We have seen an incredible shift in Christianity these last few years with some folks being more inclusive and others being more exclusive. There have been a lot of divisions, hurt feelings, and economic suffering as folks have changed churches or left them altogether. Many are trying to find blame in either the struggling economy and/or in the leaders and laity of their congregations. Others are trying to revive spiritual communities by offering innovative ways of nurturing communication through conferences and festivals of all kinds. Instead of casting blame, can we hoist up the white flag? Whether we’re Episcopalian, Catholic, Liberal, Pentecostal, Conservative, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, or All-Inclusionists, we are all in this together.
We don’t really have to worry about whether traditions will survive, we as the Body WILL survive because Christ is our eternal groom. He has demonstrated his unconditional love for us all by dying and most importantly, resurrecting us with Him. He has conquered the grave and given us an abiding love and life that is immeasurable. Even if you ended up being the only human interested in your tradition, you are never alone with Christ who dwells within you. It is enjoyable to have others partake in traditions with us and yet our own insecurities cause us to react in fear and anger when someone chooses to depart from one tradition and go to another.
Along with that comes the economic suffering as tithes and offerings leave the organizations. This poses an incredibly difficult dilemma for those remaining in the tradition, because they can’t keep up with the cost of the church’s expenses. Have we become dependent on the organization and forgotten our first love? Has the building become an idol that swayed us into an adulterous relationship with brick and mortar? Are we trying to squeeze money from folks who don’t have any left to give? We can try to find blame and root out dysfunction, but the bottom line is that we lost sight of our true identity in Christ. Smash that idol at the feet of Christ.
We have no need to feel insecure, yet we do. We get sidetracked by the material things of this world and Christ remains true to us as he embraces us in his everlasting love. Even while we may not notice him, he is still embracing us. Finding community with others can be an enriching experience. If we’ll just let go our insecurity and really come back to walking by faith then we can develop new relational communities where we can grow spiritually. Without Christ as the head, the body will stumble.
This next month my husband and I will be attending a Faith Leaders Institute where we will be coming together with faith leaders from a variety of religious backgrounds to discuss the economic impact our communities have suffered and combine our intellect, talent, and spiritual insights to help support one another in making changes in our communities. We need to resist fear and confidently walk into a new and innovative way to develop and nurture communities to grow and bond again.
One area that I have seen which is suffering, is outside the walls of organized Christianity. Sadly, scores of people have been wounded by insecure and controlling Christians. People of faith who are suffering from inflicted pain by false accusations, condemnation, and even physical assault are feeling buried. Their souls are gasping for fresh air and living water, while not able to see that their abusers are suffering too. We’re all suffering in one aspect or another. We’re all in this together.
We have people inside the Christian community who are lashing out at those who left and those who left are lashing out at those who stayed. The communities have become a battle ground instead of safe havens for recovery. It behooves us to have a time out and cool down. Every wounded soldier needs to leave the battle field to recover. It would be even better if we could stop the war.
Somewhere along the way we forgot that our war was in the spiritual realm and wolves brought chaos into the communities making it a literal war that could never be won in the flesh. The real war is not about the money needed to fund a building. All the beauty we create for our communities through gorgeous carpet, window treatments, and sound systems are all going to pass away. As comfortable as it is to sit in an air conditioned building during the summer in Phoenix or in a heated building during the winter in Wisconsin, it’s all going to be gone one day. Instead of fighting with each other over the buildings, why not brainstorm ideas about downsizing or renting out your building to the people in the community. There’s a lot of ways to be financially creative so your community can survive. Many families have needed to cut back so they can survive economically, there’s no reason why a religious organization can’t cinch the belt a bit to.
There’s a lot of work to do in serving the community, from feeding the poor, housing the homeless, to counseling wounded people for the spiritual abuse they have suffered. I think we’re wasting too much time pointing out the speck in each other’s eyes when we have our own beams to deal with.
Lets get back to the simplicity of the Gospel and just love one another where we’re at. The Christ within who loved us while we were yet sinners, empowers us to do so likewise. Love one another as He has loved us. We have been commissioned with building up the faith of the people through encouragement and reminders of their identity in the perfection of true love, which is this indwelling Christ. If people choose to leave, then give them the freedom to depart. It can be the most loving thing you can do for them. We were never given the promise that certain people will always be in our lives.
Life Coach Carolee Dalton says this,
“Some people come into our lives with a need- They need us to believe in them! They may be lacking a healthy and accurate view of who they truly are; and we gift them with a new perspective. We help them see themselves the way God sees them-Powerful and Perfect! When we understand our purpose, it will keep us from becoming frustrated; wondering why we aren’t getting much out of the relationship. ”
People are a gift to us. We either get to receive their love as a gift to us or we can give a gift of love to them. In a rare instance we will get to experience ‘give and receive’ in the same relationships. At any time people need to depart for any reason at all, let them be free. It may be that they are fulfilled and secure in your love for them and are ready to go out into another community to share that same love with others.
Sometimes downsizing a community in a variety of ways will help us refocus on the indwelling Christ. Don’t fight against it, instead find purpose in it. Above all, love others. Otherwise we’re just noise pollution. If a church wants to include divorced people, homosexuals, drug addicts, or obese people into their communities, it’s really not your business to tell them otherwise. We’re are all brethren and equally under grace. Each faith community will have different ways to evangelize in their neighborhoods. Even Paul, the one who was sent, spoke to pagans in a way that many Christians totally reject. This was Paul’s freedom and the message God gave him to preach was unique to him and the people he was reaching. If you’re a church that has included divorced people, homosexuals, drug addicts, or obese people into their communities then good for you, but that doesn’t make you better than those who haven’t.
Grace is not a respecter of persons. Grace isn’t bigoted. Grace doesn’t give preference to a well dressed religious man while forcing the poor to sit in the back pew. Grace isn’t set aside only for the Reformers while ignoring the Universalists. Grace is for everyone.
Knowing your identity is in the One who equally loves us all is a place of rest where we can halt our wars with one another and allow the Spirit of God to do the healing work in our hearts.
Please pray for us and send us your positive energy so we can be of value at the Faith Leaders Institute beginning at the end of July. May we come together with the common bond of love so we can bridge the gap we see in the miscommunication Christianity has been wrestling with.