Humans tend to coalesce into groups at every level of society. It feels good to be “in” with others. But do “in” groups have a place in the kingdom of God?
I remember two “in” groups at the BritishGrammar School I attended. Those who played competitive sports were good blokes; but I was no sportsman, and I thought my bones were too fragile and my nerve endings too sensitive to aspire to membership. I avoided the other “in” group. They prided themselves on under-age drinking exploits; it was better to be “out” even if one ran the risk of victimization as an outsider.
Sadly, churches are not immune from this human tenancy. Quite understandably, people get to know each other as they spend years serving together in ministry teams or leadership. It is hard to break into a conversation based on a decade of experiences when you can never share those experiences. Of course, leaders must set boundaries on who they talk to about what. However, some “in” groups like their invisible barriers. “We don’t have room for another soprano on the worship team, right now.” Culture, class, caste, and the cut of our clothes all contribute to an array of invisible signals that separate “in” from “out.”
The same mindset existed when news of the mystery of the gospel first broke. Jerusalem was where the heavenly stone fell with a plop into an ocean of people groups. The “in” group were Jews. All the rest were lumped together as gentiles, “out” for various reasons. But the stone of the gospel made such an impact that its waves crashed over the barriers and rippled on to the nations. The apostles saw what God was doing and quickly realized that, in God’s kingdom, “in” groups were out and anyone who was “out” had received a special invitation to come in. When Paul wrote of the mystery of “Christ in you,”1 the word “you” was plural, and pointed at a congregation of gentiles in Colossae. In his letter to the Ephesians, he was explicit:
When you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6)
Looking forward, Paul explained another aspect of the mystery. The Jews have been hardened temporarily while the gospel ripples around the globe producing a harvest of gentiles.2 When the harvest is complete, we can expect Jews to soften in greater numbers.
Until then, let’s embrace the spirit of the mystery of gentile inclusion. We are not trapped by our fallen human nature; we can live in the power of the Spirit. Let’s stop erecting unnecessary barriers within or between churches. Warm, inclusive people take time to explain local jargon and use knowledge and training to educate and equip, rather than restrict or alienate. Let’s aspire to the kingdom lifestyle that Jesus described and modeled.
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