It came up again this weekend: a church leader saying, “We must not side with those in the church who would exclude a certain group of people. Jesus never excluded anyone.”
This person didn’t name the issue. Of course we all knew what he was talking about, but he chose not to say it anyway.
And there’s a bigger problem with this statement of his than either the group or the issue, so I’m not going to name it either. I know you’ll know what I’m referring to. What I write here could apply equally as well to other issues, though, in other times and places. This post isn’t about that specific issue; it’s about Christians’ dangerous tendency to bend their view of Scripture to accommodate current cultural demands, whatever those demands may be.
I have three points. First, that leader’s statement was both careless and almost entirely false. Second, it usurps God’s place, putting humans in charge of our relationships with him. Third, it tends to set aside the most central fact of Christianity — redemption through the cross — as if it were hardly relevant.
1. “Jesus Never Excluded Anyone” Is a Careless and Generally False Statement
The Church should indeed welcome everyone. There’s no denying that.
The Church has never fully practiced that welcome. There’s no denying that, either.
But hold on a moment: what do we mean by “welcome”? Can we use a little care in defining our terms, please?
If we mean the Church should invite everyone into a loving, truth-filled, warmly-offered opportunity to seek God together with us, then yes, we should welcome everyone.
Often, however, this statement means everyone may be welcomed into full communion and fellowship as members of the people of God, including positions of church leadership. For those who take the Bible seriously — who look to the evidence to determine whether Jesus excluded anyone or not — this is obviously false.
Jesus pointedly excluded the scribes and Pharisees (see all of Matthew 23). He obviously excluded certain ideas and beliefs, including the belief that what follows below is optional.
The rest of Scripture what I’m saying, for example 1 Cor. 6:9-10. Incidentally, the leader who tried to say Jesus never excluded anyone made that point in the course of a talk based on the first chapter of that same book of the Bible. Surely he knows that God’s word includes more than the red letters!
Also in 1 Corinthians, Paul very pointedly excluded a man who claimed to be a brother in Christ but was practicing immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-5). The reason Paul did that, the passage says, is so “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Exclusion from fellowship is a signal, a warning sent to unrepentant sinners, telling them it’s wrong to think they’re at one with the people of Christ while they persist in open disobedience to God.
Conversely, then, to allow people into full fellowship (including leadership) while they persist in open disobedience is to send them a false signal that everything’s okay. It’s like saying, “Hey, whatever, we don’t care. It doesn’t matter.” It paves the way to their spirit’s destruction. It’s not loving.
2. It Usurps God’s Place as God in Our Relationships With Him
The error that “Jesus never excluded anyone” may come from confused thinking the truth that he invited everyone. He made it very clear that all are welcome in his kingdom. It’s fine and good to affirm that. The error associated with it comes from forgetting that he extends his invitation on his terms. And it comes as well from forgetting that we are welcome on his terms. See for example Matt. 8:18-22 and Mark 10:17-22.
This is no small error. God does have the right, doesn’t he, to determine how we relate to him? He is Creator, he is King, and he is holy. Nothing could be clearer in Scripture. It’s equally plain to see that he has standards for us, and that one’s relationship with him depends on how one responds to those standards.
To say “everyone is welcome” without conditions is to ignore God’s own word on the matter.
3. It Tends to Makes the Cross of Christ Irrelevant
The leader I’m referring to could have said: “We shouldn’t exclude this group because their uniquely characteristic actions aren’t wrong.” That would be one kind of error, in my considered opinion. He didn’t say that; instead he made a different kind of mistake. Besides the two problems I’ve already mentioned, this message tends to invalidate the purpose of the cross.
That’s a huge error in my book; it strikes at the very core of our faith. But I need to explain how I think this makes the cross irrelevant.
A. If it’s clear (and it is) that our relationship with God depends on how we respond to his standards, then what response does he require? It isn’t perfection, that’s for sure. No one but Jesus even comes within sight of that mark. What he wants us to do instead is acknowledge our imperfections — our sin, that is — and trust in Christ to forgive us through his redemption on the cross.
B. What he doesn’t want us to do is to tell people, “Hey, it doesn’t matter what you do, since Jesus includes everyone.” We know that because the cross of Christ proves that it matters what we do: Christ died to redeem us, and forgive us of what we’ve done wrong.
C. The test this leader gave for including this group had nothing to do with rightness or wrongness. It was just this: “Jesus doesn’t exclude anyone.” Period.
D. Now, if we should include all persons just for that reason, then our decision to do so doesn’t depend on concluding that they’re right, and it doesn’t depend on concluding that they’re wrong. It simply sets aside rightness or wrongness.
E. But to set aside rightness or wrongness on any contentious issue, where that’s at least an open question, is to say, “Hey, whatever; rightness or wrongness don’t matter on this point, so what you do doesn’t matter, since Jesus includes everyone.”
F. And that’s wrong; it makes the cross irrelevant (see B).
Now what I said above is that this tends to make the cross irrelevant. I left some room in there for the possibility that this leader might say, “Hold on a minute! I’m not ignoring the cross! I just didn’t have time to tell you the whole story. I’ve done the work, and I’m convinced these actions are perfectly in tune with God’s will.” In that case he could still be honoring the cross; he’d be making a different mistake instead. But he didn’t state it that way.
These are really dangerous errors for church leaders to make, regardless of the specific issue of the day
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