The Bible and Inclusion

May/June, 2017
Volume 52, Number 3

The word inclusion means “to be taken in as a part of, or as a member of, a certain group.” To be excluded means “to be omitted from being a part of a given entity.” The concept of exclusion is contained in the ecclesiastical term known as “excommunication.”

The term exclusion can be used to express the idea of disciplinary suspension of members from the fellowship of the church. The idea of exclusion (or excommunication) from the fellowship of the local church is taken from Matthew 18:16-17, where the offender is to be counted as being like “a heathen person and a tax collector.”

According to 1 Corinthians 5:13—in the case of one who was given to sexual immorality—the church was told to “put away from yourselves the evil person.” The Corinthian church was tolerating (even homosexual) sin—and the leaven of evil (though small in size) was having a major impact on the larger church. Just like cancer—sin demands drastic surgery. First Timothy 1:20 says that offenders were to be “delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

The exclusion of members from the fellowship of the local church is alluded to in Matthew 18:15-18, in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and in Titus 3:10. In the early church, when educative discipline failed to prevent offenses, then repressive discipline was used to remove offending members.

The normal procedure among the Brethren was this: Public, notorious faults were to be rebuked publicly (see 1 Timothy 5:20; Galatians 2:11,14). Very serious offenses merited almost immediate exclusion (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). At the same time, the Brethren were aware that no amount of public exclusion would produce a perfect church, for there are secret sins, and there is the danger of hypocrisy—which is very difficult to discipline. 

During the Reformation Era, the early Anabaptists and Pietists placed great emphasis on excommunication (or the ban) from church fellowship. In fact, the family of Alexander Mack, Jr. did not allow their daughter Hannah to eat with them because she had been excommunicated from the church. Excommunication not only barred from the communion table, but it was a social ban as well.

The primary aims of exclusion include:

1) To promote the glory of God. The goal is to see that God’s Name is not blasphemed because of the manifest evil tolerated in the church.

2) To prevent the evil from spreading to other members. The text in 1 Corinthians 5:6 says “You know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.”

3) To bring about true repentance to the offender. The ultimate aim of church discipline is to bring about true repentance in the lives of those who offend.

Read Brother Eric Brubaker’s incisive look at the concept of inclusion, but note also his explanation that—while inclusion today is often about race, gender, sexual relationships, etc.—he also clearly states that not everyone will be included in God’s kingdom, for “the path to salvation and inclusion is marked by repentance.” In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, both groups (wheat and the weeds) may be carelessly allowed to live side by side in this world, but in the world to come a separation occurs! 

–Harold S. Martin

The Bible and Inclusion

by Eric Brubaker

Our culture has a fascination these days with the concept of inclusion. In fact, it almost seems as though there is a cultural agenda of inclusion. Political policy makers and national leaders have gone out of their way to appear inclusive of all ideas, lifestyles, viewpoints and behavior. And the push for inclusion has manifested itself in a celebration of diversity and open-mindedness in all areas of life. But people seem to be enamored with the idea of inclusion, not necessarily the practice of it. Many college campuses today are heralded as hotbeds of inclusion and diversity. But as some have pointed out, many universities today are in fact the greatest places of exclusion and narrow-mindedness (Arthur C. Brooks, Academia’s Rejection of DiversityNew York Times Op-Ed, October 31, 2015, p.A23). College campuses have been advertised as “safe spaces,” but in fact some observe that they have become places of the greatest bullying and display of “microaggression” (Roger Kimball, The Rise of the College Crybullies, Wall Street Journal, November 14-15, 2015, p.A9).  

In its basic understanding, inclusion really is a good thing. No school-age child relishes the thought of feeling left out of the playground kickball game. No junior high student welcomes the thought of being excluded from the “in” crowd. No adult appreciates being unnoticed or forgotten in social circles. Webster says that to include means, “to take in or comprise as part of a larger aggregate or principle.” Synonyms are, embrace and involve. And so, inclusion is when we take people into our group who once were on the outside looking in. Perhaps they were on the fringes. But when we include them, it means that we embrace and involve them.

