Although this is another word that does not appear at all in the New Testament, its ubiquity in today’s “Christian” discussions makes it a topic that needs attention. The early church was a case study in the inclusion of “Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female” in the Kingdom, and indeed, into the very family of the King. Interestingly, however, this was (laboriously) accomplished without either succumbing to the immoral excesses of first century Greek and Roman culture, or imposing rigid legal requirements upon participants, and certainly without robbing the language of all pronouns and making a meaningless muddle of its grammar!
We saw in #171 that some folks consider the Magi to have been the first “outsiders” to be included in the Kingdom. However, Jesus mentioned two others in his “inaugural address” (Lk.4:24-27), and personally visited, healed, and preached not only in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mt.4:16) – which was bad enough from an orthodox perspective (Jn.1:46) – but also in despised Samaria (Lk.9:52-56, 17:11-16; Jn.4) and made a Samaritan the hero of a major parable (Lk.10:30-37)! He frequently crossed the Sea of Galilee to the Decapolis (Mt.4:25, Mk.7:31), which was Gentile territory (Mk.5:1, Lk.8:26), and Perea (Mt.8:28), where the feeding of pigs clearly establishes a non-Jewish audience, and also traveled to the Idumean cities of Tyre and Sidon (Mk.3:8, Mt.15:21, Mk.7:24) and to Canaanite Caesarea Philippi, which Matthew cites as the location of Peter’s acknowledgment of Jesus as the Son of God, and his transfiguration. Mark lists “Simon the Canaanite” among the Twelve (other writers call him “the Zealot”), and also notes that the “Simon” who was drafted to carry Jesus’ cross was from Cyrene, a Libyan city in North Africa!
Most of the folks listed as visitors to Jerusalem at Pentecost were probably either Diaspora Jews or proselytes, but the geographical range they represented (Ac.2:8-11) was enormous – all the way from Rome, through the province of Asia – now Turkey – (Cappadocia, Pontus, Phrygia, Pamphylia), Parthia (Persia), Media, and Mesopotamia to Egypt, then across to Crete, Cyrene, and the Arabian peninsula! All of these marvelled that they heard the word in their own native dialects!
When Peter, in his first sermon, included “all who are far away” in his invitation (Ac.2:39), he had no clue just how far that might be!
There were Greeks in the group early on, and Greek names appear among the deacons (Ac.6).
Philip had gone to Samaria to preach(Ac.8), and then welcomed an Ethiopian.
Saul the persecutor was headed to Damascus (Syria), and was chasing – and later protected by – believers there (Ac.9).
Peter encountered Aeneas (a Roman name) (Ac.9:33), and was staying with a tanner (9:42) – NO good Jew would associate with someone who handled dead animals!) when Cornelius’ messengers found him (Ac.10).
The congregation at Antioch was begun by brethren from Cyprus and Cyrene who (Ac.11:19-20) “spoke the word to Greeks also.”
All this activity was bound to make waves among those who clung to the traditional ways of old covenant exclusivity. And it did.
The Jerusalem Conference (Ac.15) is a classic example of a faithfully managed confrontation on the issue of “inclusion”. Please refer to the end of chapter 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom for a discussion of this meeting. Notable for our purpose here is the procedure:
(1) hearing the concerns of all sides (v.4)
(2) evaluation by (v.6) both the plural leadership (elders) and (v.12) “the whole assembly.”
(3) reference to Scriptural precedent (vv.15-18)
(4) a conciliatory summary (vv.19-21) , leading to
(5) consensus by “the apostles and elders and the whole church” (v.22).
Notice, please, that neither “side” won. Everybody won!
The strictures of the Old Covenant were not imposed upon Gentile believers, but neither were they “affirmed” and encouraged to continue their former behavior!
Everything related to their “cultural pattern” – idolatry – was to be left behind. All the behaviors listed – idolatry included perverted sexual practices, strangled sacrifices, and consumption of their blood – were flatly forbidden. BUT – the consequent letter was “received with great joy!” (15:31), as was intended.
