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.