Friday, March 20, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Inclusion

This time around I'm going to be looking at another chapter in Ben Corey's book Undiluted. This one, titled 'Undiluted Inclusion', is about how Jesus  includes all people. His main point is aptly summarized when he writes,
Jesus includes the excluded, and he calls on his followers to be just like him.
This would seem to be obvious. This is what Jesus did, and we who are His disciples are to be like Him in this, just as we are to be like Him in everything else. Would that it be so simple.

There is a problem.
Ben is reacting here against something he saw in his past church experiences.
We find plenty of other reasons to exclude people. We exclude because people have been divorced, exclude them for not signing on to our 18-page statements of faith, exclude them because of their mode of baptism, exclude them because of their sexual orientation, exclude them for rejecting predestination…we have become a religious culture focused on exclusion of the “other,” instead of following the example of Jesus that focuses on finding ways for the radical inclusion of the “other.”
And the fact of the matter is that he is right. I can't help but think that we all have seen something of this in the Church.

Fortunately, as he grew as a disciple, Ben saw something different in the text of Scripture. He saw what Jesus is actually like.
Instead of a man of harsh words, I rediscovered that Jesus was the guy who said, “God didn’t send me to condemn the world, but to save it,” “neither do I condemn you,” and “a new commandment I give you: love each other” — all sayings of Jesus that for whatever reason didn’t get much airplay in my old life.
In light of this I think that we all can say - and need to say - that Christians and the churches they populate are to be inclusive of all. Anyone walking into their meeting places is to be heartily welcomed. There is to be no, 'We welcome everyone except for those who are (fill in the blank)'. All are to be welcomed. And this is the reason: Jesus welcomes us. And that has a punch behind it when we remember that He really shouldn't welcome us. It would be different if we were nice, righteous people. But we're not. There is an awful lot in us that Jesus has to 'look past' in order to include us, a lot of sin. But He did and does. And so should we. Sadly, this is a significant failure in too many American churches. It is wrong, and it dishonors the one whom we call 'Lord'.

However, we can't stop here. We can't because Jesus doesn't. While He calls to all and welcomes all, He has expectations of those who would become faithful disciples. Consider this example.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9.57-62
Jesus also said,
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  Mark 8.34
To be one of Jesus' disciples will cost you. It includes things like giving up any sense of home and placing devotion to loved ones a step lower. It will involve self-denial and suffering. Jesus says so. I am repeatedly amazed at how clear Jesus is when it comes to being His disciple. There is no fine print to be discovered later. Being one of His disciples is going to cost.

It needs to be said that not all are willing to accept these conditions.

So, there was the man who came to Jesus interested in eternal life (Mark 10.17-22). Jesus got to know him a bit. And He loved him. So, Jesus told him,
You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.
Hearing this the young man walked away. Jesus welcomed him and invited him to become one of His own. But he was not willing to follow Jesus on His terms. And so, he didn't. He excluded himself. 

There will be those who will come to see what Jesus requires and will not be willing to pay the price. They will exclude themselves from the company of Jesus' disciples, His Church.

There will also be times when Jesus Himself will call His Church to exclude someone. In Matthew 18, Jesus talks about what to do with a disciple who sins, that is, a disciple who will not live as Jesus expects in some area of his life. There are a series of steps where this disciple is encouraged to turn from his sin and be forgiven. These are times when other disciples offer to help in whatever way needed so that their brother will live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus. But there will be times when a disciple will refuse to turn, even after many appeals. It's at that point that Jesus commands His Church,
 Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
The faithful are to exclude this person from the company of the disciples. He is to become as an outsider. They are not to do this will glee but with tears. But they are to do this. Jesus has commanded it. He has commanded that this person be excluded.

So, based on what we see in Jesus, on the one hand we are to welcome all. No exceptions. Really, no exceptions. And Jesus' gracious kindness in welcoming us is to be our model and motivation in doing this. If any of these who come desire to become disciples we should clearly explain Jesus' expectations. We need to tell them what it will cost to be one of His. At the same time, we are also to make clear that none of us are meeting those expectations very well. But by repenting of our failures and coming again to Jesus for forgiveness and for change we continue to work at being faithful disciples. This is how we make progress.

So, I agree with what Ben is reacting against. It is evil. But he needs to say more. As we welcome all, we also need to acknowledge that there will be those who will not be interested in what Jesus offers and calls for. They will exclude themselves. There will also be those who start the journey as disciples but midstream somewhere they refuse to continue it in the way that Jesus calls for. They will need to be excluded by the Church. We are to think this way because it's what Jesus taught us.