In yesterday’s sermon I spoke of how Jesus has made community a priority and established faith as the criteria for belonging. If a person understands the gospel and confesses Jesus as their savior, they are reconciled to God and joined to his body. We need to make them welcome, and they need to accept our invitation. Jesus desires that we are one.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Some people find community threatening and refuse the invitation while others would prefer that the entry criteria be more exacting and refuse to extend a welcome. It is to the latter of these hindrances that I turn my attention.
We, in the body of Christ, are sometimes tempted to impose further obligations for membership. Faith is an essential, we can all agree on this, but we would prefer that some added compliance be required for community to be made available. Access, in our hands, would be narrowed to those who conform to our preferences.
Before we scoff at this behavior, let us pause long enough to check ourselves, for I fear we are guiltier than we realize. I contend that we can become overly exacting by stretching scripture beyond what is plainly in the text and then impose undue burdens on others. We start with a clear command, extrapolate inferences from there and come to a conclusion that we then enshrine as law.
It works like this: drunkenness is a sin, alcohol is the substance that causes drunkenness, and therefore it is shameful to work in a place that sells alcohol. The first two statements are factual, but the conclusion is an assumption. And if we demand that our assumptions restrict Christian community, we make ourselves the measure of what is acceptable. This is idolatry and God opposes it.
God’s people will disagree on whether women should work outside of the home. If not that, they will argue about the ethics involved in accepting a scholarship that is funded by gambling. Some will see austerity as a mark of spiritual maturity and wish the brethren would be less consumer minded. It’s inevitable, disputes will come. We, who love Jesus, will disagree on everything from parenting to pacifism. These differences in opinion are often substantive, and deserve consideration, but they must not become divisive.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not campaigning for open access. I am not suggesting we broaden the narrow way. Those who enter into Christian community must do so by faith in Christ, and once within, must comply with the teachings in the Word. What I am appealing for is some caution that will restrain our assumptions from becoming an added offence to the gospel and a hindrance to Christian fellowship.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21, ESV)