One of my Facebook “friends” (actually a complete stranger to me — social media makes for odd relationships) posted the following last week: “Don’t you dare tell me who I can call my brothers and sisters in Christ! That is way above your pay grade!”
I was tempted to respond, “Is it above yours?”
Think about it. I will concede that it is not my job, right or obligation to deny membership in God’s family to anyone. But is it any more appropriate to extend membership instead? Is it somehow more righteous to being inclusive where God is not than to be exclusive when God is not?
The simple approach may be simply to accept anyone who claims to be a brother — or, on the other side of the tolerance spectrum, to accept only those who agree wholeheartedly with us on every point of doctrine and judgment. But in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the “simple approach” is rarely the right one, and this is no exception.
If we can agree that God’s way is the only approved way (John 17:17), and that our own philosophy and preference is frequently biased and misinformed (Jeremiah 17:9), then we have to be ready to accept God’s definition of “brothers and sisters.”
So, what is God’s definition? Allow Him to tell us.
There is a sense, of course, in which all of humanity is descended from the heavenly Father. But being family “in Christ” is quite different. We receive “the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5) from Him — and, like adoptions here on earth, they are initiated by the parent and the parent alone. He saves us by His grace (Ephesians 2:8) when we come to Him through faith in Jesus, His Son (Romans 3:22), as proclaimed in His gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Believers demonstrate their faith by being baptized into Jesus (Galatians 3:27) as He Himself said they should do (Mark 16:16). Those who do so have their sins washed away, “calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).
Therefore, according to the New Testament, my “brothers and sisters in Christ” are those who, like me, have been adopted into God’s family through grace, faith and obedience. They become my family when God decides they should be; my own personal preferences, preconceived notions or denominational creed have nothing to do with it.
Needless to say, this excludes the vast majority of humanity, both today and throughout the last 2,000 years. Some call this an elitist way of thinking; ironically, such critics themselves implicitly argue that those who disagree with their dogma are by definition incorrect — which is just as elitist a position as I have outlined here, without the advantage of being based in the gospel of Jesus. Expanding the perimeter of God’s family is no more authorized than contracting it. We must draw the line where He has drawn it. If that excludes people we want, or includes people we don’t, we have to find a way to adjust; we have no right to demand that God adjust.
Reading and applying the Bible is not above my pay grade, “friend.” It is my mandate (2 Timothy 2:15) and well within my admittedly limited capacity (Ephesians 3:3-4). If you believe John 17:17, and if you want to be sanctified in truth as God defines it, you must accept God’s word on the matter — not mine, and not your own.