Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Membership... More Privileges

I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.
--C S Lewis

After writing an earlier post on membership and the church, I came across the above quote from C. S. Lewis. It sure sums up the gist of that post.

At least about the church.

Which brings up, again and again the way we all as Christ-followers are selective in our understanding of what it all means. It should come as no surprise that I lean strongly toward the "social Gospel." I believe Jesus was as much a political revolutionary as he was a spiritual one. In fact, considering his time, place, and culture, for him to be anything BUT politically revolutionary would have been a surprise.

But political radicalism of his sort- rooting for the underdogs, the preferential option for the poor (!)- never makes it as an institutional orientation. It will be co-opted as a foundation by the very fact of gaining power. (Power corrupts, etc.)

Back to C. S. Lewis, then.

I’m sure I read all this differently from Lewis, but we seem to come to the same conclusion- as a religion, Christianity is difficult to live with and be comfortable with. From my perspective, Jesus’ call to his followers is one of great responsibility. Not in order to gain salvation, but to make a difference. Grace, at the heart of Christian faith, is tough to accept. It makes us all equal. It says we are all OK in the presence of God because that God simply accepts us as we are.

While that may sound like Good News, we often don’t want to hear that. To find out I’m no better than some common criminal is not offset by the fact that I am no worse than the most righteous saint. If grace is for all, then my efforts are for naught. If grace is easily handed out by this prodigal, wasteful God, then what good is it to be good?

Perhaps in the end we are afraid that if we aren’t scared into good behavior by fear of punishment, we won’t be good. Maybe we are convinced that this great sinner inside each of us (and don’t kid yourself, we all know he or she is there) will one day break loose and wreak havoc on our lives and those around us. Maybe we know we are powerless in the face of the power of God and we just don’t want to admit that.

I know. I am not dealing with the question of the church and church membership. What I am doing so far is tearing apart all the spiritual benefits of church membership. If membership has its privileges, they are not found in some pie in the sky bye and bye nor are they found in being better or more righteous than those outside the church.

In order to get there, however, I have to tear myself away from my myths and wishful dreams and to the heart of the Christian faith, as I understand it. What that has to do or say to the church is still rattling around in my head. It isn’t falling into place yet. I have wrestled so much and so often over the past 40 years with the institution that I really have needed to get down to the basics first.

Which is where I will leave it for today. I have not been able to break away from the church (or The Church.) Both continue to pursue me. The Hound of Heaven in my life is not the Lord, but his Body. It is a magnet with an almost irresistible force pulling at me. I am convinced that the organization we call the church is a very poor representation of The Church. Our human inclination to power and the corrupting use of power has hurt us more than it has helped us.

The church, as we know it, has undergone an almost indescribable transition in the 40 years since my ordination. It is not, on almost any level, the church of my youth or of my early ministry. I am not expecting to get great and wondrous answers from all my ponderings, praying and meditating. All I want to do is remain faithful to my call. No, not the call to the “ordained” pastorate, but the deep and profound call to be a follower of Jesus and engage in his work.

Someday I will expound more on that as it flows from the quote on the right sidebar there:
Some want to live
within the sound
of church or chapel bell;
I want to run
a rescue shop
within a yard of hell.
-- C. T. Studd
But for now, let’s agree to keep praying and being as faithful as we each can be.

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