Looking at inclusion from God’s perspective
I’ll admit, my jaw dropped slightly when I read this on a church website: “Christianity is our way to God, but it’s not the only way to God. God draws people in many ways, and He welcomes them all.” In a nutshell, this means that all religions, lifestyles and beliefs should be accepted and approved as true and moral. The formal term for this all-roads-lead-to-God approach is “religious pluralism,” which is part of what many refer to as progressive Christianity.
The idea of a church welcoming everyone sounds good on the surface because imperfect people are invited to attend as they are, but if we dig a little deeper, we discover that “all are welcome here” doesn’t simply mean welcoming sinners into the church. It also means approving of their sin. It isn’t just about acknowledging the differing viewpoints of others; it’s about upholding all viewpoints as truth.
“After all,” the argument goes, “every one of us is broken and messed up. Why should one messed-up person be able to tell another messed-up person that he or she is wrong?” For those who hold this view, any kind of exclusion feels harsh and cruel.
If you think about it, nearly every community is exclusive to some degree. It reminds me of the time I wanted to sing on my church’s worship team. I love music, but I forgot one important detail: I can’t sing. Sure, I can belt out my favorite songs while driving, but I have no concept of octaves or musical keys. In the end, the worship team decided to not give me a place onstage. I didn’t meet their qualifications, and I didn’t want to put in the work to learn.
But when it comes to God, some may ask, “What’s wrong with including everyone?” That sounds like a valid question when we consider it from a human-centered point of view, but to arrive at the right answer, we need to look at the issue through a God-centered perspective.
Our human filter can get distorted with partial truths and lies. One of the biggest lies people believe is that all views are true—even views that contradict each other. This leads to confusion because every perspective can’t be right. For example, if one church teaches that God welcomes everyone and accepts their sinful lifestyles, and another church teaches that God welcomes everyone but calls them to turn away from their sin, both views can’t be true. The only way to know what is actually true is to find out what God thinks about the issue. After all, as the One who created truth, His perspective is all that really matters.
To better understand God’s perspective on inclusion, let’s rewind to the beginning of time, where the conversation should start.
“In the beginning, God . . .”
In the very first chapter of the Bible, we learn that God existed before the world began. With a word spoken into the void, He crafted the galaxies, the planets and the ground beneath our feet (Genesis 1). Then He designed people in His image, the pinnacle of His creation. Humanity was created for a single goal—to glorify God. He set standards for how humans should live because in His wisdom, He knew what would make His creation thrive.
But humans rebelled against Him. We turned our backs on God and His standards and insisted on establishing our own. Because of our sin and rebellion, we were cut off from our Creator and have lived under the curse of death ever since. But God in His mercy paved a path for a restored relationship with Him. Amazingly, He set His plan of salvation in motion long before He made the world (1 Peter 1:18-21).
In His wisdom, God established only one way for us to be forgiven and restored: through His Son, who gave His life on a cross to pay for our sins and bring us back to the Father (Romans 5:6-10). God also designed how His people should live and gave us His blueprint in the Bible.
Now the choice is ours: Will we receive His gift of forgiveness and restoration or reject it? Will we obey His blueprint or rebel?
God’s inclusive and exclusive plan
Inclusion and exclusion are a part of everyday life. For example, societies seek to be inclusive over who can receive medical care but are strongly exclusive over who can give medical care. Can you imagine a world where anyone who wanted to be a doctor could immediately be given a position at a hospital? Or what if all parameters disappeared on who could become police officers, teachers and pilots? The same principle applies to the body of Christ. Becoming a part of the body of Christ comes with certain requirements: repentance, faith and belief in Christ. In short, it requires acceptance of the Gospel.
The Gospel is a beautifully inclusive message. It’s the message of forgiveness that Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery—“Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:1-12). It’s echoed in the beloved words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The Gospel also comes with radically exclusive requirements. It declares that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and then announces the only remedy (Romans 3:21-26), shows us we’re sick and then points us to the Healer (Matthew 9:1-8). It proves we’re lost and that only Jesus can find us (Luke 19:10) and tells the woman caught in adultery to “go, and . . . sin no more” (John 8:11).
