By definition a true Christian is someone who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), an aspect of whose work is to cause us to become more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). This being the case how Jesus behaved in His earthly ministry should be what we see developing in our own behavior, both as individuals and as a Christian Community. So it often intrigues me how the church (my Anglican denomination anyway) became so ‘respectable’ – for whatever Jesus was He was not ‘respectable’. Indeed He continually mixed with the ‘wrong type’ of people often from the ‘wrong’ part of town; behavior that constantly shocked and infuriated the religious leaders, and religious people. Some examples:
Jesus allowed a prostitute to anoint Him and kiss Him—an absolute no no to the ‘respectable’ people. Then there was His encounter with the ‘untouchable’ tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:7), someone counted as ritually unclean, despised and considered a ‘sinner’ by the respectable ‘church’ going types. There is also the ‘shocking’ incident when Jesus healed a leper (Mark 1:40ff) and actually even touched him! This was totally not what the respectable, religious would do—to touch a leper, someone ostracized by the community, ’unclean’ and considered an ‘untouchable’.
Jesus’ earthly ministry was to the ‘not respectable’, the spiritually sick, unrighteous and sinners (Mark 2:17), the ‘wrong type of people’; to bring the hope of the Kingdom of God to the ‘un-respectable’, the untouchable in society’s terms. So if we are actually becoming like Him, is our ministry increasingly the same as His, do we mix with, serve with, minister to only those who are ‘respectable’ and somewhat like us, or not?
We live in an increasingly fragmented, dysfunctional, damaged society where ‘the respectable’ (or those considered to be) are a shrinking minority. Almost everyone has significant baggage and the worst thing when the ‘church’ gathers is for us to put on a façade at our meetings, a pretend ‘face’ that presents us as ‘squeaky clean’ people who have all got their act together, for we are not. Therefore we must be as open and welcoming as Jesus was to anyone who comes no matter how allegedly ‘not respectable’, this is part of becoming like Christ. Are we?
But more than that is needed. It is the obligation of every Christian as individuals and in our ministries to mix with the sinners, the tax collectors, the ‘unclean’ equivalents of our time, for this is Christ-likeness. As a Christian community we must increasingly develop and implement ministries that truly engage the ‘real’ society out there, not just those who are sort of ‘like us’.
Our model for ministry is Christ. He went to the ‘sinners’, the prostitutes and the ‘unclean’, even those appalling ‘tax collector’ types, who were despised as scum by society. It is of the essence of the Unbounded Church concept that we form missional communities that will penetrate and embed themselves in the kaleidoscope of sub-cultural groups that make up the modern ‘village’. This must include the ‘not respectable’ ones!fs
The Kingdom of God is not just open to the respectable, the ‘right type of people’, because Jesus came to call the ‘wrong type of people’ into it- and so must we!