Is Christianity Inclusive or Exclusive?

It was an uncomfortable exchange. Senator Sanders questioned presidential nominee Russell Vought. The senator took issue with something Vought had written, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” Those are strong words, and for Senator Sanders they were hateful. Vought’s repeated response, “I’m a Christian,” didn’t satisfy him. I don’t know anything about Russell Vought and whether he would be qualified for a high position in government. Nor do I claim to be an expert on Senator Sanders’ beliefs; however, I do know a little about the heart of the issue: Is Christianity inclusive or exclusive? Does that make it unamerican?

When it comes to our natural status before God, Christianity is very inclusive. Right from the beginning, usually on page two of every Bible, God says, “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness”(Genesis 1:26) and then, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27) It doesn’t get more inclusive than that! All people were created in the image of God! It doesn’t matter what gender, race, or ethnicity you are! God wanted you to bear his image. He wanted you to be like him: holy, loving, righteous, and good.

But there is bad news about this inclusiveness. We were unable to keep that image of God. We fell away from him. We are not holy, loving, righteous, and good. The Bible is also very clear about this inclusiveness, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Psalms lament, “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3). We see this truth all around us. Even the best of us, the nicest person, isn’t nice all the time. We have the phrase, “No one’s perfect.”  Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). And it isn’t the number of times we sin. This isn’t about how severe our sins are. We are sinful. We are sin-filled. Whether we volunteer and are generally well liked as a nice person, or that jerk with the obnoxious bumper stickers and hateful attitude who cut you off on the freeway, we are included in the category of sinner.

Which leads to another way Christianity is inclusive: what we deserve. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We all know this to be true, too. We all know that death is the one experience that truly unites us all. We will all die. We all experience pain and sadness. We all long for something better. We all wonder about the meaning of life when there is so much pain. This is evidence of what the Bible says, “So the whole world will be held accountable before God” (Romans 3:19).

That is the negative side of inclusiveness; here is the positive side. “God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). See that? All people, every single one, we are all included in God’s love. One of the most famous passages of the Bible says it this way, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Or as a sinner, my personal favorite, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

But this is where Christianity gets exclusive. God wants us all to be saved. God sent his Son, Jesus to die to take away the sins of the world, but it is only in Jesus, through faith in him and his work that we can receive what God has done. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Right after Jesus says those comforting words of John 3:16 he says, “The one who does not believe stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18b). These are the exclusive claims of not just Christians, but of Jesus himself.

From there, Christianity gets inclusive again. If God loves all the people the world, Christians will love all people. If God cares for all people, Christians will want to care for all people. If Jesus died for the sins of the world, Christians will want to be ambassadors of Christ and share the life giving gospel will all people. For as the Apostle Paul said about Jews and Gentiles, so also is true of every division we sinful people make, "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and have been justified freely by his grace."

Where does that leave the Senator and the Nominee? Well, letting people believe what they believe, and teach what they believe, and speak what they believe has been a fundamental right in America since its founding. So has disagreeing with me or anyone else. Only in this way can the words of the Declaration be upheld in a world full of sinners, so that we live as if "All men are created equal." I pray this is an ideal we can uphold in the years to come.