The Gospel clearly says that there is only one way to be saved: through faith in Jesus (Acts 4:12). When we look at the world from God’s perspective, we realize that He is inclusive and exclusive. He wants to heal, transform and restore everyone. But He also desires that we have willing hearts to pursue life in a way that reflects His standards.
The Gospel changes our perspective
My own life has been radically changed by the Gospel. Even though I’ve always been a “good Christian girl” on the surface, I now realize that I desperately need God to change not only my exterior actions but also my heart. His love overhauled my life by stripping away my squeaky-clean appearance and revealing the truth underneath—a sinner in need of a Savior. He’s continually transforming the way I think, talk and approach my family and friends. Day by day, He gives me a clearer understanding of my purpose in life.
So how does the Gospel change our perspective? While many people say, “Everyone has a seat at the table, and many roads lead there,” the Gospel says, “All are welcome at the table, but there’s only one way to get there—and that way is Jesus.”
Do we truly believe this? If we do, it changes how we interact with the people around us.
You may be wondering, Are we supposed to exclude people who aren’t Christians or those who say they are Christians but believe that God accepts sinful lifestyles? Those are hard questions that we can answer only by looking to the example of Christ. Throughout the New Testament accounts about Jesus, we see Him engaging with people others rebuffed. The Samaritan woman. The hated tax collectors. The prostitutes, the lepers and even the demon possessed. He touched them, ate with them and spoke to them when others steered clear. But in every instance, the people Jesus interacted with walked away changed.
Jesus wasn’t shy about exposing their sin or speaking words that can seem a little harsh to us. He loved people enough to draw near to them, but His love went even deeper than that: He loved them enough to point out the sins that were destroying them and show them the truth that could transform their lives. His love didn’t validate their lifestyles; it completely overhauled them.
While the Gospel invites everyone to “come as you are,” it doesn’t settle for anyone staying that way. Today we often hear a false message of love that tells us, “You’re OK the way you are.” But the Gospel of love tells us the truth: “You’re not OK as you are, but Jesus can heal and transform you.”
Will we be bold enough to choose this kind of love in a culture that settles for wishy-washy compromise? Be brave enough to speak the truth in love and say, “No, there’s only one way to God, and it’s Jesus”? Or will we be loving enough to not only open our arms and hearts to those who other people reject but also point them to the open arms of Jesus spread wide on a cross?
By God’s grace, I will. Will you?
A Quick Check
Let’s go deeper! How does progressive Christianity compare to a biblical worldview? Answer the questions as you learn more about what God has to say through the Bible. Briefly journal your thoughts.
1. A social media post says, “God loves you in your brokenness.” Is this a reflection of progressive Christianity or from a biblical worldview?
A. progressive Christianity
B. biblical worldview
Read what the Bible says: Romans 3:23-24 and Romans 3:9-12.
2. A billboard says, “You are acceptable to God no matter what you do.” Is this a reflection of progressive Christianity or from a biblical worldview?
A. progressive Christianity
B. biblical worldview
Read what the Bible says: Romans 6:1-6.
3. Is the statement “Everyone has a seat at the table” a reflection of progressive Christianity or from a biblical worldview?
A. progressive Christianity
B. biblical worldview
Read what the Bible says: 1 Timothy 2:3-5 and 1 John 2:3-6.
Think: How can I prioritize the Gospel in my relationships with love?
1. (B); We’re all broken people, yet God loves all of humanity and wants each of us to turn to Him in our brokenness and find His healing. We don’t have to be perfect when we come to Jesus.
2. (A); God doesn’t accept sinful behavior, but He is ready to forgive when we ask.
3. Either (A) or (B); If this statement means that God accepts sinful decisions and lifestyles, then this is progressive Christianity, and the answer is (A). If this means that God allows all to come to His table through faith in Jesus, no matter their race, background, sex or socioeconomic status, then this is a biblical worldview, and the answer is (B).
© 2023 Sara Barratt. Used by permission. This article first appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Brio magazine as “’All Are Welcome Here’.” All rights reserved.