December 19, 2006

The gospel and inclusivity: Romans 2

In today's pluralistic and postmodern world, looking at what it means to be inclusive and accepting is an important task. Because today few thigns are more valued in our culture than these values. And Christian communities have reacted to and incorporated these values differently. Some churches strive to be known by inclusivity and acceptance, while others strive to be on the front lines of the culture war and draw careful boundaries around who is in and who is out. As an evangelical, I feel myself pulled in both directions. And rightfully so, I think. So that is just why I think it is a topic worthy of reflection.

In Romans 2, Paul is working on laying out the logic behind his presentation of the gospel message of justification by grace and inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles in the Christian community. He has begun by making the assertions that God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel and God's wrath is revealed in his reaction to people's rejection of his will. In the first section of chapter 2, Paul takes up what it means for Christians to judge others. He asserts in crystal clear language that everyone deserves to be judged based on truth, but he equates this with "God's judgment" (2:2). But for those of us who aren't God, he says, "So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment?" And I don't think he is just saying that I look like a hypocrite when I castigate someone for stealing but am caught with the same transgression in my background (or when a pastor who has berated homosexual behavior is caught with the same proclivities). I think his logic points more toward a broader assertion: we are all sinners (as he will say over and over in chapter 3), and judgment isn't in our hands.

So what does that mean for me? If you read further in Romans 2, or anywhere else in Paul for that matter, you know without a doubt that he's not talking about an anything-goes, syncretistic Christianity. And Paul is also a staunch defender in the need for Christians to proclaim Christ, and to seek to discern his will (see, for example Romans 12:2 and Philippians 1:9-11). I'm not sure I can lay out exactly what it means to practice these two seemingly contradictory ideas: do not judge, proclaim Christ and discern his will. But I do think that the core of what Paul is getting at is the attitude of the heart. Inclusivity should be our hearts desire, to accept all people as sinners, just as we are, unworthy of God's grace but offered God's unfailing love as a free gift. And no less than that, our heart is bound with Christ and no other, and this means striving always to live as he lived, and to flee from things that are odious and repulsive to God. So my post doesn't end with an easy answer. More it ends with a question, or maybe more, a reflection. That these two things probably should be a conflict within us as a community (if they are not, there is cause for serious worry). Paul probably sums it up best when he says, "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" God shows us an amazing love, a love we didn't deserve and can never boast about as being of our own doing. But that love leads us toward repentance. Somehow we need to strive to be that love that is exemplified in kindness, patience, and even tolerance, the kind that leads toward repentance and a new life and existence in Christ.

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