The Exclusive Church
In Chapter 9 of You Lost Me, author David Kinnaman tackles the idea of the church being too exclusive. To be clear, the problem he is addressing is not exclusivist theology: the idea that only those who are explicitly declared Christians are going to Heaven. That probably plays a part, but the real problem is when churches are exclusive in their actions. They may exclude on a variety of points. People are excluded from churches for ethical reasons: being divorced, dating outside of the faith, pre-marital sex… now that I think about most of the ethical exclusions are related to sex and rarely to do with greed or pride or pretty much anything else. People can also be excluded over doctrine, although there’s often an odd dichotomy in evangelical churches where you can usually be baptized despite doctrinal differences but you can’t be a member without strict adherence. Churches might even exclude on matters of practice like church governance models or styles of music. In general, in the modern era the church was quite ok with dividing and excluding over pretty much anything.
We’re now in the postmodern era and things have changed. The emerging generation is far more interested in emphasizing our agreements than our disagreements. Looking at two denominations who may agree on 99.9% of their doctrines, ethics, and practices, but disagree on the style of music to be played, we find it ridiculously stupid to divide and see each other as enemies even if grudgingly still admitting that those on the other side are also still Christians. That might be an extreme case but it isn’t unheard of either. In the modern era, we were defined by our disagreements. In the postmodern era, we’re trying to define primarily by our agreements while respectfully acknowledging and discussing our disagreements.
So moving forward, we need to learn to welcome everyone into our churches even when we disagree. Jesus welcomed everyone into his ministry. In fact, most of his ministry was made up of people who wouldn’t be allowed in our modern churches. That was true for most of the early church, too. Even those who were committing some of the worst sins in the eyes of the early church – being in the Roman military for example. killing others in the name of their nation – were welcomed in the church and then encouraged to forsake violence only after they had committed themselves to Jesus. The goal is always to love first. That is our only ethical commandment according to Jesus. Other commands may be helpful in unpacking what exactly love looks like, but we should not feel the need to be balancing love with anything else. We don’t need to balance love with “truth,” especially since by truth we usually mean “our right to judge the specks in your eye while ignoring the planks in our own eyes.”