A Rainbow of Christian Diversity
A Sermon by Pastor John (© Aug. 1999 updated 8-5-2006)
Scripture Reading: Matt. 7:15-29:
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
- How many of you have had occasion to hear someone say that some person is not a Christian because of what they do or who they are? "This person isn't saved because she doesn't speak in tongues!" "That person isn't a Christian because of who he loves!" We as the Church of the Living God sometimes exclude people, believing ourselves knowledgeable enough or holy enough to sit in judgment against others.
- Last Sunday, in part one of this series, we spoke of our need for God's Grace. We said that no one on the planet deserves that Grace. We acknowledged that no one was good enough, holy enough or righteousness enough to earn it or to keep it. Next week this series will conclude with a talk about the essentials of Christian doctrine and faith. Today I want to address the topic of inclusivity... Grace Inclusive Church. You will recall that this series is an examination of our shared beliefs as a congregation based upon our name, Grace Inclusive Church.
- So then, what does it mean to be inclusive? Does it mean that we accept anything and everything that comes along? Does being inclusive mean that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe? Certainly not! As Inclusive Christians we have many deeply held beliefs and principles. One of these is the importance of inclusivity!
- "Inclusive Christianity" is the Christian doctrine that it is our duty as Believers to intentionally include everyone, without compromising doctrine or faith. How to do this is not always clear. We have many examples of how not to do it, but fewer on how to do it!
- If Christianity is to be a force for good in the coming millennium, we must put aside our old prejudices and devote ourselves to inclusivity and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We must seek to include people rather than piously excluding them. At Matthew 7:15-29 our Master stressed how essential this is. I'd like to read that passage again:Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheepıs clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
You will know them by their fruits. Do people gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?
Even so every good tree produces good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth bad fruit.
A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.
Likewise, by their fruits you will know them.
- False prophets. A harsh word! But we all know they are out there today just as they were when Jesus walked the planet. The neo-Puritans of the so-called "Religious Right" speak pious words; they love to quote Scripture and push people away from God, and yet their fruits are stale, at times rancid. In the name of "family values" and "Americanism" they condemn millions of people to Hell out of hand. Some of them seek to destroy the US Constitution, to establish a pseudo Christian dictatorship based upon their sectarian ideas and values.
- Am I too harsh here? Subscribe to their newsletters and/or tune into the television and radio programs of Pat Robertson, the American Family Association, of Concerned Women of America and similar hate groups. These people want nothing less than a strictly regulated neo-Puritan theocracy.
- Bad fruits for those of us who love political, social, gender and religious freedom!
- Jesus continues:"Not every one who says to me, "Master, Master," will enter into the heavenly empire; it is only for those who do the will of my Parent who is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, "Master, Master, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works?"
At that time I will plainly say to them, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you doers of injustice!"
- "I never knew you!" These people may say they are operating in God's name, under God's authority, but that doesn't make it so. Their claims of divine right are meaningless, their words ring hollow. And yet for millions of people, they have come to represent the Christian Faith. The God who created and celebrated diversity, who said "It is good!" is being portrayed as a fascist who demands absolute conformity in all areas! Scripture tells that us that "the law came through Moses and that grace and truth comes through Jesus." Yet, neo-Puritanism is not at all gracious; it is bitter, divisive and stands in direct opposition to the inclusive teachings of Jesus.
- Their petty judgmentalism does not reflect the God of the Bible nor the God whom we worship!
- Jesus goes on:"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and observes them, I will compare to a wise person, who built a house upon a rock.
The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew.
They beat upon that house, but it did not fall because it was established upon a rock.
- What is the rock upon which the Christian Church has been established? Jesus was directly asked this at one point in his ministry. Hear his reply, at Mark 12:29-31:Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel; Yahveh our God is one God:
And you must love Yahveh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength; this is the first commandment.
