Dallas Willard writes that: “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with Himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”
I have seen that quote and love it. But it is good to look at it in come sort of context.
There are some who describe what the Church is by who we were, I’m not one of them. By Church I am talking about the people who acknowledge Jesus to be their saviour and Lord worldwide, which I know is Evangelical jargon, but whatever words you use it is about relationship with God and other people. The distinctly not Evangelical Pope Francis recently said, “Being Christian is not first of all a doctrine or a moral ideal; it is a living relationship with the Risen Lord.” I am also interested in the local manifestation of the church as a people. I am not talking about a denomination, and I am not talking about a building.
There is a need for transparency in church leadership. This can be seen in the abuse issues which have surfaced in many denominations over the past few decades. Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Roman Catholic are among them. The Presbyterian Church in the USA is having a fall out between two of its ministers, Tim Keller who has been taking a strong line against same sex relationships and Jacqueline Lewis from Middle Church, New York who is welcoming to LGBT+ people. The same denomination and the same city, bur so far apart in the practise of the Gospel.
The quote by Dallas Willard first says that church is an all-inclusive community. All inclusive because it is open to everyone. Everyone who receives Jesus is given the right to be a child of God. Everyone, see John 1:12, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” All who did receive him, not white people who did receive him, or men who did receive him, or straight straight people who did receive him, all.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul in Galatians 3:28 is challenging the divisions in the society he is writing to. If he were writing to today’s society, what would those divisions be? There is neither black nor white, there is neither straight nor LGBT+, there is no cisgender and transgender, for you are all one in Christ Jesus?
Jesus told a parable, a story, about a man who planted seed in a field and in the night an enemy came in and sewed weeds. The farm hands were told not to pull up the weeds in case they pulled up some of the crop as well. (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43). We do not have the right to say that someone who we disagree with is not a Christian, it is not our job to sort it it is God who will judge.
This is not an issue of dogma but a pastoral issue. Who is to say that a gay or lesbian person is not in a living relationship with the Risen Lord? Who is to say that I should not accept those who have what I see as a traditional misunderstanding of teachings about sexuality? It is difficult, I find it very difficult. But no one said that living in a relationship with Jesus would be easy? There are people who are too conservative for me, and some who to me take liberalism too far. I am not on the fence, I am in a different place to that, the argument is not binary. Jesus does not turn away anybody who comes to him: Neither should we.
The important thing comes last. The church is not just a community, it is at its very heart an inclusive community, but at its heart is God. God is what keeps the Church together, the Church in its turn is to bring glory to God and to show the world what it is like to live in God’s inclusive kingdom.
Living in God’s kingdom is not about rules. The Ten Commandments are there because it shows what God is like, whay God would be like if human: He would not have other gods, he would not make images to represent God, nor use God’s name to make a promise he did not intend keeping and take time out to honour God. In short he would honour God, but also his parents, and also honour other people by not killing them, not having sex with their spouse, not stealing from them, being honest and not being envious. We have an example in Jesus who lived like that.
Paul, was saying much the same when he said that living by our desires causes, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” But if we have God’s Spirit inside we other things will develop: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gradually we grow to have the qualities of God in our lives. God lives within us to the extent that we allow God in.
Knowing this about the nature of God… I give the last word back to Dallas Willard:
We must understand that God does not love us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as Christian love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word love.
Quotes from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.