I Sold My Soul on eBay: What Churches Do Wrong, Part 4

The offense of religious exclusivity

This complaint of Mehta’s is not that we think only Christians are saved. Rather, it’s that Christians seem to unnecessarily refuse to associate with non-Christians.

His first example is that fact that the Boy Scouts deny atheists the right to join. In Christian literature, this issue has been presented as one of religious freedom under the Constitution: do Christians have the right to refuse to associate with non-Christians? But Mehta asks,

Why would the Boy Scouts not want atheist boys to enjoy the experiences and traditions associated with the group?

From a Christian perspective, we should analyze the question, not according to American legal principles, but according to the gospel — is the gospel furthered by encouraging atheist boys to associate with our own children and their parents and other adult leaders? Put that way, it’s obvious that, although we should certainly have the legal right to exclude anyone we wish, excluding children because of their atheism is contrary to the gospel — and offensive to the atheistic community, a double loss.

Mehta also criticizes churches for offering Christian business directories. From Mehta’s standpoint, we are discriminating against atheists because of their religion (or lack thereof). How would we feel if atheists refused to do business with Christians?

In this case, Mehta likely over-emphasizes the impact of these directories. My church has one. The thought isn’t to do business exclusively within the church. Rather, people feel that they can better trust someone at church. And yet I doubt that many people actually make decisions based on the directory.

On the other hand, the directory is clearly anti-missional. I mean, to be evangelistic, we’re supposed to be looking for opportunities to form relationships outside the church. Encouraging members to do business within the church seems to be completely at odds with this, doesn’t it?

I mean, we have to get over the fortress mentality and be salt and light in the world.

Refusal to accept those outside the church

Here is my advice to Christians who want to influence people like me: be open to reaching out to people who disagree with you, instead of forcing us to adopt your beliefs in order to win your approval. …

I don’t see Jesus insisting that the various “sinners,” who were living in his part of ancient Palestine, shape up before he would go to their house for dinner.

Obviously, Christians can’t treat those who are lost as though they were saved. But neither should we have a fortress mentality, where we deal only with each and keep the rest out. Rather, most rapidly growing churches have a knack for involving seekers in the life of the church before they are saved.

That is, seekers are part of small groups, part of community service, and otherwise involved in many areas of church life as soon as they wish, not conditioned on baptism. The theory is that we are delighted to work alongside and enjoy fellowship with the lost who are seeking God. Jesus was.

Racism and sexism

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously declared that the Sunday morning worship hour is the most racially segregated hour in America. Mehta found this to still be true.

He also noticed our preference for male leadership —

[T]he female pastors and guest speakers I saw were just as talented as the men. I can’t see any reason why women aren’t more prominent among the ranks of Christian pastors.

You want to reach out to people like me? Then show me the church where men and women lead on an equal basis, and where I can see a rainbow of people in the crowd instead of a sea of whiteness or, in another neighborhood, a sea of blackness.

Our racial self-segregation is simply wrong and anti-gospel. Our bias toward male leadership is based on scripture, although based on an interpretation of scripture I disagree with. I certainly don’t think anyone should act contrary to his view of scripture — but I do believe the serious injury our views on sex do to our evangelism should drive us to carefully re-study the scriptures.

Young people will increasingly find the church unworthy of consideration solely due to our racial separation and sex discrimination. The generations that are coming up have no tolerance at all for such discrimination.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to I Sold My Soul on eBay: What Churches Do Wrong, Part 4

  1. Kristi says:

    Thanks for this great series and letting us in on this book! I think it will soon be on my bookshelf! It sounds like more churches could use some knowledge of this book! My husband and I work with a very small church in Germany and we hope that this will give us some good insight into how to make visitors feel welcome and comfortable.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Kristi,

    I don't know how much Germany is like the unchurched US, but unChristian is a book I'm just now reading that does a great job of explaining how those outside Christianity view the church.

    unChristian is based on detailed surveys and interviews done by the Barna organization. Very insightful.

    And you probably already know this, but I've been impressed with the work of the Missions Resource Network, headed by Bob Waldron. I think they can be a great help to anyone working in Europe. http://www.mrnet.org.

    May God bless your work.

  3. odgie says:

    "This complaint of Mehta’s is not that we think only Christians are saved."

    With the vast majority of atheists (or otherwise unchurched folks) I meet, this is exactly their hang-up.

  4. Todd says:

    True that is a main sticking point – but that is the sticking point of atheists with all religions. Every religion exists because someone somewhere believes that that path and only that path is the One True Path to God. The fact that we have the one true one true path isn't our fault.

    I can outgrow my anti-Gospel racism and sexism. Stepping away from the exclusive claims of Jesus is another issue entirely.

  5. Nick Gill says:

    Yes, but that is NOT the point being made in this text. Mehta understands THAT form of exclusivity as a necessary part of believing the Christian message.

    The exclusivity about which Mehta complains is neatly parsed by Jay in his first couple of sentences.

    "The offense of religious exclusivity: This complaint of Mehta’s is not that we think only Christians are saved. Rather, it’s that Christians seem to unnecessarily refuse to associate with non-Christians."

  6. Kristi says:

    Thanks Jay,

    The Missions Resource Network is wonderful and has great information – thanks for giving it a push!

    I do think this book will be good for me to read because we live in the former East Germany which is very much still full of atheistic beliefs. A recent study my husband found states that 62% of East Germans are atheists and I hope it will give some good insight into the mind of a complete non-believer's first impressions. Although we have definite cultural differences here from the U.S. I hope Mehta will help me to understand a mindset I just can't fathom.

    I have to say that the most interesting thing to me about what Mehta says is that he tended to look to see what the church groups were doing to serve and help the community. It seems to be something we often overlook – but shouldn't!

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