A recent survey in Australia identified common barriers that made it more difficult for people to believe in Jesus or attend church. I think it is important that we christians consider these barriers, and do what we can to remove them. I have addressed one, Church abuse, and now I want to look at exclusivity.
I think there are two aspects of exclusivity that turn people off.
In many people’s minds, christians say we are right and everyone else is wrong. And it is true that, in general, christians believe some people gain God’s favour and others don’t, and this makes an enormous difference in this life and the next.
There are in fact three views within christianity on this matter:
- Exclusivism: Only those who specifically choose to believe in Jesus and ask him for forgiveness are “saved”.
- Inclusivism: It is only through Jesus that we are saved, but people other than christians can be saved.
- Universalism: In the end, God will save everybody.
I have looked at this question in some detail in Can only christians be saved?, and I have come to the conclusion that the Bible’s teaching is closest to inclusivism. That is, we will live in eternity with many people who did not have the opportunity to believe in Jesus, but whose hearts were open to God. They will be there by the grace of God and because Jesus died for them too, just as we will. They responded to the light they were given, and that is what God was seeking.
If all christians accepted this teaching, we would not be seen as quite so exclusive.
(Some may wonder whether this removes any incentive for making disciples, but I think it doesn’t, for knowing Jesus is a blessing in this life and gives us more certainty and assurance of our future. We should want people to know him!)
Christians believe the truth has been revealed to us, not just about Jesus, but about life. We accept, in broad terms, the New Testament teachings on ethics and behaviour, and this can give us direction in life that other people may not have. But unfortunately, some christians allow these blessings to lead them into attitudes that are very unattractive and even offensive to others:
- It can lead us to infer that we are always right, when in reality, of course, we are fallible human beings just like everyone else.
- It can appear to others that we think we are superior, even though we know we have been saved through grace, not any superiority.
- We can think that even in a modern western pluralist society, we somehow have the right to tell non-believers how they should behave, or even discriminate against them because of their different beliefs and behaviour.
- We can come across in conversation as rude, uncaring, even nasty – this seems especially a danger in internet discussions (see Atheist vs Christian internet wars).
All this is most unfortunate. We only have the blessings we have by the grace of God. And the main message we have to offer is the love of God, expressed in Jesus. If people get the impression we think we are better than them because we are right and they are wrong, they will be less likely to listen to the message of grace we should be living and speaking.
Let’s do our best not to be exclusive in our manner!