Rather than uncritically adopting the language and methods of the culture it is vital that Christians and churches gain clarity on what true inclusion means and find a better way forward.
HOW CAN CHRISTIANS BE INCLUSIVE?
In all things Jesus serves as our ultimate teacher and example. So how did Jesus understand and practise inclusion? In answering this question Derek Rishmawy identifies a crucial distinction in the way that Jesus included people into the Kingdom of God; the distinction between renaming and remaking.
INCLUSION AS RENAMING
Jesus was seen as a radical in his day because he broke time-honoured social boundaries as he proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom. The most notable examples from the gospels would include the following:
• Male vs. Female (John 4)
• Jew vs. Gentile (Matt. 8:5-13)
• Old vs. Young (Mark 10:14)
• Clean vs. Unclean (Matt. 9:18-26)
• Righteous vs. Sinners (Matt. 9:9-13)
What made Jesus’ ministry so revolutionary was his willingness to rename such social barriers. Because the Old Testament Law was being fulfilled in Jesus himself many of the boundaries in place for God’s people under Moses were no longer relevant to God’s redemptive plan in history. In other cases the distortion of Old Testament Law through time and tradition had created illegitimate boundaries that ignored the Bible’s clear teaching of God’s love, value and concern for all people. In either case, Jesus was not afraid to rename such boundaries. Any boundary set up that denied people admittance into God’s Kingdom simply on the basis of who they were, Jesus renamed eitherobsolete or false. By the new covenant of grace supplied through his bloodJesus declared that all people could find acceptance with God. The barriers of exclusion were renamed null and void.
INCLUSION AS REMAKING
But declaring all people acceptable to God is not the same as declaring all things acceptable to God. Yes, Jesus denies any category that could exclude people from God’s grace, but he does not deny the categories themselves. In particular, he does not declare anyone acceptable to God by simply renaming their sin and calling it righteousness. Rather, he remakes people.
He does this first by directly addressing the self-excluding effect of their own sin and calling them to repentance. He then extends the offer of complete forgiveness through the sacrifice of his life on the cross. He includes them into God’s kingdom by remaking them according to his own righteousness and adopting them as children. And he causes his life-giving Spirit to live in them, leading them and empowering them to live out this new righteous life they have been remade for. This was true for everyone in Jesus’ day, whether tax collector (Mark 2:13-17; Luke 19:1- 9); prostitute (Luke 7:36-50); or anyone who had sought to find life apart from God (Matthew 16:24). It is equally true for anyone today.
But it’s important we remember that Jesus never worked to include people
by dissolving the boundaries of his righteousness that excludes sinners
from entering his Kingdom. Rather, he graciously extended his righteousness to those who were excluded from it by sin, so in turn they could enter and live within the righteous boundaries of his Kingdom. As the Apostle Paul wrote:
Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus…offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:11-13)
Christians and churches are struggling under this social demand to become more inclusive. Young people in particular feel the pressure to conform. This distinction of renaming vs. remaking however is one upon which we ought to think deeply. It will help us avoid creating unnecessary barriers that would exclude people from God’s grace and eliminating necessary barriers that make living in relationship with a righteous and holy God possible.