The Church Landscape – The current-day cultural agenda of inclusion has also found its way into the church. At our most recent Church of the Brethren Annual Conference (2016), there were at least two insight sessions on the topic of inclusion, both sponsored by the church agency, On Earth Peace. There are congregations across the denomination who have officially labeled themselves as “open and affirming,” meaning that they have adopted an official position of inclusion. And in our church publications we have had articles that promote inclusion (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Road to Gaza…The Circle Got Bigger,” Bob Neff. Messenger. October 2012 / “Revelation at the Paradise Diner: An Easter Reflection,” Earl Fike, Jr. Messenger. March 2013).

What Does Inclusion Mean? – When many congregations today label themselves as inclusive, it often means that they are extending full acceptance of “LGBTQ believers” (Irvin Heishman, A Biblical Basis for Inclusion: A Pastor’s Journey, On Earth Peace Assembly, 2016, p.11) into the life of the church. It is said that this is an attempt to, “include all who choose to follow Jesus.” But at its core, the urge to be inclusive is often driven by an attempt to sympathize with, embrace and involve those whom they believe society and the church has excluded and marginalized. Therefore, today’s understanding of inclusion is not only about sexual orientation, but also about race, gender, ethnicity, in fact, any form of identity. This led the Church of the Brethren Agency, On Earth Peace, to issue the following, “Statement of Inclusion,” in the fall of 2011:

“We are troubled by attitudes and actions in the church, which exclude persons on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other aspect of human identity. We believe God calls the church to welcome all persons into full participation in the life of the faith community.”

Today’s understanding of inclusion often involves the removal of social norms and traditions in deference to personal self-expression. And in the church, the rationalization for inclusion often comes by adjusting long-held understandings of the Bible. Someone has observed that one of the widely held beliefs that shapes our culture is that, “The primary social ethic is tolerance of everyone’s self-defined quest for individual freedom and self-expression. Any deviation from this ethic of tolerance is dangerous and must not be tolerated. Therefore social justice is less about economic or class inequality, and more about issues of equality relating to individual identity, self-expression, and personal autonomy” (Sayers, Mark. Disappearing Church. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers. 2016, p.17).

Does the Bible Teach Inclusion? – If we take a faithful look at the Scriptures, I think we can conclude that the Bible does teach inclusion, but not as it is being promoted today.

Eternal Inclusion? – For sure, the Bible teaches that God does not want anyone to perish eternally and be excluded from the life and presence of God. Rather, it says that He is, “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9/ESV). God wants everyone, “to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4/NKJV). God wants everyone to be eternally included in His kingdom. But these verses also indicate that not everyone will be included in the kingdom of God, and the path to salvation and inclusion is marked by repentance.

Inclusion in the Old Testament – In the Old Testament the children of Israel were commanded to treat aliens and strangers who were living among them as though they were native-born, and to love them as themselves (Leviticus 19:34). Aliens and strangers were to worship in exactly the same way as those native-born in the presentation of their offerings (Numbers 15:14). Aliens, along with the fatherless, the poor and the needy, were not to be mistreated or denied justice (Deuteronomy 24:17; Ezekiel 22:29). The book of Deuteronomy also teaches that the children of Israel were not supposed to abhor the Edomite or the Egyptian. In fact, the third generation of children born to them was allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord, thus showing that foreigners were permitted full inclusion and acceptance into the worshipping community in the third generation (Deuteronomy 23:7-8).  

It should be noted that an “alien” was a proselyte, a convert to Judaism, a non-Israelite. Aliens enjoyed certain conceded, but not inherited rights. An alien was to have the same obligations and privileges as the native-born Israelite. If a foreigner or a slave wanted to participate in the Passover, they were required to comply with the prescribed regulations, just as a native-born person. Neither a temporary resident nor a hired worker was permitted to eat the Passover (Exodus 12:45). A slave who was bought or an alien living among them could eat the Passover, but only after being circumcised. Numbers 15:15-16 says, “The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the Lord: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.” (NIV)

Inclusion in the New Testament – In the New Testament Jesus broke social norms when He talked with the Samaritan woman in John 4. He was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19), and was not afraid to be in the company of an unclean leper, a social outcast (Luke 5:12-14). In the parable of The Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that we should be willing to help those who are in need, even though they may be outside the perceived boundaries of social norms (Luke 10). But it should be noted that befriending outcasts and helping those in need is not to be equated with inclusion into the faith community. Acts of kindness and hospitality do not imply conversion, though by God’s grace they may lead to it.  

