“. . . God looks to see that we have practiced the generosity and inclusiveness of the kingdom in our daily social relationships.” – R. Alan Culpepper
Not too long ago, Dr. Jim Lewis and I were having a conversation about an article in the New York Times on science and religion. Jim said he’d like to see our churches approach religious practice from a data-based perspective. I didn’t necessarily agree as I have some reservations about data-driven practices applied to people. But Jim raised some important questions: What is the best approach to draw people into our fellowship? What is the best approach to deepen people’s spirituality? How can Christian belief and practice be best infused into our daily lives?
Now I don’t claim to know the answers these questions, but I would like to suggest one more question before even attempting to answer these, and that is why do we even come to church?
In that article which I alluded to earlier, the author, David DeSteno wrote, “Religious traditions offer a rich store of ideas about what human beings are like and how they can satisfy their deepest moral and social needs. For thousands of years, people have turned to spiritual leaders and religious communities for guidance about how to conduct themselves, how to coexist with other people, how to live meaningful and fulfilled lives — and how to accomplish this in the face of the many obstacles to doing so.”
from “What Science Can Learn From Religion” (David DeSteno, NY Times, 02.01.19)
Notice the key word in the quote – community. And implied in that are the relationships we find in the community of church, for relationships truly matter. And if those relationships truly matter to us, why aren’t we inviting others to join in that community? If, for example, “religion is not a single, separate sphere of human life, but the divine principle by which the entire man is to be pervaded, refined, and made complete. It takes hold of him in his undivided totality, in the center of his personal being; to carry light into his understanding . . .” wouldn’t it then make sense that we seek to include others in that community? from Philip Schaff in Revelations – Four Views, Steve Gregg (ed.)
Consider the Apostle Paul’s words:
2-3 Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. 4-5 Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself.
Galatians 6: 2 – 5 (MSG)
Rather than ask questions, Paul presents a few commands: explore who we are, the work we have been given, and then sink the self into that. The country singer, Ashley McBryde says we should “. . . passionately pursue what sets your soul on fire.”
But ultimately, when we consider Paul’s exhortation and the Culpepper quote to practice generosity and inclusiveness, just how do we live with this kind of thinking? Jesus declares no one is left out; we all have an invitation, a promise of a place for each, and for every one of us, a promise of GRACE!
Such a promise means we are to extend that grace to all with whom we come in contact. All mankind is to be treated with love and grace, for the Savior died for ALL.
It is incumbent on us to practice the love and mercy to one another, that same love, mercy, and grace that have been extended to us through the Father’s love. It is an invitation to include the excluded, to step across the boundaries of race, class, gender, and identity. As followers of Christ, we do NOT have the option to opt out.