In Matthew 13 we find Jesus relating the story of the wheat and the tares.
The master instructed his servants to wait until the end before they remove the tares so that the wheat can come to full maturity before harvesting.
The point that I’ve heard made from the pulpit more often than not is that we should not be surprised by the tares and that there will be unbelievers in the church. While I agree that this is a legitimate interpretation of the story, another thought comes to mind.
My experience is that sometimes there are people who have come to faith in such a gradual way, that it may be difficult to distinguish wheat from tares. What if the delay is not to only protect the wheat but to allow the harvesters to more accurately identify the tares.
I think that in churches we are often too eager to determine who is in and who is out. We are quick to apply litmus tests to faith.
The danger is that it is very possible to have intellectual assent to correct doctrine, but still be without a true relationship with God. Jesus speaks about this at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, when he says, “many will say to me in that day . . .” (Matthew 7:22). Paul encouraged the Corinthians to test themselves to see if they are of the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Notice that they are to test themselves, not test each other.
Yes, I believe that correct doctrine is important. But correct doctrine is a means, not an end. The end goal of correct doctrine is to bring us into deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. If we make correct doctrine the goal, then we will build walls rather than tear them down.
God is in the business of turning tares into wheat. What if the reason that we are not to separate the tares is for the purpose of bringing some of those who have not yet responded to the gospel into the kingdom of God?