How Inclusive Should We Be?

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”  Ephesians 2:19 NIV

This is a wonderful verse that fills us with joy at the thought we are considered part of God’s family, members of His household.  Yet this verse also may create sour feelings within us as we consider just how large, or perhaps small, this household is.  We may look at loved ones in our family or to good friends and wonder, perhaps worry is the better word, if they too are part of this family of God. Of course it is our desire that they be such and the thought they may not be fills us with dread.  We want to feel inclusive.

In my personal Bible reading I am again introduced to the many tribes of Bible times; Canaanites,  Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites among others. In our day within Christianity has sprung up two new tribes, which are really quite old: the inclusivites and exclusivites.

Inclusivites don’t handle well the thought of anyone not being found in God’s family and so they will make it as big as they possibly can.  There are two ways to do this.  One is to declare that all roads lead to God.  The second is to declare that the only road to God is through Jesus, but that God will ultimately put those on another road on a detour that will get them on the right road.  Hence, your fears over the journey s of your loved ones are put to ease.  And you get a pat on the back by society for being inclusive.

Then there are the exclusivites.  They tend to think that God’s family is very small indeed, in fact it is made up of only people who think and act just like them.  Like the old joke that God will separate the Baptists from everyone else in heaven because He just can’t bring Himself to break it to them that they are not the only ones there.  Mind you, I have not met very many exclisivites in my travels, even among Baptists.  It is far more common in our day to meet an inclusivite.

How do we deal with our anguish over God’s family and the thought it is not big enough to include our loved ones?  Should we join a tribe?  Perhaps the inclusivites so that can think our loved ones are okay and that our fears are much ado about nothing?  Or the exclusivites who sometimes end up redefining loved ones as those in the ‘club’?

Ephesians 2 suggests a way forward.  Here is the short route (the long route will be traveled by those who join us in church this morning!):

  1. Be solid on Biblical theology:  Which in this case means being solid on who the “you” refers to in our verse above.  See verses 1,2, and 11.
  2. Recognize our default position, yes, even ours: See verses 1,3, and 12.
  3. Recognize the amazing grace of God in our passage: See verses 4-8.  And then recognize that this grace is not just a theological term that pastors like to use, but a reference to the amazing generosity of God.
  4. Recognize how fences and walls between peoples are destroyed in the Kingdom and family of God.  See verses 14-18 and Galatians 3:28.  It is like John Lennon’s “Imagine” only it is not left to the imagination as a pipe dream, but to the will of God as a sure thing.
  5. Recognize that God’s family is not primarily about destiny, but about identity.  See verses 15,19-22.  We tend to only look to the future, fretting about who God will “let into heaven” and then we get annoyed with Him when we think our loved ones, or anyone else for that matter, will not be there (and we may even insinuate that we are more generous than God). We should look instead to who is recognizing the Father and demonstrating a ‘family likeness’ to God’s family right here and now and consider who’s will is at work in that.  And while we are at it, let us consider our own family resemblance.

Finally, we do well to follow the example of Jesus who was inclusive in His invitation to the Kingdom and inclusive in His service to others.  But Jesus did not throw open the gates of heaven by denying the truth of sin and the damage done to our relationship with God, rather He became that gate. That feeling of tension that we may feel over the household of God is a good thing.  It inspires us to the noble task of evangelism, being inclusive in our invitation and service, and always ready to point to the gate.

A Familiar Problem

Today in Canada we face a grave danger that may affect the condition of millions of souls and the direction of the nation. What is this danger? We are too familiar with Jesus. Far too many Canadians have heard of him. “Now hold on a minute” you may say, “shouldn’t a Baptist pastor be thrilled that so many Canadians have heard of Jesus?” Well actually, no. Why? Consider what happens when Jesus goes back to his hometown as recorded in Mark chapter 6:

When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:2,3 NIV)

Familiarity with Jesus led the people of his hometown to be offended in him. Despite the miracles they had heard of, and despite the wise and remarkable teaching they were hearing, they could not get past what they thought they knew of him. “Isn’t he someone we know quite a bit about already?” As it turns out, the hometown crowd does not know much a out him at all. What they thought they knew about him prevented them from really knowing him.

