“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (MT 22:14, NIV)
I find the rhetoric about all people being welcome in the kingdom confusing. I don’t find it confusing because I disagree with the essential Arminian doctrine that the atonement made by Jesus Christ is for all people everywhere. I will shout “amen” to anyone who proclaims that message.
I fully affirm what I sometimes call the Four Alls of Methodism.
All people need to be saved. All people can be saved. All people can know they are saved. All people can be saved to the uttermost.
No, what what confuses me is when Jesus Christ’s call to all people is treated as if it was the last word rather than the first word. People speak of all being welcome as if Jesus said nothing about transformation and change. For example, we get posts like the following inspired by the Council of Bishops’ meeting:
What tweets like this say, I affirm and applaud (although I spell “kingdom” with a “g”). But I don’t agree with the tweet if what it implies is that once we are invited we are no longer expected to change. I don’t see how you can read the Bible and conclude that Jesus wants to leave us as we are.
In Matthew 22, to take only one example, we read the parable of the wedding banquet, from which Jesus teaches about the expansive grace of God inviting the good and the bad to the wedding feast. But the king spies one who after being brought to the feast has refused to put on the wedding garments provided for him. This man is cast out for refusing to put on the wedding garment of the king. In other words, as Jesus preached, “The kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the gospel.”
Or in 18th century prose, John Wesley summed it up this way:
The God of love is willing to save all the souls that he has made. This he has proclaimed to them in his word, together with the terms of salvation, revealed by the Son of his love, who gave his own life that they that believe in him might have everlasting life. And for these he has prepared a kingdom, from the foundation of the world. But he will not force them to accept of it; he leaves them in the hands of their own counsel; he saith, “Behold, I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: Choose life, that ye may live.” Choose holiness, by my grace; which is the way, the only way, to everlasting life. He cries aloud, “Be holy, and be happy; happy in this world, and happy in the world to come.” “Holiness becometh his house for ever!” This is the wedding garment of all that are called to “the marriage of the Lamb.” Clothed in this, they will not be found naked: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” But as to all those who appear in the last day without the wedding garment, the Judge will say, “Cast them into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So, yes, yes, yes. Everyone is invited and welcomed into God’s kingdom. Everyone. No exceptions. But we are called to put on Christ. We are called to be new creatures. We are called to holiness of heart and life. We are called to put off sin and put on Christ.
What I can’t tell is whether people who shout about “all” being included think historic Methodism disagrees with them on this point. Since the slogans tend to be slung about in the midst of intra-denominational doctrinal spats, it feels as if they believe they are saying something novel. But it is not in the least original. Methodism has always taught that all are welcome and that Jesus came to save all people. As far as I can tell, we all agree on that.
What we disagree about is the meaning of sin, the power Jesus gives us to conquer sin, and the ways the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts and lives. Why don’t people’s slogans reflect what they really disagree about?