This might sound like a very perplexing statement but I believe it is true; allow me to explain.
The Church, made up of baptized believers in Jesus Christ, ought to be an inclusive welcoming community, yet it is at the same time an exclusive, or distinct, body.
Too often Christians fail to appreciate this paradox and opt for one extreme (inclusivity) or the other (exclusivity). Let’s see how this paradox is true, and ought to naturally flow from who we are, taking as our example the teachings of Jesus:
Jesus was inclusive, if by that definition we mean welcoming or not embracing a judgementalism. He didn’t care if the person was the vilest sinner, He sought to be inclusive of everyone, for He had come as the Saviour of the world (in fact He said that He came to save not the “self-righteous” but sinners, Lk 5:32):
Yet, just as Jesus met people where they were, He didn’t desire them to stay there. In fact in the same breadth in which He displayed an inclusive spirit He made some very exclusive statements. His inclusivity serves to build trust for He wants us to exclusively trust in and follow him and there find true inclusion in the exclusive body of Christ, an entry that can only come through trusting in Him alone:
In an age that champion’s unbridled inclusivity this paradox is a paradox indeed.
In an age where Christian writers speak of people needing to “belong before they believe” the call to “believe before you belong” sounds harsh. Yet when it is matched by the inclusive spirit Jesus displayed, the latter loses much of its apparent harshness. We do need to help people feel like they belong, but through that honest welcome, to help them see they must believe if they are to truly belong, belong to Christ and be members of the local body.
That is the paradox of the Church and it is the paradox of her Lord.
Someone recently told my wife how someone had said this to her. “I’ll see for coffee on Wednesday so long as something better doesn’t come along.” It warms your heart to know people value and are committed to you so much they’ll still keep their appointment with you so long as “something better” doesn’t come along!
Sadly, we are living in a “something better” culture, a culture wanting in commitment and a knowledge of those things that are truly excellent and valuable:
Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Jos 21:45; c.f. 1 Ki 8:56).
God in His very being keeps His promises and is true to His word.
Thankfully that means His promise of salvation and forgiveness to our “something better” culture is certain and true (and praise the Lord that this is the case otherwise our falsehoods would utterly condemn us, leaving us with no hope). But not only do the Lord’s promises in the Gospel mean He will forgive the repentant who come to Jesus in faith, He will also transform them. In Lev 19 He says, “Be holy as I am holy.” In the vein of this blog’s subject He could have equally said, “Be faithful and true as I am faithful and true.” By God’s Spirit He transforms and enables and calls us to be vastly different from the “something better” culture we live in. He calls us to be faithful and true and share in His likeness.
My prayer is that as Christians are transformed by the renewing of their mind through the Word and Spirit and become less like culture and more like Christ that the world will take notice when we keep our appointments, place value on commitments and people and the Lord, His worship and ways, and that He will be glorified through us as we offer something better.
The seeker sensitive movement arose in the 80s and was an attempt in the post-revival age, and a post denominational age where many were disenchanted with traditional forms of church, to reach the masses for Christ.
With so many people giving up on Christianity, what could be done to stem the tide?
As with the liberal project of seeking to accommodate culture at the expense of truth (which has failed miserably), the seeker sensitive movement, while in many ways laudable, attempted to do something similar and so fell short of its desired goal. Bands, skits, videos, cool preachers, etc, cannot in themselves save and transform and save, but rather a robust presentation of the Gospel and a life lived in light of God’s Word. The Willow Creek Church did a study on their brand of being seeker sensitive about a decade ago and discovered it was, “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Lots were coming to church, perhaps even becoming disciples of Jesus and joining the church, however, a committed level of discipleship was wanting.
This raises the question: what is the purpose of the gathered church in relation to the people of God (aside from glorifying God in worship)? The answer is to equip the saints (Eph 4:12) and to build up God’s people in the most holy faith (Jd 1:20). We gather as Christians to be scattered as Christians. Whilst in our gathered state should be enjoyable (which is different than entertaining) and not a strange world to a visitor who might come along (as described by Justin Martyr in the early Church) and a place where the Gospel is proclaimed, the gathered church’s purpose is nevertheless not evangelism, but discipleship. If our services seek to provide robust opportunities for worship and discipleship, primarily aimed at believers, but accessible to earnest inquirers, the result would be that our churches would not be a mile wide and an inch deep, but a mile deep… It doesn’t necessarily then mean we’d only be an inch wide (though I think even this is preferable to a breadth that may only be visibly “Christian”). What it means is the church will be so strengthened to fulfil the Great Commission that the place of evangelism and mission (not precluding evangelistic services or corporate acts of evangelism) would be in our homes and schools and neighbourhoods, and friendships as robust disciples of Jesus Christ. And THAT, is how the early Church grew so explosively.
So may we take Jesus’ command to make disciples seriously, be robust to that end in all we do, and as we seek to fulfil the GC, trust that the Lord will build His Church.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
Many people today would not identify as “religious” but rather “spiritual.” Part of this is a reaction against the nominalism and abuses of organised religion. Part of this is also due to the anti-authority climate of the day, which rejects what Divine religion may require, favouring instead the subjective notion of being “spiritual” as one personally chooses to define it. Picking up on this language shift, either consciously or unconsciously, many Christians will often respond to an unbeliever’s comment, “I’m not religious,” with a “Neither I’m I, it’s not about religion but a relationship,” or “I’m not religious, I’m a person of faith.” Now neither of those two responses, and others like them, are in themselves wrong— I’ve used them myself. However, is religion an altogether unhelpful word?
Religion means: a) of reverence to the Divine, or b) a set of beliefs, or C) to be devoted and zealous.
Not that this alone sanitizes it, but it is a word we find used in the Bible:
Negatively of man-made religion (Acts 25:19, 26:5; Col 2:23) or of mis-guided religion (Acts 17:22).
More positively, though in a form of a warning, we find it used in James 1:26–27:
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (emphasis mine).
Here James is not saying religion is bad, rather he is contrasting a worthless and a worthwhile form of religion, or true religion and false religion.
Historically, to say one was religious was synonymous with saying someone was a Christian. To be non-religious or of another religion was to embrace false religion (just as being “spiritual” does not necessarily mean the “spirituality” one has embraced is positive).
Though “religion” is an unpopular word, I do not think it has lost its value, if clarified. Christianity is a religion, it is a set of beliefs (divine revelation). Christianity is a religion, it is reverence and devotion to the true God. Religion is truth and anything other than the truth is a false religion. Certainly a relationship is central to the Christian religion, without it all that is left is a dead religion, however, it is still a religion and something to be proud of if asked to declare your religion—CHRISTIAN!
So the next time someone derides what is actually a helpful idea, you might reply (either within the church or in apologetics and evangelism without) with one of the following responses. Person A, “I’m not religious.” Person B, “Why not?”, or “What does religion mean to you?”, etc.
Something to think about.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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