Don’t Fence Me In

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one (John 17:15).”

A bit of a controversy erupted in Houston’s Fifth Ward recently when a church erected a 12-foot-high fence (8 foot or lower require no permit) around their property without seeking a permit from the city (1). Arthur Smith, a neighboring business owner sought to find out the reason for the bulwark that eclipsed his storefront and mural from public view. Smith called in city inspectors who cited the church for multiple infractions. Smith himself, was recently arrested for an altercation with an off-duty HPD officer employed as security for the church (2). Officials finally cut the fence down to size but all the while leaders of the church never issued a public comment on the reasons for setting up the imposing palisades.

Sometimes, we the church, can behave as though we conduct our faith and fellowship behind a fence, not to keep the world out but as a bastion in which we huddle and hide from the world. In the 6th century Benedict of Nursia led a group of believers to withdraw from society and form their own separate monastic community. Given the condition of our current culture such a monk-like existence may appear tempting, but Christ has called us not to retreat but to go into the world (Matthew 28:18-20).

It would appear that the Christians in Corinth had misunderstood this principal and Paul corrects this; “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).” In the workplace, little leagues, schools and all of our associations with neighbors we will encounter those who do not live according to the covenant of Christ. This is by design and not by accident.

Whenever Paul entered a town or city he went into the marketplaces to where the most people were to engage and reason with them (Acts 17:2, 17). Jesus confirmed that he did cloister only with the righteous but went out to bring sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17).

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told His disciples that they were the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). While remaining in the shaker salt is ineffective. Similarly, He called us to be the light of the world, that is not hidden under a basket but rather to be set on a lampstand so that its light may illuminate (Mark 4:21). Is it any wonder then that in His address to the churches of Asia he depicts those congregations as golden lampstands (Revelation 1:12-13, 20). The only threat to removal of their position was not from the outside forces of the world but rather only by disobedience to Christ (Revelation 2:5). The men and women of this world are to see the work of the church and glorify God (Matthew 5:16) but if we are hidden behind fences of our own making they cannot see our works. Jesus wants us to live in such a way that we will make the most impact on the world around us (3).

The church is not set up as a fortress to hide from the world but rather as an outpost for which we act as beacons to entreat lost travelers and set them on the course towards heaven. Don’t allow any fence to prohibit us from being good neighbors.

“Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled (Luke 14:23).’”

  3. Sellers S. Crain, Jr., D. Min., Truth For Today Commentary Matthew 1-13, Resource Publications, p.157

Billy Alexander is a member of the church of Christ in Jersey Village in Houston, TX. He and his wife Gwen both work at Hewlett-Packard where they met and have worked more than 25 years each. Billy enjoys teaching Bible several times each week at Jersey Village and Memorial church of Christ. Since 2008, his weekly article "Equipping the Saints" as run in the Jersey Village bulletin.

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