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.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.