The church, I believe, is meant to be an open community. This doesn’t mean that the church has no standards or no direction. No, it means we stand against everything that excludes and divides. We stand against everything that says some are more worthy to live than others, and we stand for the life and the well-being of all God’s children and all God’s creation. We stand for life, and with that, we are searching for a community of all life, a community of all the world: no one is excluded.
This I believe was the ‘trouble’ with Jesus. Jesus wanted everybody to be invited to the banquet of life. The theologian Hans Küng sums up Jesus’ mission, at one point, with this image of a banquet: Jesus spoke about it, he told stories about it, he seemed to suggest that everyone was invited to the party, to life as a party with God: Come and celebrate life with God, come and celebrate being yourself, celebrate being with each other, celebrate being a people of God: This is how Küng sums up this vision of life, this message of the Gospel:
‘So the great feast is ready:
‘So the great feast is ready: ready for all, even the beggars and cripples on the byways, not to speak of those on the highways. And what sign could have shown more clearly that forgiveness is offered to all than those meals of Jesus, with all who wanted to be present, including those who were not admitted to decent houses? So these people who were otherwise excluded received the invitation with no slight joy: here they received consideration instead of the usual condemnation. A merciful acquittal instead of a quick verdict of guilty. Grace surprisingly instead of universal disgrace. A true liberation! A true redemption! This is a very practical demonstration of grace. Hence these meals of Jesus remained in the memory of the early Christian communities and were understood after his death at a still deeper level: as an astonishing picture, as—so to speak—a preliminary celebration, an anticipation of the eschatological banquet announced in the parables.’ On Being a Christian (Collins, 1978, p.275).
But there you see was the problem: The religious leaders made a number of complaints against Jesus,
but they boil down to this: he was just too open, too free. He seemed
to accept anyone. He didn’t tow the line of the religious parties, the
church constitutions. He was different: just too open. In fact he
seemed to welcome just anybody to his group.
That was what was behind the complaints about him healing on the
Sabbath, and the company he kept. He was seen often in the company of
all types, people with a record, prostitutes, law-breakers, tax-crooks,
– these were his friends. It wasn’t just that Jesus was some kind of
social worker, or doing some charity work: he seemed to have a
deliberate policy to choose these people, as if he preferred their
company to that of decent people with nice homes and a respected place
in the community.
Behind their complaints was a fundamental question about who are the
people of God; who are the righteous ones, the people who are in right
relationship with God, and who can expect blessings from God. Decent,
pious Jewish people believed that the basic requirement was to follow
the Law; in that way you could enter into God’s blessings. And Jesus
never decried that.
Yet he seemed to be saying that other people were also blessed: he
celebrated with them; he invited them to share the joy, here and now, of
what he called God’s kingdom. Those people: how could they enter into
the joy of salvation? How could we consider them righteous: they didn’t
respect the traditions, the law, they didn’t even attend church… Yet
Jesus seemed to be saying that didn’t matter too much: what mattered
was to receive God’s grace and love: In fact he reckoned that those
lowly and disreputable people could see and hear God’s grace better
than other people.
This I believe is the vision we must recapture. It’s about the mission of God to
establish an open community, what I call a church with fuzzy edges.
At the time of Jesus, the idea of the people of God had become an
This is a vision of a new community, an open church, a church with fuzzy edges.
In this new community, rules and constitutions and definitions
about who is in and who is out are not the central concern. Here it is
not really so clear-cut: for a church that is part of the whole community of people, as God’s people,
there is no clear dividing line, who is in and who is out, what is
church and what is not.
And that is what frightens some people. It’s risky, and the vision
could lose itself in the mish-mash of community involvement. Yes, and
that’s the beauty of it too: imagine, that the church might lose itself
in the coming of a new community a people of God!