The second is like it, namely this: You must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
- This is our foundation as Believers. First we are to love God above all others and secondly we are to love our neighbors are ourselves. This second point is vital because Scripture says that if we do not love our sisters and brothers whom we have seen, there is no way we can love God, whom we have not seen (I John 4:20).
- This is the solid foundation of the Church.
- Jesus goes on:"Every one who hears these sayings of mine, but who does not observe them, will be comparable to a foolish person, who built a house upon the sand.
The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew.
They beat upon that house and it violently collapsed to the ground.
- Christianity is in trouble today friends! The Church's solid foundation has been compromised by legalism! Churches are losing members in droves because of their hypocrisy and condemnation of others.
- Congregations which once had hundreds or thousands of devoted parishioners today operate day care centers just to pay their bills! America has clearly become a post-Christian nation. Many people today sincerely believe that Christianity is just another cult, another crutch for those not wise enough to accept science and Secular Humanism.
- It is now illegal for kids to even bring the Bible to school, to quietly pray before meals in school cafeterias. This "One nation under God" has all but outlawed God from public life and is now seeking to restrict our religious freedoms in other areas as well. What the Soviet Union could not do through indoctrination and legal dictate, the United States is accomplishing with frightening speed by media manipulation and humanistic values! Secular Humanism is now clearly the official religion of our nation.
- Why is this happening?
- More and more churches are either adopting neo-Puritan exclusivity or they are becoming so doctrinally liberal that it is uncertain what if anything they believe and what relevance their faith has. On the one hand, some churches are seeking to be so "righteously right" that they have become irrelevant, or worse a political threat to the world at large, while other churches have come to believe that what matters is how we treat one another, not what we believe, a purely social gospel devoid of any spiritual power or authority.
- Our text continues:"When Jesus finished speaking, the people were astonished at his doctrine. Unlike the scribes, he taught them as one having authority.
- The neo-Puritans speak with great authority, and yet their words are largely hurtful and exclusionary. They do not reflect the inclusive Gospel of Grace which Jesus offers. Many of the liberal Churches tend to speak with no authority at all, least they offend someone. The result is that the Gospel, a word which means "Good News," is not being presented to the world in an effective or meaningful way. Apart from the Good News of God's Grace, the Church has nothing to offer the world and hence it is becoming irrelevant. When the neo-Puritans -- who seemingly prefer to curse the darkness than turn up the Light -- then seek to legislate their beliefs and moral standards the world understandably resists them and rejects their message entire.
- Being inclusive is more than a passing fad of political correctness. It is vital to the continuing existence of the Church and the spreading forth of the Gospel of Peace.
- So, what exactly is "Christian Inclusivity?"
- In a nutshell, being inclusive means to make an intentional effort to include everyone in love. Christian Inclusivity means doing this, while remaining true to the Christian message. The Gospel, the message of God's Grace, is the only authority we have as Believers and it is our sole claim to social relevance. Christian Inclusivity impacts every area of our lives.
- An area getting a lot of attention right now is inclusive language. The English language is changing. Male pronouns which once had universal application no longer do. The Scripture "He that has the Son has the life" no longer means the same thing as "Those who have the Child have the life." The use of irrelevant male pronouns creates a stumbling block for many people, especially but not exclusively for women. In his humanity Jesus was male. We therefore refer to "him" with male pronouns when discussing "his" life on earth; but as our risen Savior, Jesus' maleness is irrelevant and can detract from the central message. As the vast majority of all religions, Christianity has traditionally been very patriarchal. God is the "Father," Jesus is the "Son" and the Holy Spirit is also referred to as a Male Personage. The absence of feminine metaphor or role models within the Godhead promotes exclusivity. As people of conscience fight for gender equity, it becomes increasingly problematic to worship an exclusively male deity. Since the Gospel is not about male superiority, and as "in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female," (Gal. 3:28) inclusive language makes the Bible more relevant to our present culture without in any way compromising its central message of inclusive hope and love.