Acts 10-11: The book of Acts records the beginning and expansion of the early church under the ministries of Peter and Paul. Both Peter and Paul were Jews, but they came to realize that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike. In Acts 10:28, Peter said that it was against the law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile, or even to visit him. But because of a vision that he saw, he realized that he was not to call anything impure that God had made clean (Acts 10:15). As a result, he went to Cornelius’ house (who was a Gentile) and said, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34-35/ESV). Peter realized that God would accept (include) both Jew and Gentile alike, if they feared Him and did what was right. The implication of course is that if a Jew or Gentile did not fear Him and did not do what is right, they would not be accepted.

When Peter went back to Jerusalem to explain to the Jewish believers that the Gentiles had also received the gift of the Holy Spirit, he said, “’If then God gave the same gift to them as He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?’ When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:17-18/ESV). The early church realized that the evidence of conversion was the gift of the Holy Spirit, for Jew and Gentile alike. And the path that leads to life is marked by repentance which is granted by God. For the early church then, inclusion into the faith community was based on a person’s desire to be included, evidence of the Holy Spirit, and repentance.

Acts 15: In Acts chapter 15, the early church was again tested about who could be included in the faith community. In particular, did a male need to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1)? The apostles and elders met to consider this question and concluded that Gentile males did not need to be circumcised to be saved. The fact that Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit (without being circumcised), was evidence of their acceptance by God (Acts 15:8). However, the Gentiles were asked to, “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” (Act 15:29/ESV). The Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to be saved, but they were still asked to abide by certain ceremonial and moral teachings.

It is clear that the Bible teaches that anyone can be included in the faith community. However, inclusion is based on a person’s desire to be included, willingness to submit to its teachings, and repentance from sin.    

Does the Bible Teach Exclusion? – The Bible also teaches that some people are to be excluded from full acceptance and participation into the believing community.

Exclusion in the Old Testament – The Old Testament describes certain instances when a person was to be excluded from worshipping with the rest of the community. Deuteronomy 23:1-8 describes three different kinds of people who were to be excluded from entering the assembly of the Lord: 1) Males who were emasculated by crushing or cutting, 2) a person born of a forbidden marriage and their descendants (down to the tenth generation) and 3) any Ammonite or Moabite and their descendants (down to the tenth generation). These people were to be excluded from entering the assembly of the Lord.

It should be noted that Ruth, the great- grandmother of David, and part of the lineage of Christ, was a Moabitess. She was among those who were to be excluded from entering the assembly of the Lord. But she made a complete commitment to the God of Israel and to the people of Israel when she said, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16/ESV). Thus, Ruth became a proselyte, a convert to Judaism, and she bound herself to the obligations and privileges of the community.        

The Old Testament also describes situations where members of the community were disciplined and excluded from the community. Anyone who ate blood was to be “cut off” from the community (Leviticus 17:14). Anyone who sacrificed a child to Molech was to be put to death by the community. And if the community turned a blind eye to it, God Himself said that He would cut that person off from the community (Leviticus 20:5). And the community was supposed to exercise discipline in other areas including adultery, incest, homosexuality, beastiality, etc. (Leviticus 20).

Exclusion in the New Testament – The New Testament also teaches that there are times when a person is to be excluded from the faith community. In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches that an erring/sinning brother or sister who refuses to listen to the correction of the church is to be treated as a pagan or a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).

In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke of a great separation that would occur at the end of the age when He will separate the sheep from the goats (the righteous from the unrighteous). This separation will be determined by God. It will not be decided by any human court.

In the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus taught that a great separation would occur at the harvest (the end of the age), when the weeds (“the sons of the evil one”) would be separated from the wheat (“the sons of the kingdom”). The separation was not supposed to be done before the harvest, for fear that the wheat would be uprooted along with the weeds. They were both supposed to grow together until the final harvest. Based on this parable, some are reluctant to make any kind of distinction in the church of what is good or evil. The argument is that the ultimate decision is to be left up to God. But it should be noted that this parable is not teaching that the wheat and the weeds are supposed to coexist in the church, letting God separate it in the end. But rather, the wheat and the weeds will live side by side in this world (believers and unbelievers), only to be separated by God in the end.

