Many churches today aim to be inclusive.

Hurting from a history of narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and arrogance, we are concerned to show the world a more friendly face. Burdened with our my-way-or-the-highway past, we want to be sure that everyone knows they are welcome. Shamed by our legacy of exclusion, we want to say we have thrown open the doors; we have broken down the dividing walls; all are invited in.

Our theme song is “Draw the circle wide.” We celebrate under the banner of “There’s a place for you.” Our only heresy is exclusion.

But, is it possible to be so inclusive that we lose any coherent sense of identity? Can a church that embraces everything really stand for anything? Can a robust vibrant community form around a vague commitment to nothing more than being nice?

These are unsettling questions for someone who longs to create an open community where trust is nurtured and differences are honoured and celebrated. I feel the anxiety of these questions as a knot of uncertainty in my stomach. Have I sold out the truth in an attempt to help everyone feel equally welcome? Have I surrendered a robust sense of shared identity in the hope that no one will ever feel excluded?

These are legitimate concerns; but I do not want these doubts to drive me back into the narrow confined space I once believed was God’s vision for the church. I refuse to retreat to the church of who’s-in-and-who’s-out. I renounce the arrogance that believes I get to decide what you need to believe because I know the Truth to which you must subscribe. I will not go back to the business of building barriers. Fortress church is over.

Jesus had an expansive vision of what it means to be his follower. His criteria were simple. When he called followers to himself Jesus said,

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.(Matthew 11:28)

Jesus does not say, “Believe this,” or even “Do that.”  Jesus asks only that we acknowledge we “are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” and that we “Come” to him.

To “Come” to Jesus means to move towards that love and compassion Jesus embodied.

I “come” to Jesus when I open my heart to love. I “come” to Jesus when I seek to live truthfully, authentically, and compassionately. I “come” to Jesus when I allow the power of Jesus’ Spirit to dwell in my life and manifest the fruit of his Spirit which Paul lists as

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and inner strength. (Galatians 5:22,23)

When I “come” to Jesus I find “rest.” I no worry about who is in and who is out. I lay down my anxiety about forming vibrant communities of robust identity.

Having promised rest to those who “come” to him, Jesus went on to encourage us to

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29,30)

Yoked to Jesus, I receive his gentle and humble heart.

All I need to know about anyone is that we share a desire to carry this yoke that “is easy” and to bear this “burden” that “is light.” Any other demands are human standards and obligations manufactured in a vain attempt to create a world that is tidier than the messy human community God calls into being. I am content to trust God’s Spirit in the hearts of all who love the light and power of Jesus at work in our lives and in all the world. This is enough identity and security to sustain any community drawn together by the presence of Christ.

Advertisements