There never has been a time, to my knowledge, when the Church has been really good at being genuinely boundaryless and borderless and unprejudiced. The mandate of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28 — that in Christ there should be neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, and neither male nor female — has never really become customary for the Church. There are other borders, too, that are just as impenetrable — theological ones and cultural ones and political ones.
In fact, it is a fact that in most parts of the world and throughout most of Church history, the Church has operated with segregation at each of these levels that the Apostle Paul raised as critical: ethnic, socio-economic, and sexual. Suburban churches and urban churches rarely achieve demographic sameness when it comes to comparing society and local community of faith.
The emerging movement is no exception, and sometimes I hear that emerging churches are no better, and sometimes worse, than other churches when it comes to be geniunely mixed in ethnic, socio-economic and sexual make-up. I sometimes hear stereotypes of emerging gatherings, but stereotypes are stereotypes and not reality. If emerging groups are given to being with others just like them, then perhaps this challenge will be given a fair hearing.
So here’s my challenge for the many who are working within the vision of the Emerging Movement. Spend some time with this text:
Matt 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The question for the Emerging Movement is this, and it is the question the Lord will someday ask it and each of us: How did you respond to the least of these?
Jesus leveled each of us before this criterion of judgment: we will be judged on the basis of whether or not we loved the least of these. You can fight, should you wish, over “who” the least might be — are they genuine brothers and sisters or are they just the marginalized — but I suspect Jesus would have other words for the fighters here. And they would not be kind. The issue is responding to those in need. Those in need in our neighborhood and in our world. But it is pretty hard for me to accept the compassion of folks who neglect those who are found in the streets of their neighborhood but who have all the time in the world for the grandiose projects. We need to look and listen and learn and link — to the least of these around us.
We need to be reminded that it is easy to love those we like and it is hard to love those we don’t like and Jesus calls us to the latter because he knows the former needs no summons. Love of neighbor is almost always inconvenient. All our neighbors and those of us who are investing ourselves in the emerging vision need to listen to these words of Jesus and begin now to chart a new course.