In Christian circles, we often hear a plethora of messages pertaining to the apparent danger of having relationships with those outside the realm of the “faith.” We are told to be watchful of worldly contamination and that such relationships can and will help to facilitate this deadly defilement.
As a result, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we begin to treat those in society with an incredible amount of contempt. Instead of speaking and acting inclusively in relation to people, we frequently find ourselves exhibiting behaviour that is quite exclusive.
Rather than open our hands and hearts to envelope the world with love and acceptance, we are often more prone to keep others at a safe distance so as not to allow ourselves to become vulnerable to the world. Doctrinal dogmatism and judgmentalism have replaced openness and grace. Hospitality has been replaced with hostility. Herein lies the ultimate paradox.
I understand the pastoral concerns related to this issue and believe that the motivations behind teaching of this nature are undoubtedly pure and commendable.
Has the passion to remain undefiled by society’s sinful grip caused us to lose sight of the primary reason we are here?
Has the quest for personal holiness led us to where the concern to reach those outside the faith becomes a secondary issue?
Have we become so afraid of being defiled by society that we have separated ourselves from the very ones we have been called to reach?
While I applaud the cause for holiness and see its obvious benefits and biblical orientation, I am left to wonder if we have somehow and somewhere forgotten the most basic and fundamental aspect of our calling to “go into all the world.”
Isolation and Insulation
Isolation is not the same as insulation. Both are forms of protection from outside influences. However, one protects through separation, the other, by means of composition. The former entails dissociation, the latter, incorporation.
In terms of Christian witness, isolation becomes a detriment to building relationships with people outside the church, while insulation does not pose the same effects. Isolation forbids outside association, whereas insulation allows it. Insulation allows one to be in the world, whereas isolation does not.
Jesus constantly demonstrated that he was in and for the world, but not of it. He vividly and definitively painted for his disciples—past, present and future—a picture of what effective witness to God’s saving grace really looks like.
He was never afraid to associate with sinners, but rather embraced every opportunity to fellowship with them in the hope of showing them God’s love. He lived a life of insulation, never of isolation. His protection and strength resided, not in separating himself from the culture and society of which he was a part, but in the inner strength afforded him by the confidence of his Father’s commission and the enablement of the Holy Spirit.
Some of Jesus’ best friends were considered threats to the maintenance of holiness in his life. Yet, the taunts of the religious folk concerning such “ungodly” relationships only fuelled greater compassion toward those to whom such taunts were directed. What a wonderful display of grace, mercy and acceptance provided by these occasions! What a witness and example they exemplify for us!
Isolation was not an option Jesus entertained, for living in such a state of existence would have never allowed him to touch and experience humanity’s pain. And, if the exact opposite were true, not only could he not have been “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” but his incarnation would also have been in vain.
Instead, Christ voluntarily accepted his Father’s call, took upon himself “the very nature of a servant,” “came to seek and to save what was lost,” and forever touched the world with the power of his love.
What a witness!