Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of inclusion, not exclusion, and that makes perfect sense. After all, what would be the point of dying for people and then excluding them from experiencing God’s love and the opportunity to accept His grace? Doing that would be inconsistent, not smart, and would perhaps be a waste of Jesus’ time on earth and of His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. It is simple and Jesus knew it: you cannot save people by excluding them. Jesus was crystal-clear: if He was going to have a shot at saving humanity, people needed to see His love for them. That’s why He came and dwelt among us and became one of us.
I met an 18-year-old man who shocked and saddened
me when he unapologetically told me that he had found in
his church more evidence for Satan’s existence than for
God’s existence. When I inquired further, he showed me two
tattoos on each side of his neck and said, “No one in my
church ever acknowledges me or says anything to me. They
look at me funny and move on, as if I had a contagious disease.
I definitely don’t belong there.”
I saw, with my own eyes, how a young lady was asked
to leave church on a Sabbath afternoon because she was
wearing pants. When my wife and I stood up for her, she told
us it had been a while since she had last been to church, but,
feeling unworthy and inadequate to come to the morning
worship service, she had decided to come in the afternoon.
We were holding a special prayer session for an upcoming
evangelistic series we were about to launch in that area. As
soon as she walked in, she was told she could not enter the
sanctuary wearing sweatpants. Turns out she was pregnant
out of wedlock and trying to hide her belly.
WHO CAN THE CHURCH LOVE?
If the church of Jesus cannot love guys with tattoos,
ladies who wear pants, girls who are pregnant out of wedlock,
and people who smell like smoke, among others, who
can God’s church love? What, then, is the purpose of the
church? Why do we even exist?
If the church of Jesus cannot love all sinners as Jesus did, then it is not a church, and it is not of Jesus. Jesus
loved all sinners and was always ready to minister to them,
regardless of their sin. If you don’t love sinners, you will have
a hard time reaching, retaining, or reclaiming them.
Jesus did not baptize all the people He healed, fed, and
counseled; yet He still healed them, took away their hunger,
and blessed them because He loved them.
IS YOUR CHURCH FILLED WITH PEOPLE FROM DIFFERENT
WALKS OF LIFE?
If your church is not filled with people of different backgrounds
and walks of life, perhaps it is because they don’t
feel that your church is a safe place for them. Jesus loved tax
collectors, prostitutes, Jews, Gentiles, poor, rich, children,
men, women, and Pharisees. This is why people from different
walks of life approached Him and followed Him.
The church of Jesus must be willing to love people who
sin differently than we do. Jesus died for them as much as
He died for me and you.
WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE?
Where do we draw the line? The answer is simple: We
draw the line where Jesus did. When a woman who had just
been caught in the act of adultery was brought to Him and
her accusers looked to Jesus for approval to stone her, He
said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Then He
told her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
We are much more like Jesus when we are inclusive with
other sinners. We reflect His character best when the doors
of our churches are opened to people of different walks of
life and backgrounds. We are much more effective in reaching,
retaining, and reclaiming when we are filled with the love
of God and the compassion of Jesus.
Let’s just try it! Jesus did!
Pastor Jose Cortes Jr., is an Associate Ministerial Director and
leads evangelism for the Adventist Church in North America. This
article first appeared in Best Practice, May 21, 2015. It has been
lightly edited for Elder’s Digest.