I believe there is one thing we need more than to be understood or be known,
It’s our need; a true, undeniable need,
For me and for you, this is our need: it’s forgiveness.
I ask for your forgiveness. I know that I can be a little more than passionate about a subject, especially when it comes to my own convictions about it. However, as the Fifteenth Understanding of the Lindisfarne Community states, “...We [strive to] hold our convictions (which are few) without wavering, but hold our opinions (which are many) lightly.” Sometimes, however, the line between the two can be a bit blurry. And at other times, following the Way of Jesus means to just keep one’s mouth shut. Let me explain.
Recently, while speaking to some friends about a conversation I had about the “church” and my convictions about it (and if any of you have ever read this blog before, you know how passionate I can be about my convictions), I stated that one of the biggest mistakes for the followers of Jesus was the creation of the institutional “church” - the way that we have made following Jesus into a religious business filled with dogma and judgmentalism (read: rejection of others who think differently than the “church”) and not a way of living.
Granted, this is a very broad-brush overview of ancient history. And, I honestly believe that this was not the intention of the majority of the ancient followers of Jesus. Nevertheless, this is what history has shown to be the case. At some point (some say it was 313CE, while other point to 380CE, and others further still) it was determined that, to protect the followers of Jesus, the churches would be placed under the authority of one person, the bishop of Rome, and “official” statements of belief and doctrine were put into place. People were no longer left to “work out [their] salvation” (Philippians 2.12; NJB2). Starting then, the church began excommunicating and condemning those who disagreed. This was done to protect the church from various (supposed and some not so supposed) heresies. And, as I stated, while the intention was (mostly) good, following jesus turned into something it never was supposed to be - a religion.
To sharpen the point further, the Roman church became the state church of the Roman Empire. Think about this for a moment: the organization that persecuted (i.e., tortured and slaughtered) the first followers of Jesus became the “official” container of his teaching. When the empire fell, the Roman church became the new empire with very similar hierarchical structures and a powerful determination to conquer the world by any means necessary. Furthermore, a lot of the “official” understanding of the Roman church is still such that any kind of life with God is not obtainable outside the Roman church. (But, to be quite fair and honest, this same type of understanding can be found in plenty of other churches as well.)
At this point, one of my friends disagreed stating that this wasn’t true. I begged to differ and told him briefly about the Council of Trent and how Vatican II reaffirmed its position. (Just to double-check myself, I did a search for the current standing of the RCC on this subject. You can find its position here, here, and here (scroll down to “The necessary means of salvation”). And a Google search can show similar results.) However, while this may still be the “official” stance of the Roman church, I did stress that there are plenty of Catholics who do not hold to these views. There are thousands (perhaps millions) who hold that life with God can be found outside of the Roman church. And for those people following Jesus is much more about a way of living than a religion (or business).
One last point here - something that I don’t feel I communicated very well to my friend. My issues are not with the Roman Church. Most (perhaps all) of my issues are with any empirical church, regardless of them being Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, or Protestant. It’s the organized religious business that bothers me deeply. It is the entire institution that I believe to be false, i.e., not what it was intended to be. Some people, however, when they hear the word “church” understand it to mean their particular group.
Now, while I am convinced of this, perhaps I go too far. As I told him, there are many, many people (and more every day) who are strengthened and nurtured by the church(es). There are untold numbers of people who get their daily “felt” needs met (food, shelter, utilities paid, etc.). There are lots of people who would not be alive today if it weren’t for the churches and the great work that they do.
And while all of those things are great (and they really are), those things could (and should) be addressed by the followers of Jesus without the need of the institutional church. Somehow some of us have lost the ability to follow Jesus as a way of living. We have gotten to the place where we think that only the “professionals,” i.e., the clergy, can and should organize and meet the needs of the community. But that’s not the commission of Jesus. We, his followers, are called to be him in the world (John 20.21; CEB). And that’s where my passion lies - in empowering people to be Christ to those we meet; to seek Christ in others. I long for all of us to love god, our neighbors, and our enemies the way Christ loves us. The empirical church should not what identifies us - it supposed to be our love for each other.
John 13.34-35; CEB: “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
So, to those who may have been hurt by my convictions (whether expressed in this post or elsewhere), please know that this is not my intention. I’m all about building unity, about “loving all, serving all, and creating no sorrow” (adapted from Trevor Hall3). If I have brought division, if I have offended someone, if I have hurt someone’s feelings, please forgive me. I’m sorry. So sorry.
With heaviness of heart,
Br Jack+, LC
1 Charlie Peacock, “Forgiveness,” Love Life, March 1991, Sparrow Records, Tennessee.
2 Henry Wansbrough, ed., The New Jerusalem Bible. New York; London: Doubleday; Darton, Longman & Todd, 1985. ISBN: 0385142641
3 Trevor Hall, “Unity,” Trevor Hall, July 2009, Vanguard Records, New York.