And then there’s the word “inclusion.” Another fine word in its own right. Considering the church’s spotted past in excluding people for the wrong reasons-too poor, too black, too awkward-inclusion can sound awfully good. And it is, when by “inclusion” we mean something like “welcome.” The church, of all places, should be an inviting haven for any sinner-come-lately and any socio-category that treasures Jesus in faith and repentance, or is simply looking for spiritual guidance.

So what’s the problem? The problem is one of boundaries. I am convinced that most of our wrangling in churches and denominations is over where to put up fences. What are the boundaries for fellowship? Membership? Leadership? What does one have to believe, say, or do in order to be counted as one of us? Where inclusionists have gone wrong is in removing theological and ethical boundaries that are essential in defining what it means to be Christian.

Picture a wide open field with a fenced-in square in the middle. The fence posts are doctrines, behaviors, and affections. The area inside the fence is Christianity. Outside the fence is not Christianity. If we put the fence somewhere else or remove it entirely, we no longer have anything definably Christian. If we take down all, or most, of the key fence posts in the name of inclusion, we may have included more people, but not in any meaningful way. In all the hubbub about inclusion, the irony is that it cannot exist without exclusion…

Of course, in the end, inclusive churches and other institutions do have boundaries. Even the most wildly accepting community draws the line somewhere and excludes some people, usually those who are less wildly accepting of the same things they are.

In other words, every institution, if it is any kind of discernible community, has its own creed and convictions. Some are published, publicly recited, and rooted in Scripture. Others are unwritten, but no less powerful. Every group that can be meaningfully joined stands against some other group. Inclusive churches are inclusive of gays, lesbians, and doctrinal innovation. But they are exclusive (though it won’t be written down in any by-laws) toward those who cannot tolerate homosexuality in the church and advocate doctrinal standards. For inclusionists, nonjudgmentalism does not usually extend to those who put up their fences a little closer in.

If inclusionists–be they emergents, inter-faith gurus, or social gospel acolytes–draw their boundaries to exclude evangelicals, fundamentalists, traditional Catholics, and others they deem theological nit-picks, that is their perfect right. It would be nice, however, if they realized they were exclusive like the rest of us.

Who knows, with a little dialogue, maybe they will.

Kevin DeYoung

[1], accessed 9/29/10.