12.08.2008

Thoughts on Inclusivism and Exclusivism

Within evangelicalism, and particularly between affirming and non-affirming churches, there seems to be a dilemma of imbalance between a cheap inclusivism on the one hand and a legalistic exclusivism on the other. Many affirming churches pride themselves on being radically inclusive. Many non-affirming evangelical churches pride themselves on being explicitly exclusive.

Many affirming churches, in their attempts to welcome all people into the worship community, have reduced the welcome of Christ (via his sacrifice and resurrection) to near meaninglessness. They have focused too much on the love of God (which is infinite) at the expense of the holiness of God (also infinite). What we see in many affirming worship communities is a celebration of nothing, of worship centered on the universal love of Christ without acknowledging His command to follow Him (and all that entails).

On the other hand, many non-affirming churches, in their attempts to safeguard their theologies, have reduced the welcome of Christ to the acceptance of a set dogma. They have focused too much on the holiness of God (which they believe they have codified into a set of beliefs and practices) at the expense of the love of God. What we see in many non-affirming worship communities is a celebration of self, of worship centered on creeds, formulas, and behavior without acknowledging Christ's welcome of all to the table of grace.

There is a much needed refocus, in both types of communities, on costly grace which is freely available. Christ came to earth to live, die, and be resurrected so that those who come to Him may be reconciled to God in Him. This sacrifice was not cheap. It cost literally everything. Once the idea of the sacrifice of God Himself for our reconciliation settles into our hearts (not just our minds), it is impossible to be inclusive for the sake of inclusivity, or exclusive for the sake of exclusivity. The love of God, and His desire to commune with His creation, was so great that He literally sent His Son to earth to suffer and die in order to break to chains of sin and death in our lives. Understanding this sets our minds not on inclusivity or exclusivity, but squarely on the person of Christ.

What we need, then, is not an inclusive church or an exclusive church, but an inclusive church with an exclusive claim – a proclamation of Christ's death as the means of reconciliation to God, and the ensuing claim of Christ on our lives. We are not to be inclusive at the expense of foregoing the necessity of discipleship, nor are we to be exclusive at the expense of the necessity of inviting all to partake of God's grace in Christ.