Well, you guys all get to hear me rant again. Noting some of the replies I’ve gotten on my last entry, I’m thankful to note that some are still reading me, even as I fail in the discipline of writing. Thank you all for your long suffering.
Anyway, tonight I attended the convocation/awards night for the small seminary I attend. I was surprised to learn that I’m the top student academically in year 2 (yay). Which really did surprise me, though I’m glad that God granted me a good year, and seems to have aided my understanding some.
The keynote address was given by the Rev. Dr. Herbert O’Driscoll. For those of you who don’t know who that is, he’s a modern Anglican minister and hymn writer. In many ways, what he had to say was good. I’d say much of it was very good, including a point where he used an astute reading of scripture to better understand Jesus’ wilderness experience.
Things went a little downhill for me in other parts of what he said. My biggest difficulty sprang from one of his points near the beginning. He told those gathered of his two loves. The first love was his wife of many years. The second, I thought was going to be the Lord Jesus Christ (which would have been an apt parallel). As a result, when he said “the Church” I was a little confused.
To get what I’m referring to, think a little on what the Church is. It is called “the body of Christ” and it is made up of all believers. That means that when you say “I love the Church” it can mean either that you love the body of Christ, or that you love well, yourself (if you think yourself a believer). To be a proper parallel (apples and apples so to speak) he should have started by saying that his two loves were his 35 year marriage and the Church. Of course, he might find himself sleeping on the couch tonight, as his wife would be a little ticked that the marriage was more important than she was.
One does not become a good husband or wife by loving and building up “the marriage”, they become a good spouse by loving and building up THEIR SPOUSE. Similarly, one does not become a good Christian by building up your Christianity, but by focusing on and loving CHRIST.
I think a great many of the Church’s problems would be avoided by simply understanding that distinction. My friend’s caricature of a fundamentalist hypocrite Christian makes the point well. If Uriel (who commented on my last post) loved Jesus more than she loved being right, or being a Christ follower, or having a Jpod, or damning people to eternal hellfire, she’d be a lot less hypocritical. After all, all those other things would simply no longer be the point. The point would be Jesus.
Similarly, the other mistake the speaker seems to have made would have been avoided.
In referring to the High Priestly prayer of Jesus (as recorded in John’s Gospel, Chapter 17), he noted that Jesus prayed that his followers would all be one. He took this to mean that Christians should not dismember the body of Christ by separating. From an exegetical perspective, I believe he forgot the context. Jesus was praying to God, not giving a command to his disciples. The reason is simple. Unity does not come from the work of believers, but is a gift of God. Jesus was asking the only person who could grant unity for unity.
As we Christians seek to follow, serve, and be like Jesus (because we love Him above all else), we become unified as a gift of God (see my earlier post on community). Unity is not an institutional thing, it’s a Jesus thing.
This leads me to a very very controversial statement. I do not believe that the body of Christ is separated. Schism DOES NOT EXIST.
I think there are many separate expressions of Christ, but among each of them there are those who are in Christ, and thus are my sisters and brothers in Christ. They love Jesus, they are kin. They differ on loads of stuff, from baptism, to eucharistic doctrine, to whether they have rock music on their ipods, but they are in the Church.
Now this does not mean that all people who claim to be Christian are, far from it. The problem is that I cannot make blanket statements about who is of the Church and who is not. I can only say that some people are in sin and some are not. If you embrace sin (for which Jesus suffered and died), you obviously have something in your life to deal with, as hurting people and loving them don’t fit together very well.
Similarly, if I separate from an institution because the institution is keeping me from loving Jesus, I do not thereby separate from the Church. The question is whether I love Jesus or not. Indeed, if I stay in the institution, and ignore Jesus, I have committed schism anyway.
Before I conclude, I need to add another proviso. If you leave all bodies of believers, I would say that you also have an action at odds with claiming to love Jesus. Fellow believers reflect Christ to you, and really are the body of Christ. So if you don’t love other believers, you do not love the body of Christ. It also should be noted that in any relationship, if you are unwilling to love the friends of the person you love, your relationship is headed for trouble.
So the conclusion: The Church is made up of those who love Jesus. Institutions are largely irrelevant to the question of whether you love Jesus. Institutions (when good) are there to help you love Jesus, but they are not Jesus. Thus we cannot dismember the body of Christ, we can only possibly be included or excluded from him, through love of Him or the lack thereof. In either case, you don’t split the Church at all by not loving Jesus, you simply cease to be part of it (regardless of how often you fill a pew, or fail to).
So the upshot is that Christianity is a question of where your heart is. If you love Jesus, you are Christian, if you do not love Jesus, you are an unbeliever. All the trappings are irrelevant to that question.
It’s a lot like faith and works when you come to think of it. After all, faith is what saves you from hell, not works. Works are simply an indicator of faith (though not always an accurate one). Similarly, it is love of Jesus that makes you Christian. If you love Jesus, you enjoy spending time with others who love Jesus, and help you to love Jesus more, but that only indicates a love of Jesus (not always accurately).
Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough, and honestly am beginning to repeat myself. So I’ll end here.