This year our theme verse is Romans 12:2a and our motto is “Don’t conform! Be transformed!”
This focus on being apart from the world could logically lead, quite dangerously, to some very harmful and unbiblical positions (superiority, seclusion, hate and a lack of evangelism to name a few). There is an “us vs.” them mentality in the Bible, but lest the existence of this lead us into any hazard allow me to offer some ballast that should keep the ship stable and on course (lest we end up embracing aspects of the Amish or the Exclusive Brethren who pervert John 17:16 to be in but not of the world).
The Church is to be an inclusive yet exclusive community.
The Church is an Exclusive Community:
A constant drum beat throughout the Old and New Testaments is that the people of God (the elect) form an exclusive community, special to Him, with certain blessings and responsibilities unique to them in their relationship with the Lord.
Consider verses on the special nature of His people, both Old Covenant and in the New:
7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
The Bible also speaks about two ways: the wicked and the righteous (Ps 1); the wise and the foolish (Prov 9); those who are spiritually dead and those made alive in Christ (Eph 2); and those destined for hell or heaven (Mt 25:46).
The Bible also places restrictions such as limiting baptism and communion to believer’s, and likewise “marrying in the Lord.”
All of this centres around one’s response to Jesus and His Gospel: 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12).
These are just the tip of the iceberg for as one scans the pages of Scripture one will find these sorts of texts at every turn. The Bible does not just teach this exclusivity, it shouts it!
The Church is exclusively made up of the redeemed in Christ. If you are not in Christ you are outside the benefits of His body, the Church. In this sense the Church is exclusive.
The Church is an Inclusive Community:
HOWEVER, the Church is also inclusive! There are plenty verses to demonstrate this too!
First of all for the truly regenerate grace is humbling and never encourages pride: 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:4–5). Grace is of a humbling nature.
God’s general will is that: …all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4) and He calls Christians to extend the Gospel call to all nations (Great Commission Mt 28). If the Lord has had compassion on Christians (Mt 9:36) then we ought also willingly be obedient and extend that same offer to others, treating them not with disdain but remembering such were we (1 Cor 6: 11a) and loving our enemies as Christ loved us (Mt 5:44).
Therefore, whilst the benefits of the Gospel are limited to believers its invitation is universal (or inclusive, meaning open to any who would believe).
Whilst we journey under this year’s theme bearing this healthy tension between exclusivity and inclusivity—the us & them— in mind, we will not go astray.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,