By J. Richard Jackson
God is active in the Church today. And God is leading his Church (and the world) into the future he has planned for them. Few evangelical Christians would argue with either of these statements, but the statements do raise important questions. For instance, what is the future God is leading us into? And how can the Church cooperate with God in moving towards this future? In one sense, the answers to these questions are simple, yet they carry with them profound implications.
In Revelation 7:9–10, John describes a future where “every nation, tribe, people and language” (NIV) are gathered before the throne of God. This is the future God has planned for us. This is the future into which the church is called to lead. But how do we move into this future? How do we cooperate with God in moving the world into this future? We do so through building a bigger table—a table with room around it for people from different backgrounds, different perspectives, and different life experiences.
There is no question that God is calling the church to build a bigger table.
Building a bigger table, though, is not easy, particularly in these challenging days. You and I are living in angry times. Virtually every aspect of our culture is rife with conflict. In such an environment, any effort towards building a bigger table through encouraging respectful dialogue will be perceived by some as a threat and will result in backlash. The cost, however, cannot compare with the privilege of cooperating with God in his great movement of history.
Building a bigger table also requires a certain mindset that allows for the messiness of life. A bigger table means recognizing that God is working in people’s lives in different ways. A bigger table means being secure enough in our theology that, without judgment or anger, we can dialogue with those who believe and behave differently from us. A bigger table means recognizing that dissenting views are essential to church life. Ultimately, a bigger table means getting rid of the concept of “the other”—the idea that some people can be disregarded, rejected, or even dehumanized because of their beliefs. In other words, building a bigger table means abandoning the attitude that allows us to disregard what someone says because we have rejected who they are.
The question we have to answer is this: Are we comfortable with the “greyness” of life? Until we are, we cannot build a bigger table.
The sad thing is that, today, many of us seem far more concerned about offending other Christians or about sending the “wrong message” than in following Jesus’ example. Whether we choose to cooperate with God or not, however, the promise of Scripture is that God’s purposes will not be thwarted. If we choose to resist God’s work, his table will still expand—but it will expand in spite of us not because of us. How sad! When we embrace God’s purposes for his church, however, he will lead us into a wonderful future. While it is true that he always pushes us further than we’re comfortable going, he will bless us through the process. And to us will belong the great privilege of cooperating with God in his work and will for this world. What a hope! What a promise!
[Editor’s Note: The above is a synopsis of Dr. Jackson’s article in Post-Christendom Studies 6. If you are interested in reading this article in full, it is available on the website here.]
J. Richard Jackson is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Moncton, New Brunswick
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*