Lesson 24: Getting Real

Being church together is a conversation followed by actionLast week I wrote that a proper understanding of faith, hope, and love provides a common story for the Church by acknowledging our real life connections to community, nature, time, and place. I quickly got a marvelous critique from Lupe that raised three challenging questions about the relevance of my thoughts.

The first two stem from her personal disenchantment with the present state of what passes as Christianity: “What are you talking about when you speak of the Church (with a capItal c)?” and “Do you really think that this co-called Church ever had a common story?” The third reflects her response to a broader problem: “I am beginning to think we as Western culture are facing a major crisis whose long-term import we cannot even imagine. Where shall we go from here? What or who will light our way?”

I suspect Lupe’s questions made special demands on me as I had just been reading the same complaints in Robin R. Meyers’ book Saving Jesus from the Church. In fact, I received her email right after hurrying through a very long succession of these that each ended with, “If this is what it is to be a Christian, I don’t want to be one.”

Let me offer some quick and inadequate answers to Lupe’s three questions. As Myron has noted, I use “Church” as shorthand for the Body of Christ, the followers of Jesus who continue his ministry. I do not think that this is the institutional church. It might be made up of communities within different institutions, but it is not any particular religious institution itself. I do think the Church is real people in real local communities who are trying to follow Jesus’s’ teachings. I generally see this as conversing with one another and the scriptures, eating together aware that Jesus is present when we do this, and sharing our insights and experiences. Right now, I am not sure how to define church structures beyond the local level except to observe they are not the heart of the community.

When I speak of these communities as having a common story, I am not thinking of some special set of eternal doctrines to which members must intellectually assent. We see the problem with that in our time when “real Christians” are supposedly anybody who simply opposes abortion and the homosexual lifestyle. The common story of the Body of Christ is participation in an ongoing historical narrative, not engaging in systematic theology. The story is best told using a proper understanding of faith, hope, and love and includes the failures as well as the successes of the community.

Of course, nobody knows the answer to Lupe’s third question, “Where shall we go from here? What or who will light our way?” I certainly hope that those who come forward to lead us to a better place come from or are in harmony with those communities who humbly attempt to follow Jesus. If they look at things from the perspective of faith, hope, and love these groups would be agents of healing as they see themselves co-operating with the divine in saving all of creation from self-destruction.

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