars, conferences, books, programs, websites and apps. A lot of money changes hands over these things.
There’s a couple of questions I have to ask. First, if what these Christians hold in their hands is the key to the salvation of many, and wish only to see the lost saved, why are they making a profit by selling these techniques? Is it some fundamental accounting error that’s been overlooked? Maybe these folks just never noticed where the luxury cars so many of them drive came from. Is it because they would rather have the money than see the lost saved? It would seem to me like if this magical key to church growth is all that it’s hyped to be, why isn’t it given away? It just doesn’t seem very loving to me.
More importantly though, are the barriers actually a bad thing? If the bible counts as a source of truth, they seem to be pretty important. A barrier between Noah and the flood was all that saved the human race from destruction. We need a barrier between us and the same destruction. St. Augustine said “All flesh on the face of the earth, outside the ark, was destroyed by the flood; as, beyond the communion of the Church, though the water of baptism is the same.” Cyprian tells us:
“‘In the ark of Noah a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. Similarly, baptism will in like manner save you” [1 Peter 3:20-21]. In how short and spiritual a summary has he set forth the sacrament of unity! In that baptism of the world in which its ancient wickedness was washed away, he who was not in the ark of Noah could not be saved by water. Likewise, neither can he be saved by baptism who has not been baptized in the Church which is established in the unity of the Lord according to the sacrament of the one ark”
The church is the ark we’re given to bring us safely through the dangers of sin and the devil. The church is the barrier that keeps us safe from death and destruction itself. The church does erect barriers. It’s supposed to. It’s a mighty fortress that protects us from damnation itself, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [Matthew 16:18].
The reason our worship and teachings remain unchanging in the midst of a changing culture is that when we chip away at the barrier God has erected, the devil creeps in, and he brings death and destruction with him. If Noah tore down the barriers of the ark, he would have drowned. When we tear down the barriers of our church, what protection can it give? We don’t want to keep anyone outside of it. We want everyone to seek shelter here. But we insist that if they want to be saved, they stay inside the ark where it is safe. That’s the whole point, after all. Our church erects barriers, and we fight to keep them there, because just like Noah, a barrier is all that protects us from utter destruction.