Sort of Good News

For pastors of traditional congregations like myself, this sort of blog post should be very encouraging.  It vindicates our frustration with contemporary American Christianity and the focus on shallow entertainment at the cost of Biblical teaching and discipleship.  It’s comforting to those who insist that the old way is the only way or the best way to worship, whether that means the kind of music in worship, the type of instruments that music is played on, or whether the pastor wears traditional vestments instead of jeans.

This is all good news, sort of.  Of course, it is challenging news as well, as the author’s repeated emphasis on inclusivity should make clear.  I applaud her journey back to the basics and essentials of the faith, and trust that other Christians of all ages are realizing that a religion based around a man crucified as a common criminal and resurrected from the dead ought to be about more than a particular style of music or the amenities waiting at the snack bar.  Err, I mean lobby.  Errr, I mean narthex.

The key is how we use the word inclusivity.  Does it mean that everyone is welcome to come and hear the Good News that the Son of God died and rose again for me, for you, for every person?  Excellent!  In such terms the Church should be the most inclusive place on earth, because every single person needs to hear this message.  The addict.  The nympho.  The uber-focused Type A driven personality.  The depressed person.  The angry person.  The hopeless person.  The wise person as well as the fool.  Sunday morning worship ought to be the most diverse and eclectic gathering of social and economic strata imaginable.  But it usually isn’t.  And the reason why, I suspect, centers on the term inclusivity.

Many churches are not inclusive.  They refuse to have people in their midst that don’t conform to their socio-economic or political leanings.  Or perhaps more specifically, the refuse to have sinners in their midst.  Real, live, obvious, can’t-cover-it-up-or-don’t-see-the-need-to-try sinners in their midst.  Those who are still in the grips of their sinful ideas about themselves and the world but by the grace of God the Holy Spirit have been brought to a church to hear the Word.  Many congregations assume that to come and hear the Word you have to clean up your act to a certain extent.  You have to acknowledge the fullness of your sin and guilt and set it aside in large part.  Then you can sit next to me in the pew.

And this is wrong.  It puts the cart before the horse, and expects the person unfamiliar with the faith or uncertain with the faith to act as though they are part of the faith before they really are.

There is nobody that does not need to hear the Gospel, double-negatives notwithstanding.  Everyone needs to hear it and should be welcomed to hear it.  They should sit and stand and kneel with everyone else if they are willing.  They should join in on the unfamiliar, old hymns and recite the creeds when they are ready and hear the Word of God read and preached.  There is a point at which sinners will need to be confronted with their sin before they are welcomed fully into the role of member in a congregation.  But the confrontation happens after the Gospel is heard – repeatedly.  And the goal is never to push someone back out of the pew, but to draw them deeper into the mystery of death and resurrection that plays itself out in our baptisms and as we approach the Lord’s Table.  There is a point at which a church cannot be inclusive if it means affirming and encouraging and lauding sin as defined by God.  But I suspect many congregations draw that line and place that point far earlier than is warranted, and that is a sad thing.

The other aspect of misunderstanding regarding inclusivity comes from those being drawn back to church, yet who bring with them their culturally-normed assumptions about what is and is not acceptable, about what is and is not sin.  This is not something we are free to define or redefine.  It is something the Church is not free to define or redefine.  We are bound in obedience to our resurrected Lord and what He has to say – and what all of the Bible – has to say about sin and repentance and redemption.  A church’s doors should be open to all (regardless of what color the doors are), but the church does not have the right to lie to those who come in, to tell them that sin is not-sin (or that not-sin is sin, which happens frequently as well).  The Church’s responsibility is to lay out the Word of God and trust that the Holy Spirit who inspired that Word and is active in and through it can and will work in the hearts and minds of those who hear it, even if they don’t like what it has to say.

To the millenial or the boomer or whomever would redefine the faith, redefine Scripture, redefine sin, the Church must say No!  And the Church must continue to speak after the No!, inviting the person to continue listening to the Word of God, to continue to allow the Holy Spirit of God to convict them of the truth of God’s Word, to point out the sin in their lives that must be jettisoned, to empower them to do so, and to lead them deeper into the community of faith until they too are ready to gather around the body and blood of a crucified and resurrected God-man.

God’s love in Christ is inclusive, but not in the ways we would prefer it to mean.  There is nobody whom is excluded, but there are plenty of people who will exclude themselves because they are unwilling to hear the Word of God and the difficult things it has to say about every one of our lives.  This message must be conveyed.  It must be conveyed in love for all people, in the earnest desire that all would hear and come to faith and obedience in Jesus Christ.  But there are very definitely places where all who have been so gathered by God the Holy Spirit will be confronted with judgment.  With the assurance of grace and forgiveness as well in repentance, but judgment that must come first so that we understand our need for grace and forgiveness most of all, not simply inclusivity.


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