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Salvation and the restaurant

by Lynn Thrush

We value the free gift of salvation in Christ Jesus and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Gateway’s ministry staff has met for lunch at a nearby restaurant every other month for over a year. As I was paying the bill the last time we were there, the waitress who served us said to me, “Your church is my favorite group. You’re easy to serve; you don’t complain.”

She went on, “We have lots of church groups that meet here, and they are hard to serve.” (Truth be told, I also tip well.) It’s the first substantive conversation I’ve had with our waitress. What I know is that our church has the inside track on having a spiritually significant conversation with this young woman because of what she saw in us.

The Brethren in Christ Church, along with many other churches, is in these days describing salvation more broadly than as primarily an assent to the question “Will you receive Jesus Christ into your life so that you can go to heaven?” In his book The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Christopher Wright identifies this inadequate view of evangelism as “a safe long-term personal exit strategy from the world.” As this son of Ireland recalls, though most persons could have told him how to “get saved,” he also heard the language of hatred, bigotry, and violence coming from the same mouths.

In contrast, we are saying that as new creations in Christ, we are about the work of Christ, redeeming and renewing people and His whole creation. Integrity of life—holiness—worked out in gracious interactions with restaurant servers (and everyone else) is not optional behavior, for it is there that they see the life behind our words.

So it is in our churches. I think, for example, of a college student who came to us first through youth friendships and then into our young adult network through a carwash raising money for YouthQuest (a biennial conference for BIC youth). She heard the Word in our worship services and at YouthQuest, and she saw our lives. This past summer she declared her faith in Christ during her baptism. She is now one of our youth leaders and was at the luncheon when our staff received the compliment.

Our understanding of salvation influences how we witness and make disciples. I’m glad the Church is comprehending salvation in broader ways than words divorced from actions. I’ll tell you, it felt really good to be complimented by our server. And now, I’ve got a wonderful platform for our next conversation.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2008 issue of In Part magazine.
Lynn Thrush

Lynn Thrush is the senior pastor of Gateway Community Church in Chino, Calif. He shares his passion for biblical theology with students through his work as an adjunct professor at Azusa (Calif.) Pacific University, and he shows his love of sports by rooting for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers.

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