In the account of The Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus teaches that there is another kind of separation after death (Luke 16:19-31). Some will be included in the place of eternal bliss and some will be excluded from it in a place of torment and agony. This inclusion or exclusion is determined by God after death.

The Epistles tend to shed a little more light on issues of exclusion in the church. In Romans, the apostle Paul said that believers should avoid other members of the church who cause divisions and offenses, “contrary to the doctrine which you learned” (Romans 16:17/NKJV). This is a call for Christians to evaluate the conduct and teaching of other Christians, and either grant or withhold fellowship accordingly.

In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul taught that a brother or sister who was sinning flagrantly was to be “put out of the fellowship” (v.2/NIV) as an act of discipline. This chapter also teaches that Christians are not supposed to associate with sexually immoral people (1 Corinthians 5:9). This does not mean unbelieving sexually immoral people, but rather those who call themselves Christians, but who are “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (v.11). Paul goes on to say, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13/NIV). The church then is not to tolerate sin because it will affect the whole body, just like yeast works through dough (v.6).

Ephesians chapter 5 warns about being deceived by those who profess faith in Christ, but who continue to live in open, unrepentant sin, thinking that God will not judge them. Verse 6 calls them, “sons of disobedience.” And verse 7 warns, “Therefore do not be partners with them.” Christians should not be deceived into thinking that God won’t judge sin. Obedient Christians are to separate themselves from disobedient Christians.

John, the beloved disciple of Christ warned that, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God” (2 John 9/ESV). It goes on to say that, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting. For whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 10-11/ESV). In this passage, those who spread false teaching were to be excluded from fellowship.

And the book of Revelation teaches that in the end, God will exclude from the holy city, the New Jerusalem – all impurity, and those who do what is shameful or deceitful (Revelation 21:27). Sin will not be allowed into the holy city of God, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Conclusions on Inclusion – Here then are several biblical conclusions on the subject of inclusion into the life and fellowship of the church, and the kingdom of God.

1) In both the Old and New Testaments, God has always been welcoming of those who want to turn to Him in faith.

2) All who come to Him will not be turned away (John 6:37).

3) All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

4) Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

5) God does not want anyone to perish but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

6) God is impartial in His judgment of sin.

7) The church is to be impartial in dealing with sin.

8) It is possible for a person to be excluded from the fellowship of the church because of sinful conduct or false teaching.

9) Sin will not be permitted to enter heaven (Revelation 21:27).

10) Inclusion into the life and fellowship of the church involves a profession of faith and repentance that leads to life (Acts 2:38-39; 11:17-18).

The early Brethren were sometimes criticized for accepting persons by baptism into the life of the church, only to excommunicate them in a short period of time. And the question was raised whether people should be examined more carefully before being baptized. However, Alexander Mack concluded that throughout both the Old and New Testaments, “God has to accept all on the basis of their outward profession. Only after a man has entered into a relationship with God and His church is that man tested in the commandments of God.” (Stoffer, Dale R. Background and Developments of Brethren Doctrines: 1650-1987. Philadelphia: Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc. 1989, p.81)

Therefore, the Bible teaches both inclusion and exclusion. Anyone can be included into the fellowship of the church on the profession of their faith. And the church has the authority and responsibility to discipline (and perhaps exclude) persons who are not willing to abide in the commandments of God. The Bible also teaches that in the life to come, not all will be included in the kingdom of heaven.

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Come explore God’s Word with us!. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. – Romans 10:17”


Captivity… Dreams… Rulers… Fire… Lions… Prayers… Kingdoms. From a dedicated youth to a faithful sage, Daniel’s life stands as an example to follow.  Yet beyond his personal life, God gifted Daniel with a message of future events.  Though difficult to grasp, these events would shape the world for the coming Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ as King.


Luke presents a warmly personal and historically accurate account of Jesus as “the Son of Man.” This course will survey the Third Gospel, with emphasis on the unique events, miracles, and parables of Jesus found in it.


This class will provide a broad overview of general church history. We will then focus on the Anabaptist and Pietist movements, especially as they relate to the formation and development of the Brethren groups. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.


