Wednesday, January 11, 2012
As I ponder faith and life today, I find that there are many ways in which I often miss the opportunity to deepen my personal knowledge of God. Often I understand this knowledge in the context of a relationship with the Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet, it is easy to confuse the substance of life and managing all of the activities of work, family and everything else that we do, with being a follower of Jesus.
As a follower of Jesus, is there really that much different about me and those who are not followers of Jesus in contemporary North American culture? At present you might assume that I am a follower of Jesus because the pull over sweatshirt that I’m wearing bears the name of the last theological educational institution I attended. Yet, such a thing does not ensure that I am a follower of Jesus. I have checked in on four square several times at “First Church of the Brethren” but that again just notes my geography, not how I live.
Perhaps this would be valuable window into my life, and yet I get my energy from the same provider as my non-Christian neighbors, I get my internet and in home entertainment from the same sources as my non-Christian neighbors, I get my groceries from the same stores as my non-Christian neighbors, and drive cars very similar to my non-Christian neighbors. Perhaps it is seen in my language, but that does not bear a remarkable difference either, especially from my neighbors who are observant Jews, or Muslims for that fact. Some of my atheist neighbors have very strong codes of person morality and speak much like a conservative follower of Jesus.
In truth Jesus never said it would be by such things that people would know that we are his followers, Jesus said “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). It is by our love for each other that people outside of the church will know that we are followers of Jesus. I am further reminded that Jesus included at the table of his fellowship Judas. Not only did he include the one who would betray him, Jesus had Judas participate in the initiation of the Eucharist. I am struck by this, Jesus did not exclude from his fellowship one who was about to betray him to death.
Yet, we are so quick to exclude people from our fellowship. We tend to do it in passive aggressive ways in the Anabaptist tradition, especially where we have given up any notion of adhering to the practices of Matthew 18, and bringing matters to the church body for discipline. So, we exclude and shun not by decree from the church, but by not talking to each other and allowing hurts and insults to be forced under a thin layer of peaceable behavior that hides our anger, fear, rage and pain, and we misname cowardly hostility for peace and unity. In the mean while, we fracture the body of Christ into smaller and smaller shards until all that is left is insignificant and sickly remnants of a once vital and healthy church. We do this at the level of the local congregation, the church just down the street and we do it on denominational levels as well.
At times it seems that the reformation has left the protestant world nothing but smaller and smaller groups of people fighting over an ever decreasing population of those interested in church. Perhaps the day has come for the artificial divisions of denominations to cease, and for a true catholic church emerge? As I watch my own denomination slowly destroy itself in internal conflict over whatever seems to be the latest issues in popular culture, I wonder how much longer it can survive. I would not be shocked to see it disappear at some point in my lifetime. My heart hearts as I see this, and I come back time and again to the reality that the problems are centered not in conflicts between liberals and conservatives but rather in the reality that many of us simply do not know Jesus as we profess to know him. Our families, our communities, and our churches suffer because we have allowed our lives in faith to be shallow and anemic. And yet, this pietistic impulse to individual faithfulness is part of the problem, we are not the church by ourselves. We need to be not only in fellowship with other believers but we need to be committed to Christ and to each other. I will offer this simple challenge, make it a point to pray and read scripture with one other believer this week, and every week of the coming year and see how you life changes.