This morning I’m wondering (out loud) about The Church. Not my local congregation at First Presbyterian, or even the Presbyterian denomination as a whole (although the PCUSA does play a role in this discussion), but the whole ball of wax, The Church, in all of its varied configurations.
Beyond the question of The Church is the larger issue of Christianity itself. Because religion is simply the structure we erect in order to frame out and to practice our beliefs. Christianity emerged in response to Christ. Christ predated Christianity (In the beginning was The Word…), and Jesus defeated death before anyone organized a religion in his name.
The point of Christianity is to worship God and to continue the plan that Jesus set in motion. Jesus put it this way, via his parting words during The Last Supper:
“My prayer is not for (my friends around this table) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).
Christianity as a religion works to the extent that it:
- introduces people to Jesus
- facilitates the mission of Christ
- restores the rift that began in the garden (Genesis)
- heals the broken relationship between God and humanity
- heals broken relationships between people
- invites, welcomes, restores, encourages, loves…
Christianity does not work to the extent that it:
- makes religious practice more central than God
- seeks to re-invent God in the image of people
- discourages hard questions and honest dialog
- is defined more by what it is against than what it is for
- creates divisions between people of faith
- becomes secondary to political agendas
- condemns rather than invites
- excludes where it should be opening doors…
Rebekah makes this important distinction when it comes to unity. “Unity is not the same thing as unanimity,” she has pointed out in church on more than one occasion. “We can be one in Christ without all having the same opinion when it comes to every single detail.”
So this morning Rebekah and I were talking about today’s Presbytery meeting, the quarterly gathering of some 300 Tampa area ministers and elders for the purpose of conducting the business of the church. We both expressed concern regarding how some preachers appear to revel in any opportunity that comes along to sanction others, to chide and to rebuke and to slap wrists. Others seem to live for the chance to grab a microphone and speak against something or other. It is all so tiresome, and so contrary to the teachings of Jesus regarding our mission to advance the Kingdom of God.
The Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel illustrates how God observed the growing arrogance of people and decided it would be best for all concerned if all the self-promotion was knocked down a few notches. It seems to me that Christianity is too often an entire landscape of such towers (even within one denomination), competing against one another and built – stone upon stone – out of an arrogance that is more interested in advancing our own ideas than introducing people to the amazing Gospel of Jesus.
Nowadays I’m writing and speaking – predominantly – about what I call “The Life-Charged Life.” I believe that it is only by becoming a Follower of the Way of Jesus that we can begin to approach the richness and the vitality of the “life that is truly life”, the quality of life God created us for and specifically designed us to engage. But let’s not confuse NEW LIFE IN CHRIST with much of the Christianized Religiosity that is championed by so many zealots of codified and denominationalized religious law….
Did I say that out loud?
Seriously, folks. Follow Jesus. Place your trust in Christ. Practice your faith in the way your conscience dictates. But please stop telling other people – who also love Jesus – that they are second-tier believers because they might not also fit the membership requirements for your garden club or political party.
Jesus didn’t die for your personal preferences. Jesus died so that, “by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” (The Message, John 3:16-17)
Because of Love – DEREK