Summary: Five reasons why God wants our church to welcome all kinds of people who share a common faith in Christ with us.
(Note: This sermon was introduced with a powerpoint presentation set to the song "All Kinds of People" written by Sheryl Crow, Kevin Gilbert and Erick Pressley and performed by Susan Ashton from the "A Distant Call" CD).
Why is it that the Christian community is divided over many of the very same things our world is divided over? That’s a troubling trend, when you think about it. We can understand why certain issues tear people in our culture who don’t know God apart, but why do some of these very same issues tear apart the Christian community?
One of the more tragic examples of this came in the 1990s in the African country of Rwanda. You probably remember that intertribal warring in Rwanda led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. What isn’t widely known about that horrible event is that among the Rwandan tribes that were killing each other, 98% of the people claimed to be Christians (McClaren). You see, Rwanda was for many years held up as a success story in Christian missions, a stellar example of a place where missionaries came, presented the good news of Jesus Christ, and the vast majority of the people came to faith in Jesus. Yet here were these people who confessed loyalty to the same Lord and Master, and they were trying to exterminate each other. At one time an Anglican bishop went to Rwanda to appeal to leaders among the tribes to stop killing each other. During his meeting with them, the bishop asked the leaders of the tribes, "Which is more significant to you? The waters of your Christian baptism or the bloodlines of your tribes." Without a moment’s hesitation they said, "The bloodlines of our tribes."
The things that divide the Christian Church here in America aren’t quite so hateful, but they’re troubling nonetheless. I’ll never forget reading Christian author Phillip Yancey’s description about how the church he grew up in actually asked a black family to leave during a worship service back in the 1960s (Yancey). Yancey’s boyhood congregation was entirely orthodox from a doctrinal perspective, yet it was as racist as its neighbors.
Churches today are still divided by race, by economic status, by political party. It’s even happened in our own congregation. I know of someone who was once a member of our church who felt excluded because she and her husband held differing convictions about politics than the majority of our members. Many congregations these days are divided along generational lines. Some churches are primarily old, while others are exclusively young. Its as if many congregations have given up on ministering to people across generational lines.
This is terribly tragic.
According to the Bible, there are two things that bind all human beings together. Regardless of our skin color, our annual income, our political convictions, our marital status, or our age, there are two things that bind us together. The first thing that binds us together is the fact that all human beings are created in the image of God. Every human being is an image bearer of God, no matter what gender, income level, age, or social class. This is true of everyone.
But the second thing that binds us together is our fallenness. You see, according to the Bible all human beings have turned away from God, thereby tarnishing God’s image in their lives. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. The entire human race has joined in a revolution against the creator, causing us to be alienated from God, and desperately in need of reconciliation with God. This is also true about every person in their natural born condition, no matter what age, gender, skin color, or whatever.
Because of this all people share these two things in common, God wants us as a congregation to welcome all kinds of people who share a common faith with us. God wants the basis of our unity to be a common faith in Jesus, not our skin color, income level, marital status, our political party, or anything else.
Of course God also wants us to welcome seekers who are investigating the Christian faith. But a seeker is our honored guest, a person who’s not truly a part of our church community but who’s chosen this congregation as a place to investigate the Christian faith. But we can’t pretend that a seeker is already a follower of Jesus, because only our common faith in Jesus is what binds us together as a church family. That’s why a person must have a confession of faith in Jesus and have been baptized publicly as a Christian before they can become a member of our church.
Now why does God want us to welcome all kinds of people we share this common faith with? We’ve been in a series through the New Testament book of Romans called GOOD NEWS FOR OUR TIMES. The last few weeks we’ve been talking about tension that existed in the church in Rome between the Jewish Christians and the non-Jewish Christians. This tension was primarily over issues like eating kosher food, observing the Jewish Sabbath laws, and so forth. We’ve seen in the last few weeks that the Jewish Christians still felt obligated to obey many of the Jewish customs from the law of Moses, while the non-Jewish Christians didn’t feel bound to observe things like food laws and special Jewish festivals. This disagreement over what Paul calls "disputable matters" in chapter 14 of Romans was tearing the church apart, so Paul writes to try to bring these two groups together. Paul calls the non-Jewish Christians who had freedom in these areas "the strong in faith," while he characterizes the Jewish Christians who still felt bound to observe these Jewish customs "the weak in faith."