Is the Gospel Inclusive?
|(Photo by Annie Spratt)|
INCLUSIVE. IT IS THE ETHICAL WORD of our generation―the virtue by which every other virtue must be measured. Companies, political parties, and even celebrities vie to squeeze this word into their speeches. The search engine giant I use boasts that it is an ‘inclusive place to work’ and is trying to get the world reflect this value as well. Even churches get in on it. On my social media feed now I see things like ‘Open Church Network’ and ‘The Inclusive Church’ making waves. Everyone seemingly wants to be inclusive.
But amidst all this current enthusiasm of inclusivity, we are right to ask: Did John seek to be inclusive? Did Elijah? And, more importantly, is the God that these men point to inclusive?
It depends on how we use the term. ‘Inclusive’ is a fuzzy term. The Serpent loves fuzzy words and ideas. They let him say one thing yet mean another. Jezebel delights in fuzzy words because it allows her to say the same thing yet mean it in two different ways, creating room for double standards that most people, at first, assume are completely legitimate. But Elijah Men love dictionaries. Prophets tend to be straight shooters who mean what they say. And if a dictionary records more than one meaning for a word, they will not be shy to state which sense they are utilising.
If by inclusive we mean ‘hospitable’, then yes, Jesus was inclusive. We are to welcome people into our churches and homes who are outsiders. We are to give people who are different from us hot cups of coffee, a listening ear, and comfortable chairs to sit in. We should be kind to them whether they are rich or poor. We are to preach, give announcements, and interact using language that is intelligible to outsiders so that our witness can be clear to all. There is a tendency for churches to become inward looking over time. They can become clubs that only care for its own membership rather than a movement that exists to rescue outsiders. We must seek to rescue brown, white and black, male and female, young and old, etc. If by inclusive we mean hospitable, yes, and a thousand times so.
But there is another sense in which the gospel is very exclusive. Elijah’s name means ‘Yahweh is God’―as opposed to any others. He sought to bring back Israel to the worship of Yahweh alone and not to include Baal alongside Him. When John introduces Jesus, it is as one who separates ‘the wheat from the chaff’. Jesus himself often spoke of separating people, not bringing them together. He spoke of separating the nations into sheep and goats. He spoke of ten virgins: five who he would leave out as foolish and five whom he would receive as wise. He spoke of branches that did not bear fruit that he would cast into the fire as opposed to branches that did bear fruit―ones that he would keep and prune.
There are servants he rewards and servants he casts into outer darkness. He said we must enter through the narrow gate, because many people walk on the broad road to destruction. It is hard to imagine how Jesus could have been any clearer: some will be welcomed into his Kingdom, and some will not be. We read of him excluding as much as he is including. Our greatest priority must be to be among those who are included―and to call others to that path.
This is why we need to be clear in our thinking when we speak about preaching ‘an inclusive gospel’ as some do. Jezebel is sly and she knows how to tweak a good word to a perverse end. A truly inclusive gospel, one that is pleasing to God, says anyone is welcome to repent and find forgiveness in Jesus and share communion at our table. Race, economic status, gender―none of this keeps you out of God’s Kingdom. Only unrepented of sin keeps us out and it is sin that Jesus has come to remove. Everything can be cleansed and washed away.
Are you a practising paedophile? A Nazi? A gossip? A Marxist? A violent person? If you renounce the practice of your evil deeds and cast yourself on the mercy of the Cross you can be pure as snow―come and eat with us. Come liars, come thieves, come adulterers, come pornographers, come corrupt bank CEOs! Come all you practising homosexuals, you fornicators, you slanderers, you whores, you judgmental moralists, you abusers, and all you dearly loved bastards. Come to the table of the Lord. Leave your sin and be transformed.
Christ’s inclusivity takes anyone from any background and transforms them into a child of God. He can take any unholy man and make him holy. This gospel affirms that God loves you in spite of who you are. Our sins have damned us. Every one of us is excluded from the start. But Jesus has paid the cost of his blood to lift us out of our bed of consequences. He was excluded in death so that we could be included in Life. He will exclude the proud who believe that they aren’t sinners in need of a Saviour. But he will include all those who come to him in humility and repentance―those he will never reject.
Jezebel’s inclusivity leaves you without the repentance and transformation. It tells you that God doesn’t mind your sin. It affirms you as a sinner and leaves you the way you are. There is no offence in the Jezebel message―no blow to the Adamic ego. It does not call for the death of the inner rebellion that we all instinctively have towards God and his Law. We must expose as fake any gospel that includes spiritually dead people without also transforming them. We are in the business of telling goats how they can be born again as sheep―not simply telling goats they are fine just as they are.
This is an extract from Elijah Men Eat Meat: Readings to slaughter your inner Ahab and pursue Revival and Reform