The announcement from the Methodist judicial council came out last week about strengthening our stance on the LGBT+ issues in our congregation. I have to address the statement sooner than later. But I wanted to retreat into my foundation first. Not to avoid the issues but to know I am standing on ground, I deem through discernment, to be the ground God wants me on. Three pillars came to me: church, religion, and faith/belief. I want to explore these three before I figure out how to handle the ruling.
I start with Church. Not because it is a priority but because it gets tangled up in the other two. I will probably have to return to church at the end (double entendre is just a coincidence).
So what is Church? I believe we have been too loose with this term. When you say Church to someone, they initially go to the building that they pass on their way to work, or their way to baseball games, or their way to other things in their life. But I really don’t think that this term should be used to express a building. Ultimately a building cannot be a church. Sure we use small and upper case letters to correct our language issues but that is essentially meaningless. The building should be where the church Gathers,not considered the church itself. So the first challenge to myself is to start calling the building by what it is: the worship place.
So then what makes a church? It is obviously a group of people, but what group of people. Here’s where I’m probably going to have to return to this after faith and religion. I think the Gathering called Church is really a collective of people of Grace.
Hmm. What does that mean? Because in my tradition Grace is the thing that really holds everything together. Even someone who would not consider themselves part of the church still has prevenient Grace according to Wesley. So I guess I’m going to have to refine my definition. How about, a people who strive to live by grace? So what does that mean? For me that means people who are searching for what God wants of them, and is open to learning and developing according to the grace God gives us and the presence of God’s spirit in our world. So that is a pretty wide definition of what church is. That doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is at the point of actually attending a worship space, or even at the point where they’re ready to ascend to any particular Creed. So that begs the question, does someone need a religious structure to be part of the church? One of the questions I have to think about when I discuss religion with myself next time is that question: is a religious structure necessary for salvation? I think I already know what the answer is in my mind, but the whole point of this exercise is to challenge my mind and my belief.
I think one distinction I need to make is who is not part of this church. I think the important thing is that to be a part of the church we need to be on the journey with the church. That means some active response to Grace. So the person who tells me that they go to church on Sunday morning in their living room while they’re watching pregame football may not necessarily fit that definition,if they’re not doing anything else, or even thinking about God at all. The clue for me there is that I don’t think Sunday is the only day the church follows Grace. And I think that someone who attends the worship space on Wednesday, because they have to work on Sunday, or for any other reason, like not being able to be in large crowds or community that may have hurt them, is just as much a part of the church as a regular Sunday attender. There’s a parable that says something about people getting paid the same regardless of how long they worked. And I think the key to that is that God’s grace is infinite so you can’t give part of infinite. But that’s something for another day.
I think this broader definition of church makes it harder to judge our neighbor. Because we really have to know them intimately like God in order to be a judge. So I don’t question people’s Journey, but, I offer them what I have and what God gives me to help them on their own Journey, whatever that may be. I do believe at some point, if God really does work through us, in order to grow, we need to learn how to work with each other. And that is one aspect of coming to the worship space on Sunday or any other day of the week that it may be offered. If someone doesn’t want to be challenged about what they believe, is their belief on solid ground? Hence, why I’m doing what I’m doing. But, this also kind of destroys the importance of congregationalism. The supposed hierarchy of congregations that exist in people’s minds should be crashing to the ground, if, we truly accept that Jesus is in charge of the path.
Anecdotally, I have someone going to another church that used to go to our church. And whether I did something they didn’t like, or there’s something else wrong, or just wasn’t a fit for them at this part of the journey, it doesn’t really matter to me as long as they’re continuing their Journey. I still love them the same as I did before. If, part of the church is help being each other grow, then they also may have deprived me from a growth experience, if it was something about me that made them leave. I know most people don’t think that way. And it’s not a comfortable place to be in. But, sometimes it hurts to grow and I think that’s what the problem is with a lot of people not wanting to come to the worship space. I think also sometimes people think they have to believe everything that everybody else believes in that worship space at that time to be a part of it. But, if we are on different paths then there is no church anywhere that has full consent of belief, and Creed, and Doctrine. No one is going to 100% agree with their neighbor on how things need to be done when the rubber hits the road. So, there’s no such thing as a church that is totally cohesive in this life. We can have Doctrine from the top down tell us and shame us into believing things and the Doctrine may be true or not true depending, but faith is what saves us and God is in charge of faith. So we can determine doctrines and we can determine what people need to believe in our religious structure but does that necessarily relate to Salvation. But again, that’s next week. I think the important thing is that we can come together and worship on a Sunday in the worship space, and once that worship begins, we need to become Church, and no longer a congregation during that time period. If, we are truly there to worship, then there should be no divisions mentioned at all. The church should gather as of people on different paths, with different experiences, and with different needs, to worship the God that they are trying to find and follow. I think our worship space should also offer different styles of worship to honor the different paths people may be on as well.
This is now getting too long for me to think anymore. I think though I’ve come to some conclusion. I really don’t know, as I’m walking down the street of Frederick Maryland, who among those walking with me is church. I don’t know how God is working in a particular person’s life by looking at them. I don’t know what God is doing in someone’s life even if I can look at their activity and agree or disagree with whether I think it’s Christian or not. So, as I go off today to do a funeral of an unchurched lady and visit with her family, I am going to treat them with the same dignity as someone who is church. Because regardless or whether their church or not they are still made in God’s image and my job is to honor that image regardless.
So, I’m pretty content with my definition. A church is a group of people who, despite their place on the path, have accepted God’s Gift of Grace and are allowing God to transform their lives.