This course is intended to lay down a measure in a world where truth is slippery and often subject to interpretation. Where “Christian Values” become a political slogan, and “good people” are our allies despite their faulty core beliefs. Where Facebook “friends” post memes about the power of God, despite a lifestyle that is anything but Godly. In the process we often fight among ourselves, doing Satan’s work for him. The purpose of this course is to lay the measure of Jesus Christ against the cults, religions, and worship in our contemporary world.


While Protestant translations of the Bible contain 66 books, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize additional canonical books as well.  Where did these books, collectively known as the Apocrypha, come from and why aren’t they part of our Bible?  How reliable are they, and what value is there in studying them?


The goal of this class is to acquire a firm grasp of the teachings and themes of these two general epistles. Peter covers topics from salvation and suffering to spiritual deception and the return of Christ. These letters are packed with warnings and encouragements for Christian living.


A detailed study of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the “I Am” metaphors in John’s gospel. Why did Jesus describe himself in these terms? How do they relate to each other? We will look at spiritual and practical applications to further our Christian growth.


Have you ever been visited by someone who said they wanted to study the Bible with you so that you might discover the truth together?  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to have much in common with evangelical Christians, and they seem to be well versed in the scriptures.  But what do they really believe and how can we effectively witness to those who have been ensnared by this false religion?


While we may consider Hosea as one of the minor prophets, his message vividly illustrates the major doctrine in all Scriptures.  The theme of God’s unconditional love is magnified and extended beyond those deserving it.  God expresses tender words towards His erring people inviting them to turn from sin to reconciliation with Him.


This course will look at basic principles and polity of leading the local church. We will examine the balance between upholding a spiritually focused organism of ministry and cultivating proper order for effective organization. Practical applications will be emphasized. This is a two-part class. Plan to take both parts.


The Brethren Bible Institute believes in the discipline of the whole person (spirit, soul, and body). We will aim to train students not only about how to study the Bible in a systematic way (2 Timothy 2:15), but also how to live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world (Titus 2:12). God calls Christians to the highest of character when He commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15), and holiness requires discipline.

Indulgence in the use of tobacco, alcoholic beverages, drugs, profanity, and gambling are forbidden at BBI. Objectionable literature will be prohibited. Students are asked not to use the college pool during the Institute. Each student must be thoughtful, and respect the rights of others at all times, especially during study and rest periods.

A friendly social group intermingling of students between class periods, and at general school activities is encouraged. Each student should enjoy the friendship of the entire group. At all times, highest standards of social conduct between men and women must be maintained. This means that all forms of unbecoming behavior and unseemly familiarities will be forbidden.

Personal appearance and grooming tell much about one's character. Students are expected to be dressed in good taste. In an attempt to maintain Scriptural expressions of simplicity, modesty, and nonconformity, the following regulations shall be observed while attending BBI.

MEN should be neatly attired and groomed at all times. Fashion extremes and the wearing of jewelry should be avoided on campus. The hair should not fall over the shirt-collar when standing, nor should it cover the ears.

WOMEN should wear skirts cut full enough and of sufficient length to at least come to the knees when standing and sitting. Form-fitting, transparent, low-neckline, or sleeveless clothing will not be acceptable. Slacks and culottes are permitted only for recreation and then only when worn under a skirt of sufficient length. Wearing jewelry should be avoided on campus. Long hair for women is encouraged and all Church of the Brethren girls (and others with like convictions) shall be veiled on campus.

The Institute reserves the right to dismiss any student whose attitude and behavior is not in harmony with the ideals of the School, or whose presence undermines the general welfare of the School, even if there is no specific breach of conduct.

The Brethren Bible Institute is intended to provide sound Bible teaching and wholesome Christian fellowship for all who desire it. The Bible School Committee worked hard and long at the task of arriving at standards, which will be pleasing to the Lord. It is not always easy to know just where the line should be drawn and we do not claim perfection. No doubt certain standards seem too strict for some and too loose for others. If you are one who does not share all these convictions, we hope you will agree to adjust to them for the School period, for the sake of those who do. We are confident that the blessings received will far outweigh any sacrifice you may have to make. If you have a special problem or question, please write to us about it. To be accepted as a student at BBI, you will need to sign a statement indicating that you will cooperate with the standards of the School.