Beware exclusivism!

John Wesley
Trinitarian, incarnational theology teaches that God the Father has included all people in his love and life, through the person and work of his incarnate Son Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. How ironic (and sad) if those who embrace this theology of inclusion would express an attitude of exclusivism!

I was thinking about this (and examining my own attitude), when I watched the movie Wesley. It dramatizes the story of the life and ministry of John Wesley and his brother Charles.

John and Charles were highly educated (both grads of Oxford U.). However, part of the genius of their Methodist movement was the ability to recognize that the Holy Spirit is able to further the cause of Christ through common, often uneducated (and sometimes even ill-informed) people serving as teachers and preachers. Though the Wesley's valued and advocated higher education and sound theology, they realized that perfection in these matters is not the end-all and be-all of Christian ministry (only the Triune God holds that lofty position!).

This was further illustrated to me when I came across a story that tells of a time when John Wesley attended a Methodist meeting where one of his lay leaders, who had very little education, was preaching from Luke 19:21, "Lord, I feared thee, because thou art an austere man." Not knowing the meaning of the word "austere," this preacher thought that the text spoke of "an oyster man." And so in his sermon, he spoke about the work of those who retrieve oysters from the sea-bed. The diver plunges down from the surface, cut off from his natural environment, into bone-chilling water. He gropes in the dark, cutting his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. Now he has the oyster, and kicks back up to the surface, up to the warmth and light and air, clutching in his torn and bleeding hands the object of his search. So Christ descended from the glory of heaven into the squalor of earth, into sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with him to the glory of heaven, his torn and bleeding hands a sign of the value he has placed on the object of his quest.

During that sermon, twelve men were converted to Christ. Afterwards, someone complained to Wesley about the inappropriateness of allowing preachers who were too ignorant to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. Wesley's response was direct and simple, "Never mind, the Lord got a dozen oysters tonight."

Though education leading to sound theology and careful biblical exegesis is important to ministering well, let's be careful not to be exclusivistic (and even snobbish) about what we have come to understand. Rather, let's focus on proclaiming the perfections of our Savior and the glory of his gospel as best we know how. And then let us show respect for others by extending to them the same privilege. Above all, let's allow the Holy Spirit to do his amazing, often mysterious work through us and others (and sometimes despite us and others). He is able!