You are all children of God

Published 5:37 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2019

By Charles Qualls

Life and culture keep on handing us change, just like they have in every generation and every millennia since Christ walked the earth and provided His gift of lasting grace. In other words, there keep on being people that you and I might have to think twice about whether we believe they ought to be let into the family of faith.

Within that family of faith, there keep on being changes in the way people live and believe that make us wonder if they ought to be eligible to serve in leadership capacities.

The sign outside our church says, “All Are Welcome.” Texts like the one in Galatians 3:23-29 make us wonder if we all mean the same thing when we think about our own sign? The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians on a number of subjects. But in this section, he referred to a squabble that seems to have been essentially between some judaizers and other church leaders.

One group felt as though the church ought to welcome gentiles right on in as new Christian believers. Others, though, felt like some older rights of entry needed to be observed first. Their pharisaical stance formed a barrier to being a part of the new church. That was 2,000 years ago.

The Pharisees haven’t gone away, you know. They are still alive in you and in me. They only come out when someone seems to be different from us. They speak up when someone is sinning differently than you sin, or is living differently than I live. Then, we wonder if what our sign says actually applies to them. “All Are Welcome.”

We begin to back-peddle and say, “Well, maybe they’re all welcome. But we should make them do this, or make them do that, before they can be one of us.” Or, “they can be one of us, but they can’t lead in any way.” We keep re-figuring what things mean so that we can hold onto some sense of control and comfort.

As a pastor, let me make an observation about our day and time. American Christianity is under the spell of a selective literalism today that rivals any arguments that Paul or Peter report within our scriptures, or the Christians at Galatia ever fussed over.

Our Pharisees believe in Jesus’ teachings until someone is different enough from them, then suddenly they talk as though angry God of the Old Testament should be the one who prevails. They believe in Jesus’ grace and message, until someone sins differently enough from how they sin. Then we start to search the Scriptures to pull out a quote about their way of living being a sin. Even if it’s obscure, even if we have to bend and stretch the Scriptures past the breaking point of context to substantiate. Even if their sin is mentioned less often in the Bible than my sin — or your sin — suddenly we want to practice a selective literalism that will limit them but not us.

Have you ever noticed? Humans seem to be the only ones in this equation who weigh sins. God doesn’t seem to. All sin is sin. Meanwhile, the ages keep changing and new things keep coming onto the list as to what is a sin, and other things seem to roll off the list of focus.

We’ve been wrong about a lot of things over the centuries of church history, and not just sin. We tried to limit the positions women held within churches, but then discovered that the church wouldn’t survive, much less run, without empowered women alongside talented and dedicated men. We’ve limited people of color and other ethnicities, but discovered they were just as human and just as talented as anyone else.

Here is what Paul had to say about all these divisions we’ve created within Christ’s church over the years. He said beginning in verse 28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

That matches up pretty well with what Jesus said about loving our neighbor as ourselves. It matches up pretty well with the kind of company Jesus was repeatedly seen keeping in the gospels. Tax collectors and sinners of all varieties were whom Jesus was drawn to. We Christians love to say, “The ground at the foot of the Cross is level.” That’s pretty much what Paul was saying here, too.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.