When I was in Jr. High, one of the “cool kids” threw a huge birthday party. Everyone who was anyone was invited. When I didn’t receive an invitation, I was devastated. The weekend of the party arrived and I floundered at home in my own self-pity. Winning the lottery couldn’t have made that weekend any better. Whether someone doesn’t invite you to a birthday party or picks you last for a kickball team, exclusion is devastating to one’s self-esteem.
Evangelists proclaim the Gospel and boast that it’s for everyone—everyone who believes. The problem arrived when “authority”—whatever that may be—began to dictate who believed and who didn’t and thereby excluded those who they assessed didn’t believe. Heresies developed, Synods responded with disciplinary action, dogma became authoritative, Scripture and the papacy were exonerated. Christianity became a religion just like all the others and it no longer was a faith for “everyone.” Because of this fact, Christianity is often –and rightly so—accused of being an exclusionary religion. Christian dogma mandates faith in Christ—his death and resurrection—as the sole requirement for inclusion. If one doesn’t believe, one is not included in the community of faith. My question is:
Who instilled the authority upon us, as Christians, to determine whether one truly believes or not?
The Apostle Paul writes:
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
—1 Corinthians 3:5-7
I wish Paul had added one more function to the end of this passage. Who harvests? From other Scripture passages, we know that God is the one who harvests the wheat when it is ready. Unfortunately, over time, the Church has assumed the harvesting responsibility. When we begin to decide who’s in and who’s out, tragedies such as the crusades, the inquisition, the Salem witch trials, slavery, apartheid, and exclusive measures the Church embarks upon.
I’m just as guilty of judgment as the next person. Where did we, as Christians, go wrong? When did grace take second place—or even third or fourth place—over condemnation? When did we renounce our divine commission to plant the seed and water it in the fields, and instead take on the harvesting responsibilities?
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an angel appeared to the destitute and impoverished shepherds in the fields nearby. The Lord’s glory radiated about the shepherds, and they were afraid. The angel comforted them saying, “Don’t be afraid! I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master” (Luke 2:10-11—The Message).
These evangelists are right-on. The Gospel is for everybody, worldwide. God loved everyone so much that he sent his Son into the world to die, so that anyone who believes in Him has eternal life. Sure, after God harvests the crops, the wheat is definitely separated from the tares. Yet, whether one truly believes is for God to decide and no one else. As Christians, we are called to emulate the shepherds, go out into the world, and tell everyone what we see and hear—to testify about our own experiences with our Lord and Savior. Like the shepherds and like the Apostle Paul, we plant the seed. We are also called as Christians to make disciples, to teach others about Christ and the wonders that lie within a genuine faith in Jesus. Like Apollos, we are to water the seed. Let’s leave the growing and the harvesting to God.
It breaks my heart to see condemnation, exclusion, and hatred spewing from the mouths of Christians—especially during Christmas. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, a joyful event for EVERYBODY…worldwide.