I remember a story one of my heroes, the late Frank Pollard, shared with me during my seminary days. He had gone to FBC of Jackson Mississippi as their senior pastor. It was the early 1970’s and forced integration was taking its toll on the community. Racial tensions were at an all time high. Against the wishes of several powerful men in his church, Dr. Pollard asserted that their church would have an open door membership policy. They would not vote on whether or not to admit people to membership in their church, a longstanding tradition in the Baptist church. Originally the practice meant to keep the church made up of true believers, but the practice was often used and abused to exclude people of different races. Dr. Pollard knew that the church at large would not vote African-Americans into membership. In a prophetic act, Dr. Pollard declared that as long as he was the pastor, whoever wanted to join FBC Jackson would be accepted regardless of their background or race.
In the face of death threats and other more subtle forms of hostility, Dr. Pollard met with his deacons and explained, “I was the last of seven children to be born into my dirt-poor west Texas family. Our house only had two rooms. As a baby I made lots of noise and smelled bad. Had there been a vote, my six older brothers probably would have voted me right out of the house. But my family was not a democracy. The only vote that counted was my Father’s. It was his family and he said I stayed. The church is the same. The Father decides who becomes apart of the Family of God.”
What a word of truth! On the one hand, it’s a great word of comfort. No matter where you’ve come from, what you’ve done, or who you are, there is a place for you at the Table of God because God himself has saved you a seat. He has voted you in. On the other hand, it’s a word of great challenge. God hasn’t saved just you a seat, but he’s saved a seat for your neighbor (and your enemy!) as well. He’s voted them in, too! If you want to have a seat at the table, you’ll have to learn how to sit down together.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise – Galatians 3:28-29.