Each month, In Touch staff members respond to an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s teachings. For this round, Jamie A. Hughes, Joseph E. Miller, and Tim Rhodes discuss genuine, effective influence.
Part of what made Jesus controversial was the company He kept—people of a different class and culture, whom society had shunned and neglected—and His followers are called to do the same. But that requires us to rethink how we approach social status and order. What holds us back from inviting marginalized individuals in? How can churches become more accepting of differences? This month’s excerpt comes from Dr. Stanley’s book Standing Strong:
We have an extended family that includes all other believers in Jesus—past, present, and future, from all parts of the world, in heaven and on earth. You share a history and the blood of Jesus with them …
What is important for us to realize, however, is that within the body of Christ, there should be no outcasts. True, at times we must discipline (Matt. 18:15-17) and separate ourselves from other believers who cause divisions because of their heretical beliefs (2 John 1:7-11) or because they refuse to give up their ungodly behavior (1 Corinthians 5).
“Within the body of Christ, there should be no outcasts.”
But that isn’t usually the reason we spurn other believers. Many times we reject others because we do not like their personality or they are unlike us in some way, such as politically or financially. We may have animosity toward them because of their nationality, background, economic status, race, or even because they simply do things differently from us. But we still have a responsibility to accept them as members of Christ’s family just as Jesus did for us.
Jamie: I would say that Christians “get” the idea of being connected through time, but we don’t have the same level of understanding of our connection to current fellow believers. I wish my church were more diverse, took more intentional steps to opening the building and body up to others.
Tim: Yep, oftentimes I think we forget about our fellow believers internationally and the fact that the body is worldwide.
Joseph: It’s the whole Westernization of our faith, or continual shifts away from Christianity rooted in the Middle East. Today, my 8-year-old asked why Jesus was white while she was drawing in a biblically based coloring book. I was like, “Honey, he wasn’t.” I mean, it was sweet and innocent, but you know—because of how He’s depicted in a lot of Western art–we have to actually teach kids that the Lord didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes.
Jamie: Well, when it comes to modern Western culture, we’re all about lines, right? We’re this, not that. And to be with us, you have to be like us—tick all the boxes. But that’s precisely what Jesus came to abolish.
Tim: We often choose the easy way out—preferring not to consider other ways of life instead of trying to understand them.
Joseph: It’s honestly hard to wrap our minds around being united to anyone when we speak different languages, come from different cultures, and so on. When people are different than us, it naturally creates a divide.
Tim: I think as a Western culture, we're more concerned with being right—making sure everything is 100% correct and explainable, though God by His very nature is not explainable.
Kayla: So this must mean unity is beyond differences, right? Think about the verse in Revelation: “Behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all the tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
Jamie: Beyond is a good word. Definitely not “in spite of.” I don’t hold my nose and love on fellow believers. I should want to embrace them!
Joseph: Unity beyond differences, in essence, shrinks those differences.
I love the line in the excerpt that says there should be no outcasts in the body of Christ. It makes me think about the times I create outcasts in my own head, when I’m not generous with others because of their station in life, or (supposed) mental faculties, or all the ways I’m tempted to judge others.
The more you get to know your enemy, the more you realize he’s not your enemy or even the “other.”
Tim: I don't know if this is just our own culture, but I think we tend to look for differences more than commonality.
Jamie: Or the differences become so much “window dressing”—interesting to look at, but not essential to the building’s structure.
Tim: It reminds me of the idea that the more you get to know your enemy, the more you realize he's not your enemy or even the “other.”
Jamie: Feeling “other” yourself helps you understand your “others” better. When you’re thrown out of comfort and the seat of power, it changes everything. Too few of us put ourselves intentionally in those situations.
Joseph: Sadly, feeling “other” can drive people in the opposite direction and make them less likely to reach out to others.
Jamie: I so wish my congregation were more diverse. It pains me that we’re not. I know we’re missing out on so much!
Joseph:My pastor has referenced several times that Sunday mornings in the United States are the most racially divided time in a week.
Jamie: As true today as it was when MLK first uttered it.
If you set aside the distinctions, as Paul suggested we do (neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female), we’re all on level ground.
Joseph: In college, we merged our campus ministry with the Asian American campus fellowship, and it was hard. When you belong to a group that’s smaller in number, there are inherent benefits to staying tight-knit. It’s hard to “unknit” some of that thinking.
Jamie: It involves a lot of trust for both parties, I would assume.
Kayla: Were there cliques after you merged?
Joseph: Yes. Very tough. Most of my closest friends from college are either Asian or Asian American, and were even before that merge. Some things just couldn’t be forced. I think there are ways to engage other groups, invite dialog and so on.
Jamie: Perhaps some of the tension happens because of how the merge is approached. As someone said the other day, “Offering a person a seat at the table” means you still control who’s at the table. That’s not power sharing or balance. That’s tokenism.
Joseph: Yes, that happens.
Jamie: But if you set aside the distinctions, as Paul suggested we do (neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female), we’re all on level ground (Gal. 3:28). You can work with that.
Joseph: I love this part: “We may have animosity toward them because of their nationality, background, economic status, race, or even because they simply do things differently from us. But we still have a responsibility to accept them as members of Christ’s family just as Jesus did for us.” Because at the end of the day, we shouldn’t have animosity toward anyone for anything.
Jamie: I think a lot of people understand that in theory but don’t do it in practice. It’s not simply that you shouldn’t act on your animosity but rather that you shouldn’t feel it at all.