Repeatedly, Paul and others refer to “turning from idols to serve the living and true God.” Behavior consistent with this “turning” is termed “these necessary things.”
Changed behavior had been the core of the preaching of John the Baptist (see #6).
Every description of the message proclaimed in the early church assumed a radically changed life, whether on the part of Jews or Gentiles.
This is the theme that is missing from so much of the modern “inclusiveness” conversation.,
The epistles, in contrast, are full of “before-and-after” descriptions. Paul characterized his own message (Ac.26:20) as advocating (1) a changed life, (2) turning to God, (3) practicing deeds worthy of a changed life. But he prescribed no new Law!
Notice, for example, that the weeding out of sorcery at Ephesus (Ac.19:19) happened at the local people’s own initiative – it was not externally commanded.
The “wall” between Jew and Gentile was demolished and enmity / hostility destroyed (Eph.2:11-22) “to create in him (Jesus) one new person (2:15)”, not by ecclesiastical decree, but by the power of the risen Lord!
Although the epistles were primarily written to churches with a significant Gentile component, the “before and after” descriptions of transformed lives apply to everyone. Paul describes “the habitual way of life when you lived according to the agenda of this world” (Eph.2:1) simply as having been “dead.” But he notes (v.3) “we all used to conduct our lives that way!” Notice the past tenses! This is also detailed in I Cor.5 and 6, Col.1:21 and most of chapter 3, where he urges that “former behavior be put to death, and a new way of life be “put on” as a garment.
It is important to note that in the same passages frequently (and correctly) quoted in opposition to various forms of sexual immorality, he also equates “greed” with idolatry! (Eph.5:5 and Col.3:5). Neither is a legitimate part of a transformed life! Nor are the other “respectable sins” listed. Deliberate change in ALL the patterns of life is expected. See also I Pet.1:14 and Rom.12:2. The goal is maximum conformity to Christ, not doing the minimum necessary to “qualify”!
Paul takes care to establish that he is not out to establish a new law in place of the old one. Kingdom people are called to freedom (Gal.2, 4:5-7, 5:13; Col.2:13-23, I Pet.2;16), but not to “do their own thing”. We simply serve a new Master. Romans 3 makes abundantly clear the transformation that is required of everyone – regardless of background or pedigree. The unacceptability of following one’s “natural inclinations” is repeated in Rom.6:15-23, 7:5-6, 8:1-11, and 13:14. All of these are to be left behind, in favor of a new life. (Gal.5:15-26, Eph.4, I Thes.4:3-8, I Pet.1:18 and 4:3-4). Peter’s list of “old ways” to be avoided hits us all!
Admittedly, this teaching is not uniform, either today or in the first century. Hence the multitude of warnings about false teachers and false prophets (I Jn.4:1, Jude 4, II Pet.2:1-3), who can be readily recognized by their behavior. It is interesting that Peter has “luxurious living” at the top of his list of depravity! BEHAVIOR MATTERS! Not as a new legalism, but as a demonstration that life has been transformed! It is the purpose, not the admission ticket or the cause, of our identification with the Kingdom (see #39) (Rom.1:5, Eph2:9-10, Gal.6:8).
The old truism, “what you cultivate is what grows”, is appropriate here.
Such cultivation can only happen in the context of a seeking, sharing brotherhood, where learning new ways of living is assumed. Mutuality is mandatory – not to make excuses, but to avoid them!
II Cor.6:14-18 is usually associated with marriage – and appropriately so – but needs also to apply to the building of the Body of Christ, and pretty much any relationships of serious members.
As our dear (late) brother Vernard Eller observed dryly, “We need to make everyone welcome in our home, to be loved, and to experience how we live – but you don’t immediately let everyone rearrange the furniture and start throwing things out!” I have long considered that probably the best summary of Rom.14, I Cor.5,8,10; and I Thes.5:14-22.
“Let’s concentrate on prodding each other with [toward] love and good deeds” (Heb.10:24), and welcome folks of any and every variety who want to join a mutual effort to become faithful representatives of the Kingdom!