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Are You Divisive, Exclusive, And Theologically Correct?

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Exclusivism ... Ugh! Are you divisive, exclusive, and theologically correct? Are you tribal with your own definition of orthodox? Are you separating the body of Christ?

We religious folks are particularly keen on being very specific about what you have to believe to be 'in' versus 'out'. It is understandable that Protestant denominations share cardinal points of faith, because those are the basis on which other groups have been excluded! But the tribalism does not stop there. Each denomination has an additional grab-bag of theological statements that it holds dear, and those who disagree may, after all, not be “real Christians” or “born again” or “spirit filled”.

Emo Philips lampoons this offensive tribalism in his Baptist On The Bridge joke (Google it).

But the question, “What must I do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” remains contemporary and foundational.

The evangelical answer may be to “believe in Jesus”, but if you want a wide variety of wrong interpretations of what that means, you're spoiled for choice. Pick from one of the more crazy ones like “believe in a certain way to behave”, “believe in love as the golden rule”, “believe in total immersion baptism as symbolic of being born again”, “believe in speaking in tongues as a sign that you are filled with the Spirit”. More serious readers may feel more comfortable picking from “believe in a particular theology of the cross” or “believe in a particular view as to precisely who Jesus is” or “believe the resurrection actually happened”, etc, etc.

And boy, have we argued about all this over the years. We have been addicted to that delightful cosy “in crowd” feeling as we seek to share with others our enlightened view.

Jesus continually got into trouble because he walked right through the “in crowd” boundaries. We read that he healed the daughter of a Syrophoenecian woman. What he actually did, of course, was to heal the daughter of a ... SYROPHOENECIAN … WOMAN. And when Jesus pointed out that God sent Elijah to feed a foreign widow, rather than sticking with the chosen people, they chucked rocks at him.

Whether you're a primitive Methodist, an old Baptist union baptist, or a Plymouth Brethren (presumably as opposed to a modern methodist, a new BU baptist or Putney brethren), you may get the feeling that God doesn't like “in-crowds”.

The thing is, the kind of believing Jesus is looking for has got very little to do with pet doctrines, and everything to do with relationship.

Jesus is not asking us to believe certain facts about anything. He never explained substitutionary atonement, or Christus Victor as alternative soteriologies. He didn't chuck Philip off the discipleship course because he didn't understand that “he who has seen me has seen the Father”.

The only sense in which we have to believe in Jesus is to trust him enough to follow him. I'm not saying that theology is unimportant – absolutely not – but I don't think Jesus cares too much if you've got bits of your theology wrong (as I most assuredly still have!), provided we trust and we follow.

The difficulty is that we know the road that Jesus trod. He lived God's lifestyle. Every day, He quite deliberately sought out those situations in which he could pour out his life for odd individuals who nobody cared about, whose names we don't know, whose identities are long forgotten, that He met along the roadside. Every day, He embraced with joy and good grace, the laying aside of his own comforts for the benefit of others. And every day, the Father asked him to give up more, and more, and more. Until the day came when there was seemingly nothing left of him, just a worn out, and beaten up body.

But He taught that you have to lose you life to save it. He said that dying to self somehow stores up a hidden life which one day is revealed. He reminds us that God underlines this counter-intuitive life principle, by surrounding us with millions of trees or shrubs which every year, drop their seeds into the ground, and await the miracle of life to happen again.

And if setting aside self, losing your own agenda, priorities, plans and goals, and serving others, actually does this hidden thing of stoking the furnaces of that hidden new life, then there is no way on earth that Jesus could fail to come alive again in awesome power.

So it's about trusting Jesus when he says 'lay it down', when he says 'spend your life on others'. Trusting Him to the extent that we actually do that. And thus stoking the furnace.

What is the kind of believing that saves? Believing an exclusive and specific set of doctrines - no. Believing Jesus when he says "Follow me, through self-giving, through death to self, through resurrection to new life" - yes.

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