For a long time, I wondered why there isn’t just one church. It seemed to me that there must be a right way and a wrong way to be a Christian. I thought my task, our task was to discover the correct way.To figure out which church was right.
I’m not the only one who wonders about this. People outside the church wonder how the Orthodox and Pentecostals can both be right? How can both be Christian? People inside the church wonder which version of the Bible or which worship style or which doctrines are correct. What one does God approve of?
We assume that the church is supposed to discern and preserve the truth. But, as I’ve said here before, Truth is a person, not a set of beliefs.
I think that the church is not so much the keeper of truth but the community of the beloved. The church is not to teach truth but to follow the Truth showing by all we do that God is love.
That means, I think, that one of the purposes of the church is to be an outpost, a colony, of the kingdom of God. Not in a defensive way, walled off, checking doctrinal credentials, guarding the truth from “those” people. But in a Revelation 21 way where the gates of the city are always open and all people enter.
The church is to try, as best we can, to be the place where everyone is welcome- whether we agree with each other or not. Whether we like each other or not. The church is the community of absolute acceptance, just as we are accepted by God. I remember look out at a church dinner once and thinking to myself, ” I don’t have to like all these people, but I do have to love them.”
Our tendency is to say, “we welcome you but we don’t affirm…..” your views, your “life style”. your politics, your theology, your clothes, your music… Well you are able to fill in the blank, aren’t you?
But as the church, we are to simply welcome people as we have been welcomed by God. As the old hymn goes, “Just as I am…”
Does this mean that no one has to change? That anything goes?
No, but it does mean that I don’t tell you how to change. ( So no “Come as you are but don’t stay as you are” and don’t worry I’ll tell you what you ought to do and how you should change). More ideal, I think, is for you to tell me if you think you need to change and I’ll offer to help you and the Holy Spirit works out what needs to change. And that’s not even quite right. Better still, I’ll tell you how I need to change and ask you and the Holy Spirit to help me.
My “job” is to love as much like the way God loves us as possible. All the while remembering that I’m not God. Which is, of course, the hardest part because, honestly, I want to be God and, honestly, so do you. And once we fall into that trap we get concerned with who is right and who is wrong and we start judging beliefs and ideas, and actions. And then we start tossing “bad” folks out of the community because they act and think the wrong things. And then we have stopped being the community of the beloved and started being the preservers of what we think is “truth”.
This greeting people where they are and letting them stay that way is hard. Giving people the space to be who they truly are is hard. It is the work of a lifetime. We love God because God first loved us. God welcomed us with all our flaws and all our various ideas and odd ideas and wounds and stubbornness. God welcomes us and then gives us room to grow.
That may be why we have so many ways of being Christian. I know the history is ugly, schisms, anathematizing and killing each other. But in the midst of all that ugliness, perhaps God is at work telling us that there are many ways to love God, many ways to worship, many ways to be Christian if we are willing to begin with love. But accepting and loving people is easier, a little bit, if we agree on a few things. So is it contemporary worship or the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Crysostom or speaking in tongues or organs and robed choirs? It probably helps if we have some agreement on a few things within a congregation. But let’s not claim one way “right” and all the others “wrong”. If God is worshiped, that is all that matters.
So is there a “right” church? Maybe we’re all right. Or maybe we’re all wrong. Or maybe that doesn’t matter.
I’d like to know, what do you think?