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.