Acts of the Apostles, Finsbury Park Mosque, Grenfell Tower, Inclusive Church, Joppa, keys of the kingdom, Kingdom of Heaven, London Bridge, Manchester Arena, nones, over-flowing generosity, radical hospitality, St Matthew's Gospel, St Peter
St Matthew’s Gospel describes Jesus as promising to give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven with the words: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. And with these words the fledgling Church took on the role of Gate Keepers and brought itself trouble and strife.
So the early Church struggled if Gentiles could be let in and then what of those not circumcised or those who ate certain food stuffs. Onwards there would be arguments about what beliefs were essential and which were heresy and then about which books should be included in Scripture and the language it should be read in. Were Popes and Bishops necessary and what about women, the divorced, gays – in short there seems to have almost been nothing on which Christians could not fall out about in deciding who was in and who was out.
And whilst the Church gets on with its own squabbles, the signs of the kingdom of heaven sprout up everywhere and often unconnected to Church. Most recently in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bomb and the attacks on London Bridge and outside Finsbury Park Mosque and the fire at Grenfell Tower, yes churches did engage well but acts of generosity, love, reconciliation and compassion flourished well beyond the borders of anything that might be seen as Church. In these selfless acts glimpses of the kingdom of heaven were seen; the Church did not have a monopoly on them.
The rise of the “nones” – those of no religion – is not about atheism or humanism but a rejection of the gatekeeping role of the Church in what or how or where to express faith and belief. For a growing majority acts of what are fundamentally Christian action and faith are no longer seen as needing to be associated with this thing called Church. Or to put it another way the nones no longer believe the Church holds the exclusive keys to the kingdom of heaven.
In the face of these changes some cry for a more inclusive Church but the very concept of inclusion is itself the problem. When we have the most women, disability LGBT friendly churches in the world there will still be other groups we are consciously or unconsciously excluding. The very idea of inclusion is the problem and not the solution. The concept of inclusion still assumes it is “our” tent albeit that we are trying to be very generous who we let in. One way or another we are still playing at gate-keepers to the kingdom of heaven. The problem (and the true good news) is that the tent is not “ours”, it is God’s.
Maybe, just maybe, in giving Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is showing that keys are no longer needed and they are given to Peter precisely to ensure they are never used.
Maybe, just maybe, the point of Peter’s dream in Joppa when the sheet of animals is lowered is to remind him to not use the keys. Although the immediate message is that Gentiles are included too, the real implication is that there is no boundary to the kingdom of heaven.
If Peter, who the early Church so well documented as repeatedly messing up, can be included in the kingdom of heaven (and myself who has similar spiritual ineptitude) how then can Peter (or me) dare to suggest that others are not worthy to be included in the kingdom.
Some will immediately fear a free for all and want to argue that it matters how we behave and what we believe. Of course such things do matter but it is a reminder that the way, the life and the truth are God’s not ours and that in the kingdom we are called to be servants not gatekeepers. The signs of the kingdom are radical hospitality and over-flowing generosity – who am I to fence the hospitality or limit the generosity?
Maybe, just maybe, it is only when the keys of the kingdom of heaven are lost that we can really begin to build heaven on earth.