Church: who is in? who is out?

seeking god

Psalm 24

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,

    the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
    and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.



As human beings we are constantly preoccupied with our tribes. Because we are so driven to belong and feel connected, there is a huge temptation to define ourselves by those we exclude.

The church is no different. From very early days there was continuous and strenuous argument around the issue of “who is in and who is out?” In Bible times the questions were ‘ Did you have to be circumcised? Keep the Jewish laws?’

In our times the questions are: ‘are you only a Christian if you stick strictly to a particular moral code? Is baptism the way in? (But what if you were baptised as a baby?) Do you have to have a conversion story? An experience of the Holy Spirit? (And how might we define those two events?)

Many, many questions, I could go on.

Last week I was reading Psalm 24.  Verse 1: pretty bluntly states that everyone is God’s (whether they know it or not, interesting!) Then verse 3 seems to ask the very question that I’m raising and verse 4 suggests that those given access to God’s presence have a certain quality of character. But where has this character come from? Is it something that they have earned/worked on for themselves? The passage doesn’t address the issue of how we become the kind of person described in verse 4, it only says that it is necessary for us to be this kind of person in order to be near God.  (For what it’s worth, I think that transformation is God’s work within us the closer we come or the longer we hang out with him)

But I wonder if it might not be better for us as Christians if we defined by what we receive rather than what we achieve?
God invites us to receive blessing. v5
And might it also be more helpful if we defined ourselves by the direction we are going in rather than any sense of having ‘arrived’ at a destination – we seek God.  v6

This is not a once for all activity. It is a continuous willingness to open ourselves up to the possibility of seeing God present in every part of our world and our story.

(If I could I would insert the word ‘think’ in the above image: ‘Just because you ‘think’ you’ve found God….’ there is always more to discover).



2 thoughts on “Church: who is in? who is out?

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  1. Recently I was asked to write a poem reflecting on Acts 10, Peter’s vision which led to the inclusion of Gentiles in the church. Here’s part of it, written in Peter’s voice, an imagined thought process or prayer as he wrestled with the idea that outsiders might be allowed in. I called it ‘An invitation to dinner’:

    Kill and eat? With these ingredients? Surely not, Lord!
    I’ve kept your rules my whole life long, they cannot be ignored.
    You made it plain to Moses, what’s forbidden and what’s good:
    No cloven feet or shellfish, no meat containing blood.
    I crave roast lamb and charoset and bread made without yeast,
    my people’s food, the memory of the night we were released.
    Sharing at this table proves that I belong to you
    but looking at my plate I find you’re serving something new
    and unfamiliar people sit here at my side –
    have they kept your rules? Do they deserve what you provide?
    I don’t think this is kosher Lord, so how can it be right
    to eat these things and share them with whoever you invite?

    I tried to draw a line, define who’s ‘in’, find the divide
    but turned to see you sitting, eating on the other side.
    Without discrimination, I’ve seen you feed the crowds before
    with bread and fish, blessed, broken, given, shared between far more
    people than is possible with five loaves and two fish:
    Twelve baskets leftover from the contents of one dish?!
    Lavish generosity for an irresponsible bunch
    who followed you for miles without thinking to bring lunch.
    You went to eat with Simon, the ill-mannered Pharisee
    and that thieving tax-collector you found sitting in a tree.
    The last supper we all shared, you knelt and washed our feet
    then blessed the bread and wine, said, ‘Here’s my flesh and blood to eat,’
    generous portions for us all despite the fact you knew
    that Judas would betray you and I’d deny you too.
    I thought our friendship would be over, restoration out of reach
    but you offered me forgiveness over breakfast on the beach.
    I sit here at your table Lord, an undeserving guest,
    unworthy as the rest of them; invited, loved and blessed.

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