“What Entry Test?”
14 May 2017 St. Andrew’s Military Chapel Singapore
In 2011 Rob Bell the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids Michigan, wrote a book entitled Love Wins in which he outlined differing views of salvation. He was careful in the book to not choose one specific view over the others, just emphasizing that God’s love would win in the end. He made the comment that even in the face of any objections someone may have to the view that everyone gets to heaven, it is ok for a Christian to long for that universalist view.
Based on the reaction within certain theological circles, you would have thought that Rob Bell went on a murderous rampage. One pastor took to Twitter with the words “Farewell Rob Bell.” People questioned Rob Bell’s theology with some harsh words. The tone of the reaction to his writing was of a nature that I think Christ would have spoken out against.
In October of 2016 popular Christian blogger, writer, and television personality Jen Hatmaker was quoted in an interview describing her views on a wide range of subjects, including some political topics. The interview broached the topic of gay marriage. She described how gay couples are in congregations and are going to need marriage support and parenting help. They will find those inside or outside the church. According to her, “Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better.”
One large Christian bookstore chain banned the sale of her books. Something that was in their right to do, yet I question the action. Christians are to act with grace towards everyone. Actively taking away part of a person’s ability to earn a living seems the anthesis of grace.
The hate that came from Christians on the internet in response to her comments was astounding.
But, Jen didn’t go quietly away when the controversy died down. She stuck to her guns and recently wrote on her blog about how the “burn of mob mentality scorched my heart into ashes.” What kind of church are we when people articulating an opposing view feel that from the church’s response to their thoughts and ideas?
The Christian marketing enterprise rose up against her in a concerted way. She writes, “This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ. I saw how it all works, not as an insider where I’ve enjoyed protection and favor for two decades, but from the outside where I was no longer welcome…My mind knows the difference between the Christian Machine and Jesus, but this year it feels hard to separate.”
What does it take to become a Christian? What are the minimum requirements?
How are we as Christians to deal with differences of opinion on theological matters? How do we engage with the secular, or non-church world?
Reading today’s passage we can see that these questions have been asked for as long as the church has existed. At the heart of the debate for the last 2000 years is the idea of who belongs and who doesn’t. Who is worthy to be called Christian and who has to sit outside?
Luke records this episode in Acts where there is an active debate in who gets to call themselves Christian. Is it the circumcised who follow the law of Moses or can any Gentile call themselves Christian?
Enter Peter, the rock of the church. The one on whom the church was built clearly addresses this controversy in the early church. After letting the leaders know that God had specifically told Peter he would be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear of Christ, Peter says those who are led to Christ through the Holy Spirit, have the same place in the Kingdom as those who directly come from the Jewish tradition.
He then asks a searing question, “Why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Seems the matter was settled 2000 years ago. So why do we still come up with reasons to keep people from Christ or distance ourselves from those who think and speak outside the box in which we place Christ? And why in the world does the church have to do so in such a hateful way? I’m sure it has something to do with human nature and the need for superiority over something or someone.
The disagreement wasn’t the problem in Peter’s day, nor is disagreement and difference of opinion the problem today. Our problem, and what Peter would sternly rebuke us for today, is the same issue he addressed in this passage: our desire to exclude rather than embrace and work with the different.
It’s in our best interest not just as an institution called the church, but as a body of fellow travelers who have sinned along the way to cast as large a net and welcome everyone we meet into this strange, sometimes dysfunctional, yet breathtakingly beautiful family. It’s our differences and how we work together through and despite those differences that gives Christianity its awe-inspiring beauty.
Difference creates disorder and makes church messy and uncomfortable. Take our worship services each week here in Singapore. Sometimes you have to deal with a tone deaf pastor attempting to lead you in singing. Occasionally, there are children that are walking around the chapel who want to have conversations with their big friends during the message or prayers. I may bring up a topic, perhaps even this one, that causes discomfort or that you have a strong disagreement with based on your theology. All of that together is messy and can be frustrating.
However, we have committed to talking with each other, getting to know each other’s stories, listening with grace and compassion to differing voices, allowing ourselves to participate in a worship environment that is outside our comfort zone. And you know what, it really works. In these walls we take messy differences and weave them into a beautiful tapestry of compassion, caring, and love.
Scot McKnight wrote a book about embracing the different as a primary aspect of naming oneself a Christian. He writes, “The church is God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together are designed by God to be. The church is God’s show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a family.”
Frequently we hear of the church as a counter cultural place. This is a valid claim because we are different from culture in many ways. One of the more drastic ways that the Church stands against Western culture is in how we are welcoming to all. When we exclude those who are different from us we cease to be a holy body of Christ. What if our ability to embrace people of every different category we can imagine is the greatest evangelism we can offer the world?
The Church is called to be a patchwork quilt in the mindless march towards a monochromatic, bland world where everyone is expected to think, act, and believe the same thing. A place where you can be you and I can be me and we’ll all give and receive love because of who we are and not how we define ourselves. When we put that into practice each and every day of our lives we are following the words of Peter from today. And we’ll be well on our way to fulfilling Christ’s intention for his motely gathering of followers.
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