I tend to work by fits and starts, and so putting together identity and vision statements for this new church is going to be especially hard work. I thought it might be better to write some, add it to the blog, ask for comments, and repeat. Better to do that than get discouraged. Here’s part one:
Christian faith is transmitted through communities; every Christian alive today is thus an heir, even though the inheritance is a mixture of the Gospel, those traditions that explain and explore it, and miserable additions that have hurt the faithful and others in the world. Missionary despoiling of American peoples and church-harbored violence against Jews are two obvious examples. The work of a reformer, in faithfulness to the Gospel, is to make the best of a decidedly mixed situation.
Many people have tried to overcome the miseries and the divisions among Christians by attempting to restore the church to a New Testament state. We tend to think of storefront churches here with grand names, but Unitarianism shared in this pursuit, though this later morphed into a quest for “pure religion.” Universalism’s chief proponant for a “restored Christianity” – Adin Ballou – saw his plans fall in his own lifetime. Religion, we have learned, is not pure or ideal; to be real, it must mingle in the messiness of real human experience, and must express itself in those experiences, not remembered ones. Still, human beings don’t change much from generation to generation, and so long as we are careful, the rich treasure of Christian tradition remains open to us.
Thus, the vocation of a Christian is not to vacate everything that happened after Good Friday, after Pentecost, or after the last word written in the received library of the New Testament. Looking for Jesus’ faith without the church’s faith is a futile quest. It misunderstands his mission and ours. It allows romantic falsehood to flourish and tramples our consciousness of history and culture. Though well-meaning, the church cannot be “first century” because we are in the twenty-first century.
The identity of this new church has to be faithful to the Gospel, compassionate to those who feel estranged from it (especially to those whose estrangement comes from prior experience with Christianity), receptive to the full range of Christian tradition, and selective in its application to this time and place. With some of the task marked out, we can proceed.
before, please comment.