The Inclusiveness of Christ
Many times I have read and heard people talk about the "inclusiveness of Christ," usually connected with an argument in favour of having Christians accept within the Church those that engage in activities that are often viewed as sinful. Specifically this argument is put forward especially in favour of accepting active homosexuals within the Church, and even for permitting the "blessing" of their unions, if not outright marriage, as well as the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests and ministers. To quote one such advocate, Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopalean Church in Los Angeles (when speaking in defence of the ordination of gay and lesbian priests):
"Jesus loved us unconditionally. He had an unconditional love of all humanity, allowing for no outcast in this community as he built the true religion, a religion of inclusion and wisdom."
Louie Crew, in an article called Changing the Church: Lessons Learned in the Struggle to Reduce Institutional Heterosexism in the Episcopal Church expands on this theme:
"In the church, however, lesbigays are driven instead by the Gospel imperative, the profound faith that God loves absolutely everybody. Our ministry is less about who we are than Whose we are. I attribute any success that we have to the authenticity of this calling. I believe that God is present in our world with a marvelous sense of humor, using lesbians and gays to evangelize the Church and bring it back to its first principle, name the boundless love of God and its absolute inclusiveness."
This need for "absolute inclusiveness" is driven by a belief that this is how Jesus behaved during His ministry here on earth. Without question He loves all human beings unconditionally, and equally, and was often found to be in the company of "tax collectors," and other "sinners" (Matt. 9:10-11; Mark 2:15, Luke 15:1). Equally of note is Christ’s willingness to forgive and accept the adulteress in the story of John 8 where He famously tells the crowd “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). Needless to say, none of them met the standard, and they knew it. Finally, there is the story of the “woman who had lived a sinful life” (traditionally read as one who was a prostitute) who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfumes and even wiped her tears from them with her hair (Luke 7:37-38). The reaction of the Pharisee, in whose house this takes place, and Jesus’ response, is meant as a warning to those who would “exclude” her because of her sinfulness.
Luke 7:39, 44-46 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.”
Then he (Jesus) turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”
Clearly the woman has acted in a more holy manner than did the Pharisee, and the message is that we should act like Jesus did in this situation, accepting the woman, and “including” her in our company without disapproval.
This is the message of those who argue for “inclusiveness.” But what is missing is a full examination of what it meant to be “inclusive” and forgiving for Jesus, since this is the context within which all of the Gospel stories take place. Jesus certainly loves everyone. In fact, it is for the sins of the whole world that He died (John 1:29, 3:17, 12:47), reconciling God to all (Colossians 1:19-20). He wants all to be His children, and to come to Him in love, acceptance, and obedience.
It is this “obedience” that is most often left out of the argument for “inclusiveness” put forward by defenders of active gays and lesbians within the Christian community. Christ is loving. He is forgiving and merciful. But He does not accept that we can continue to live sinful lives as we wish, and at the same time presume upon His love for us. In fact, Christ calls all of us to a life of holiness, purity, and sinlessness, demanding that we be totally and completely remade as children of God.
Let us look at the context of the stories appealed to by the defenders of inclusiveness.
Matthew 9:10-11 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
How does Jesus respond?
Matthew 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
So the tax collectors and the sinners are “the sick” in need of a doctor. As a good doctor He would then be expected not to leave them sick, but would cure them of their sinfulness. Likewise, in the story of the adulteress about to be stoned in John 8:
John 8:4-7 “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
And what happened after everyone had departed?
John 8:10-11 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Likewise, in the story of the woman who anointed Christ's feet (luke 7) we are told:
Luke 7:47-48 :Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
These women were not condemned for their sins, but Jesus did not deny that they had, in fact sinned. Moreover, He affirmed that they were in need both of forgiveness and for penance (namely, that they had to "leave" their lives of sin). In fact, that is Christ’s command to all of us.
Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
And how important is it to follow Christ's command to "leave" our lives of sin, and to "be perfect"?
John 14:23-24 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Now, it is understood that no human being can be perfect without the help of God. In fact, we are told in Scripture that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). This is understood by everyone who follows Jesus, both at the time of His ministry here on earth, and today. In fact, conscious of our sinfullness, we might, like Peter, say:
Luke 5:8b “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
But Jesus does not abandon us. In fact, He promises expressly not to do so (John 14:18), and that He will send us the Holy Spirit to teach us, and to live within us, and to convict us of our sins, calling us to righteousness through repentence.
John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 16:8 When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment...
As we can see, Christ's inclusiveness was based on love and mercy, but it came with a demand that we become better than we are. That we be more than sinful beings, and look to Him not only for forgiveness, but also for holiness. We are indeed all sinners, but we cannot come to Christ celebrating our sinfulness, but, rather, in a spirit of penance and contrition, seeking His forgiveness, and asking for His help to make us as He would have us be, perfected in love, a holy people of God.
1 John 3:1-3 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
We are to be purified, made pure, just as God is pure. We do this to show our appreciation to God for the love that He has lavished upon us, and for His forgiveness of our sins. We do not serve Him, nor return His love by instead remaining in (and even celebrating) our sins, and insisting that our sins are no longer sins.
1 John 5:2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.
Loving God, and belonging to Him cannot be separated from the need to obey Him. We will, of course, often fail and continue to sin (1 John 1:8), but each time we must come to God for forgiveness. This is how He calls us to holiness. This is how He purifies us. This is how He transforms us.
It does no good to appeal to God's inclusiveness as part of a demand to be accepted as we are without also promising to allow God to change us, to work His will upon us,, and to make us as He would have us be, rather than permitting us to continue living in our own sinful natures.