so open it’s shut

I’ve been too busy with summer school, retaining walls, computer crashes, and toilet back-ups to post anything this week, but this morning I found enough space to revise my devotional on “The New Pharisees.”  I’m glad for your feedback, because I realized that the discussion about whether or not some emergents meet the criteria of Pharisee distracted from the larger point I was trying to make.  I don’t want this even to be about the emergent leaders per se, but about the principle that opening the kingdom too much has the same effect as slamming it shut.  So here is my new try to get at the same point without the distracting labels.  Any thoughts?

Solomon Stoddard had a problem.  Like other pastors in 17th century New England, he wanted every citizen in town to belong to the church.  But many of the Puritan children were not interested in following Christ, so Stoddard relaxed the rules for church membership.  Anyone who assented to the church’s teachings and avoided immorality could join the church, whether or not they showed signs of conversion. 

Stoddard’s innovation enlarged the church’s reach but significantly reduced its grasp.  The church could boast that it included everyone in town, but what did church membership even mean when the bar was set so low?  Stoddard’s grandson Jonathan Edwards recognized the problem, but he was fired by the congregation when he demanded that church members produce credible confessions of faith.

A similar situation exists today.  We want everyone to belong to the kingdom of God, but many people are not interested in following Jesus.  Some pastors respond by relaxing the rules for membership.  They say that we don’t need to believe in Jesus to enter the kingdom.  We don’t even need to enter, for everyone is born already on the inside.

But Jesus said that he is the Door and only “those who come in through me will be saved” (John 10:9).  If Jesus is the only Door, then anyone who denies his necessity is shutting the door to the kingdom.  Worse, like Stoddard with church membership, lowering the bar for belonging to the kingdom eliminates the very idea of the kingdom.  A kingdom which includes everyone and asks nothing from anyone is no longer a meaningful concept.  Any set which is everything is also nothing.  So the kingdom no longer exists, and you can’t enter what isn’t there.

If you want your friends to enter the kingdom, don’t knock down the walls.  Show them the Door.

7 Comments

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  1. Matthew Carlson June 5, 2010 — 1:59 pm

    Nice quote at the end! I found the articulation of Stoddard’s innovation, “enlarging reach and reducing grasp”, very intriguing. The emergent movement feels a lot like the weeds in my back yard; they spread like crazy but their roots only go so deep.

  2. Jonathan Shelley June 5, 2010 — 9:23 pm

    Mike:

    I think this works a lot better without the labels. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I read the “Pharisee” version, I was thinking “them.” This version had me thinking, “In what ways have I acted like Stoddard.” In my mind, this version breaks down the us/them mentality.

    And I’m good with retaining wall, if you need free labor.

  3. It seems like an almost unknown fact that to be inclusive, you must exclude the exclusivists.

    The irony is that when Edwards attempted to speak out against the inclusive nature of the church, he was excluded.

    For instance, Mike isn’t that well-loved by many in the EC. Why? Because he spoke out against them. He wasn’t mean, wasn’t rude, wasn’t nasty, and didn’t call anyone any names. In fact, his first book, “Heaven is a Place on Earth” is something that was against mainstream evangelicalism, so you’d think the EC would love Mike. But they don’t, because he doesn’t buy into their version of exclusivism…er…inclusivism.

    And that’s the ultimate truth – everyone is exclusive. The question is who do you exclude and to what degree do you exclude them?

  4. Dr. Wittmer, this is a very good post. Jonathan, I agree with your feedback. Matt, I like your comment and you are my stepbrother. (It’s true!)

  5. Adam: You and Matt are related?!

  6. Dr. Wittmer – yep 🙂

  7. Thus the reasons I am a baptist!!! As my professors at Westminster used to say, paedobaptists need a revival every third generations because their churches fill up with those who are members but have no credible conversion. I grew up baptist and didn’t feel cheated as if I had been left out of the covenant promises. The door was open for me, as for all others, to enter in through sincere faith and a conscience convinced of sin. I was loved, catechised, nurtured and preached to – but lost until I believed and received. Jonathan Edwards was right to do what he had done (though a bit more tact would have been helpful). He would have been more right had he been a baptist.

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