“Isn’t he . . .?” That is how many Canadians will respond when the name of Jesus is mentioned. “Isn’t he from that religion that was important to our grandparents but is no longer relevant to us? Isn’t he that teacher that religious nuts made out to be a god after his death? Isn’t he . . . ?” and on and on will come opinion after opinion about Jesus. The problem is the same today as it was for The people of Jesus’ hometown. What people think they know about him becomes “gospel truth.” But it isn’t. And it becomes an obstacle to faith, a stumbling block at the entrance of the the Kingdom.

So how can the Church respond to this danger of familiarity?

First, we can get to know the hometown crowd. The study of apologetics is increasing in importance in the current Canadian scene. Apologetics is not being sorry for our faith, but rather is the reasonable defense of our faith. Some would sum the task up under the verse from Peter:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

One side of the coin in apologetics is defending the truth of what we believe as Christians reasonably and rationally. The other side of the coin is planting seeds of doubt that what the hometown crowd thinks is true, is actually true and reasonable. The journey to faith for many Canadians will, I believe, begin with doubt. Very few Canadians today have a blank ’belief’ canvas without some notion or opinion of who Jesus is. Some falsehoods may need erased before truths can be written in. Familiarity can be a curse! I believe the Christian must help those familiar with Jesus know Jesus instead.

Second, we can pray for miracles. An interesting story in the New Testament records how James, the brother of our Lord, moved from apparent skepticism to passionate faith. During Jesus’ public ministry he seems to be, along with the hometown crowd a sceptic. Can you blame him? I wouldn’t know what to make of it if my brother started doing the he things Jesus did and teaching the things Jesus taught. Yet we discover that by the end of the Biblical record, James is a key leader in the church in Jerusalem. How did this transformation from hometown sceptic to key leader and believer in Jerusalem happen? Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 15:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NIV)

“He appeared to James.” That is a miracle. And that is a miracle we need in our day in Canada, a miracle that we can and should be praying for. There are so many who think they know something about Jesus. They are familiar with him. We can pray for them, for the miracle of knowing Jesus. Let the hometown Canadian crowd inspire us to pray for miracles. Perhaps you can think of someone right now who needs that miracle? Maybe it is you.

Humiliated!

It was one of my worst moments. It was supposed to be one of my best, but the opinions of others brought a new twist. My band was opening for an up and coming country star whose name I can’t remember right now, which makes me think he came and went . . . much like our band. This gig was our biggest gig yet and it was sure to be packed as it was held for our troops on Base Petawawa. So where did it all go wrong? The make-up. I’m not one for fashion, even in clothing, so when it was suggested we wear make-up for the gig, I was mortified. And I was even more mortified when I realized why some soldiers were looking at me funny pre-gig. The men’s room on a military base is no place for a dude to be wearing make-up. In the eyes of my band and our groupies, make-up was essential for our stage presence. In my eyes, it was humiliating.

In the Old Testament we have a story where things appear very different to two different people, David and his wife Michal. When the ark was returned to Jerusalem, the king insisted on laying aside his kingly attire to dance and celebrate instead in a simple linen ephod. Michal was mortified: “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (2 Samuel 6:20 NIV) in David’s eyes however, his actions were completely appropriate:

“It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” (2 Samuel 6:21, 22 NIV)

Michal felt humiliated because of her husband’s antics. David was willing to be humiliated. What a difference in opinion!

Michal’s eyes were focused on reputation. The king should be all about power and majesty and his actions and dress should project that at all times. David’s eyes however, we’re on the truth of the situation. Compared to the majesty of God, his own was mere illusion. He knew who the true king was, and he knew it wasn’t him. God was the true king, David even referring to himself as merely ‘ruler’ in the passage rather than king. It was appropriate therefore, for David to trade his kingly attire for the attire a priest would wear, recognizing his true role as humble servant rather than powerful king.

How we love to dress up. We wear our knowledge, our influence, our intelligence, our good works, our love, our skill, our giftedness, and sometimes we even dress up in our humility. And we hope we look impressive in our robes. Better than running to the Michals of our lives, the people who confirm our suspicions on appearances, that we stand before God. There is no room for illusion there. Only the truth of our identity. If we possess knowledge, or influence, or humility or any other fine quality, we don’t need to wear it, we just need to be it. Let us make it a habit to be authentic before God and before others. And to do that, let us follow David’s example of standing before the Lord without the fancy robes . . . or make-up.