Including outcasts takes such a level of intentionality on everyone’s part—and it would result in great flourishing. People couldn’t help but be drawn in.
Joseph: That’s very hard to do. We’re used to looking for enemies in our fellow man instead of, you know, the one Enemy.
Tim: I've been to so many churches where minor theological (or even just personal or cultural) differences send people into a tizzy. And sometimes it's ultimately just about our own comfort. We want to be completely comfortable at all times. We don't want to have to confront any of our preconceived notions or ideas.
Jamie: I think about how many people don’t feel welcome at church, and it makes me heartsick. Singles, widows/widowers, childless couples, etc.
Joseph: Based on the way they look, challenges they face, etc.
I’m thankful that many churches have tried to be more accommodating, making sure “outsiders” understand it’s not a place for “perfect people.”
Jamie: Including outcasts takes such a level of intentionality on everyone’s part—and it would result in great flourishing. Kingdom inbreaking. People couldn’t help but be drawn in. That’s the irresistible grace of God right there!
The social stratification that Jesus came to eliminate just crept right back in.
Joseph: When it comes to including the outcast, that has to be done on the personal level. Also, who is the outcast? Who makes that call?
Jamie: And it requires people taking a long, hard look at themselves. Their prejudices and presuppositions, their biases and bigotries. Until we do a deep examination of ourselves and our hearts, I don’t know that anything will change.
Joseph: Starts with each one of us.
Tim: Just imagine people who have been unwelcome in their families, their schools or businesses, having a place they can go to.
Joseph: I do love that about mission-minded churches.
Tim: I agree, but at the same time I've met missionaries who've lived internationally and are still very closed-minded. It was heartbreaking.
Joseph: Here’s the thing: It’s all about the heart. Always. I’ve gotten more hospitality in the tent of a Muslim refugee than I did the other night at an expensive restaurant.
Tim: And right back to that idea of comfort—it's going to be uncomfortable and require a lot from everyone.
Joseph: We’re all uncomfortable! When you can see that, you can meet people where they are.
Jamie: You’re going to screw up, do wrong, say the wrong thing. It’s okay! Learn from it! People will show you a lot more grace than you expect.
How will people know they're accepted by Jesus if we aren't accepting them ourselves?
Kayla: I do think it gets easier to be uncomfortable the more you do it. It seems like a muscle we can strengthen.
So I am curious what you guys think about this part: “True, at times we must discipline and separate ourselves from other believers who cause divisions because of their heretical beliefs or because they refuse to give up their ungodly behavior.” When do you think it’s appropriate to separate yourself from someone?
Jamie: When they’re causing you or someone else in the church harm.
Tim: Yes, when harm is being caused, knowingly and unrepentantly.
Joseph: I mean, believers have had to wrestle with that for 2,000 years.
Jamie: Well, wasn’t that the big beef in 1 Corinthians? They turned communion into an elaborate feast. And these meals became very “in crowd” events—not all were welcome. The social stratification that Jesus came to eliminate just crept right back in. People were being kept from true communion, from experiencing that feeling of belonging to the body, of being filled with the body.
Joseph: And Jewish believers were separating themselves from Gentile Christians—look in Galatians where Paul has to call Peter out for participating in that. Paul really dropped a huge hammer on the sin of exclusion in the body.
Jamie: The church at Corinth essentially took the open, welcoming table and put a velvet rope in front of it. As we are so wont to do today.
Tim: Yes! We are trying so hard to prove ourselves worthy, when that was what Jesus was eliminating. It’s as if we're trying to prove we're worth saving in the first place. Oh man, I was good at putting on a face in the past at church.
Jamie: There is no less than/greater than in eternity. I was always told, “Don’t be anywhere you’d be embarrassed to be if the Lord came back.” But now I’m thinking that was too simplistic, too outward-behavior motivated. I now try to live in such a way that I don’t embarrass Jesus with my words/actions. That’s a whole different mindset. It’s expansive and encompassing, the way our faith should be.
Joseph: It makes me think of what Jesus said in Matthew 18: “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to the person through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:7). When the disciples discussed who among them would be the greatest in heaven, He pulled a little kid aside and said, Be like him (or her—who knows?). Woe to those who try and stop people from having the faith of a child and coming into His kingdom.
As hard as it is, we have to keep practicing love, especially toward people different than us.
Kayla: Dr. Stanley says, “We still have a responsibility to accept them as members of Christ’s family just as Jesus did for us.” As in, how will people know they're accepted by Jesus if we aren't accepting them ourselves? Sure, the Lord can move in mysterious ways, but it is through our acceptance, our inclusivity that people are no longer outcasts.
Joseph: As hard as it is, we have to keep practicing love, especially toward people different than us.
Tim: I worked at a restaurant with a guy who was shocked when he found out I was a Christian. He said, “Wow, you're so kind and loving!” I was his first good experience with a believer. And he was in his 50s! I was so surprised.
Jamie: You made a huge difference that day, Tim. That was a seed. A good seed. I’m glad you bear good fruit, friend.
Joseph: Before I became a believer, I noticed how some teenagers were just weird—loving toward me—even though I despised Christians.
Jamie: It has to be genuine love. Not just surface level, nicey-nice. Because people can feel the roiling sea of disgust under the veneer of polite. I know I have.
Tim: We're called to be the image of Christ. I know so many people who have no regard for Christianity because of their treatment in church or by believers. And it unfortunately makes sense.
Jamie: For me, it all comes down to dying to self. Give up your preferences, your power. Value others above yourself.
Art by Jonathan Todryk