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.