In our relations with other religions:
- Christianity has traditionally dealt harshly with other religions. As Inclusive Christians we feel no need to compete with other religious systems. The Gospel of Jesus stands or falls on its own merits, not in contrast with other beliefs. Interfaith dialog and respect is essential if Christianity is going to be a force for peace in the world. As Inclusive Christians we can work with and honor people of other religions, respect their beliefs and practices, without denying or compromising our own. Religion in general and Christianity in particular has the potential to do good or evil. Historically the traditions have not worked well together. Its time to change this!
- Paul said at Romans 8:1 that "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Each of us is answerable for our own actions. There is coming a Day of Reckoning; God is the final judge. If we are sincere in our spiritual walk, the Holy Spirit will direct our steps.
- Some things are clearly wrong: murder, adultery, rape, incest, child abuse etc. However in most areas, we as Believers must depend on the leadings of Holy Spirit and our understanding of Scripture. We therefore affirm what is called the "Priesthood of all Believers," which is to say, each of us has direct access to Jesus and each of us is responsible for our own moral decisions and actions as responsible adults. We must respect one another even while at times disagreeing on specific issues. Each of us "will stand or fall" before the Savior as individuals.
In Christian experience:
- Since the very beginning of Christianity diversity has been a major feature of the Church. In the Book of Acts we read of the Apostle's attempts to come to terms with diversity. Paul stresses the importance of "Christian unity in diversity" time and time again in his writings. And yet as the Church developed it became increasing divided and fictionalized. Debates raged about doctrinal integrity with regards to the various Gnostic movements within the early Church.
- The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox divisions of the Church parted company. The Anglican or Church of England became autonomous. The Protestant Reformation took place, giving rise to countless sects and denominations. The Roman Church produced many Orders, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, etc. Within the Orthodox Church divisions occurred over ethnic concerns giving rise to Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and so on. In the 1800's new religious movements sprang up like the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventism, and so on. Who has the truth? What is one to believe? The Church's factionalism has lead millions to the conclusion that none of the churches knew what they are doing! That Christianity, if it even existed beyond the first century, has long since vanished. And who can blame these people? Religious warfare, the Inquisition, defense of slavery, the religious violence in Northern Ireland, the present hatred and bigotry coming from the neo-Puritans... Bad fruit!
- Inclusive Christianity seeks to restore a degree of unity to the Church. As inclusive Christians we honor the various branches and traditions of the Church and seek to include them in our spiritual life and to be included within theirs. This is why our communion or Eucharist celebration is open to Christians of all traditions and backgrounds. We recognize that God has done mighty and wondrous things in all branches of the Church.
- Does this mean that the doctrinal divergences should overlooked completely or that we accept everyone who calls themselves "Christians" as our sisters or brothers? Not at all! Next week we'll look at the Fundamentals of the Christian Faith, those things that are required of all Believers and without acceptance of which one can rightly be considered a Christian. What we do affirm however, is that a lot of the issues which divide us are non-essentials. Those who are "pre-trib" and "post-trib" with regard prophetic expectations for instance need not divide over the issue. Jesus is coming. We all agree on this. Should we honor Shabbat or Sunday, or no special day at all? Our beliefs on such doctrinal points, while intellectually interesting, are not going to change the truth in any way. Our relationships with God are not based on such things, and so we can agree to disagree.
- As inclusive Christians, our faith is firmly rooted in what Jesus did for us on the cross. Scripture warns of God's judgment upon those who cause a sister or brother to stumble due to incidentals (Rom. 14:13-21). A commitment to Christian inclusivity assures that within our power, we will not do this. It further causes us to reach out to a lost and hurting world with the only medicine that can cure the global ills or those of individuals: "Jesus Christ and him crucified." While remaining true to the Gospel and to our beliefs therefore, let our motto be: "If I must err, I will err on the side of inclusive Grace!"
May God bless you!
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