Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Cannibalistic Consumption of the Church – What adjective modifies the Christian faith you choose to follow?

Recently, two of Benjamin L. Corey’s posts have been making the rounds of some of my acquaintances. The more popular has been the one that makes a whipping boy out of many of my fellow-Evangelical Christians. Frankly, I not only entirely agree with Corey about the traits he lists, I wholeheartedly endorse my friend Preety Dass’s addition of three others. (She wrote, “I can sooo relate to this! Although I would add 3 more reasons: 1) racism in the evangelical circle, 2) weird gendered theology & sermons, & 3) classism originating from the prosperity gospel mentality (all based on personal experiences).”) For those interested in the original lists, Corey’s concerns about his fellow “Progressive Christians” can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/5-areas-where-progressive-christian-culture-completely-loses-me/, and “But Here’s 5 Reasons American Evangelicalism Completely Lost Me” can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/but-heres-5-reasons-why-american-evangelicalism-completely-lost-me/.
Pounding out our prejudices.

Simply by seeking fellowship among fellow pastors, even more so by openly encouraging multi-congregational cooperative ministries, I have been “privileged” to hear a variety of justifications, rationalizations, and fabrications for the constantly increasing territorialism, competition, and isolation of most congregations and denominations in the body of Christ. In the past, I have phrased this as our tendency to fragment and splinter the Church into ever-smaller components which we presume to be incompatible with one another, even as we proclaim that this makes our particular enclave even more compatible with following Jesus.

Recent posts by Benjamin L. Corey (see above), along with my considerations of the living, breathing reality of an organic function of Christ’s body, have led me to reconsider my choice of terminology. In short, “fragment” and “splinter” portray the Church as an inanimate object, being beaten to pieces by some external force. As I contemplated my belief about the nature of the Church as comprising anatomical members in physiological function, another more shocking realization intruded. Still being affected by external forces, even by those who imagine themselves to have been internalized to that body, the fine distinctions by which we separate from one another take on a sharper focus. Where once I saw the blunt-force trauma of the butting and shoving sheep of Ezekiel 34, I now see the end to which that flock and its members are consigned: the butcher’s knife, and cleaver, and bone-saw.

Fire up the grill for some Galatians 5:15!
For Corey, the primary labels are Evangelical or Progressive. But any other adjective defines some portion of Christ’s body as somehow separate from its other members. Each modifier we place ahead of “Christian” suggests that we see the Church’s denominations, traditions, and doctrinal allegiances as so many chunks of meat. We ask to pick through the piles of bones, sinews, muscles and their lifeblood committed to the trays of a butcher’s case. We act as though we may somehow select our preferences from among these dismembered segments. As carefully as we may shop among the carnage, we have clearly forgotten that each of us are called to be members of Christ’s body. We wander the mall of ministries, or simply remain rooted with our relatives, choosing to ally ourselves with an ecclesiological genealogy originating with some individual or group that we come to identify as “our kind of Christians.”

Let's see less of this...
Of course, we don’t stop at severing the interrelationships among our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our disunity among Christians dissolves our integrity (“being of one substance”) as a Christian. Even as individual persons, we isolate our “prayer life,” or “scripture study,” or “church attendance,” or “works of service” from the ongoing, holistic conversation that God intends should pervade every area, every moment of our lives.

A relationship with God through Christ comprises all parts of our lives, just as the body of Christ comprises all parts of the Church. If we are His, then everything we are and everything we do are part of that conversation, either in agreement or disagreement, obedience or defiance of what Jesus would have us to do. And if we are His, then we are members of His Church—including all those “others” He accepts, forgives, fills, calls, and engages in His purposes and plan.

...and practice more of this.
Whenever we begin to contemplate which adjective best modifies our Christianity, may we prayerfully consider the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus Christ toward God the Father in John 17.

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

 - John 17:20-23 (NASB)

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