Should Christianity be fully inclusive?
Updated: Jun 17, 2023
Description: Some Christians are so inclusive that anything goes. Some are so exclusive that Christ's teaching gets overridden. Maybe this will help.
Inclusive and exclusive
Probably the best place to start is with the meaning of inclusive and exclusive, but that’s not really enough. What matters more are the implications of adopting one stance or the other, or even adopting some kind of compromise.
Inclusivity has a variety of contexts, but essentially it’s about: not excluding anyone on any grounds, most commonly grounds of gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc. On the face of it, this seems a reasonable position for Christians to adopt, but there are deeper implications – we’ll look at these later.
Exclusivity too has a variety of contexts, but essentially it’s about: rejecting those who are different or do not meet a (usually) narrow set of criteria. Being exclusive often precludes sharing anything with the excluded. On the face of it, this doesn’t sit well with many Christians, so again the implications need to be considered.
Implications of inclusivity
The bedrock for us must come from Jesus himself, specifically the Great Commission: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' (Matthew 28.19). This is unquestionably inclusive. Jesus made no mention of specific genders, races, classes, sexual orientations, disabilities or any other attribute that too many people have exploited to make others vulnerable. Jesus meant all nations and everyone in them.
Thing is, Jesus also said about, ‘baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28.19-20). Jesus didn’t say, ‘obey everything I have suggested’; he said, commanded.
He also told his followers, ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it’ (Matthew 7:13-14). This has an implicit link to obeying everything Jesus commanded. In John 14.6, Jesus amplified this point. He said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
It’s not really possible to interpret Jesus’ small gate and narrow road as inclusive – let alone his statement that no one comes to the Father except through him. Before taking this further, let’s have a closer look at exclusivity.
Implications of exclusivity
Again, the bedrock for us comes from Jesus and his very inclusive Great Commission (Matthew 28.19). He wanted (and wants) the Gospel to be preached to everyone and for everyone to embrace faith in him, initially expressed through baptism – spiritual rebirth.
The Gospel has certainly been preached across the world. It has been interpreted, reinterpreted and misinterpreted; quoted and misquoted; fitted into many sets of religious practices, rituals and liturgies; twisted beyond recognition and exploited for earthly gain – and much more besides.
Bottom line, too many misguided ideas lead to: ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ attitudes with the inevitable next step of: ‘I reject your stance/opinions/beliefs and will have nothing to do with you or them.’ This very real example is a prevalent form of exclusivity – yet it’s only the starting block for division, hatred and violence. This is truly sad as it all comes from our pride, not Jesus.
But there is a different kind of exclusivity. Whereas Jesus’ invitation to believe is open to everyone, the small gate and narrow road we noted earlier are exclusive, i.e. open only to Christ’s follows.
Of vital importance is God’s desire for ‘all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2.4). Our Holy God always knew that mankind’s free will would lead to sin – the ungodly sin that separates us from his divine presence.
It’s been said that God cannot bear to look at us because of our sin, yet cannot bear to look away because of his love. Thank God for Jesus! He is God’s reconciliation – our salvation. Although being the very nature of God, Jesus set aside all the privileges of deity. He became human and took on the status of a servant. He achieved what we never could. He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – a sacrificial death that opened our way to our Father in heaven. (See Philippians 2.5-11 for further references to the mindset of Christ.)
Inclusivity and exclusivity are not at odds in Christianity, but there’s equally no room for compromise. The invitation to salvation is open to everyone – it’s totally inclusive – but we must have faith and trust in his astounding love.
The small gate and narrow road are totally exclusive, i.e. only for those who accept Jesus as their saviour (since no one can come to the Father except through him). Yet, as always and in all things, God will have the final word.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.