Yesterday, I jotted a note on the timeline of my Facebook Writer's Page. Today, I'd like to explore the thoughts a bit more. If you read this there, bear with me. (For part 1 of these confessions, click here.)
"Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it's from Neptune." ~ Noam Chomsky
I graduated with a degree in Economics, which, contrary to popular belief is less a study of money and more a study of the allocation of choice. As choice would have it, I passed on the lucrative careers that come along with such a degree, and opted instead for the less glamorous life of youth ministry at an Oklahoma mid-mega-church.
Oh, these are the times that try men's souls!
I remember the first time I heard it--"without uniformity of doctrine, there cannot be a strong and unified church." We sat at the boardroom table at the Friday morning staff meeting, and I watched as the ministers around the room nodded in agreement. The next hour was devoted to enumerating those truths upon which all of Christianity hinged--the virgin birth; the deity of Christ; the salvific work of the cross; Christ's resurrection from the dead. I could get behind these, but then the conversation turned to lesser central doctrines--the continuation or cessation of spiritual gifts; the role of women in various ministry positions; election versus free will; the number of Gerasene demoniacs present at Jesus' first gentile healing.
A young minister, I listened to the conversation, distilled it to its most basic thesis. I reckoned that what the good pastors meant to say was something more along the lines of "agreeing on the tenants of the Creed is not enough." At that precise moment of epiphany, one minister upped the ante and asked, "and how do we convince our fellow brothers and sisters of these truths?"
Now we were to the meat of the matter. We were pursuing the apologetics of peripheral doctrines. Even in those days, this mindset seemed somewhat colonial. Take the Truth to the locals! Convince! Convert! It never made a lick of sense to me.
I've been removed from this kind of doctrinal hardline thinking for over 15 years, now. These days, I'm a layman, a man with no paycheck at stake. I've chosen my church carefully--they, a rag-tag gaggle of screwed-up folks who might not agree on the direction of the wind, much less the Christian doctrines outside of the Creed. We comprise a broader scope of lost-and-found Christianity. There are former Baptist, Catholics, Church of Christers, and one or two of the ex-Methodist stripe. We have Charismatics and pragmatists. We have dispensationalists, covenentalists, and new covenentalists. We have apologists, evangelists, and servants (sometimes, they are one in the same). We have conservatives and liberals, Republicans, Democrats, and Tea Party members. And here's the beauty: this group loves each other well and serves together even better.
We call this church home because they pray well for and with us. They hold the efficacy of God-ward petitions in tension with his sovereignty. They support my art, my logic, and occasional anarchist tendencies. They support my wife's, too.
This body, it is quite plain and simple; it is my church, and it is a beautiful, unified body.
Yesterday, while listening to a sermon podcast from another congregation, I heard a pastor explaining why his parishioners should refrain from excusing a non-reformed Baptist brother from the fellowship table. My first thought was, "good on you for teaching something that may not be well received by your ultra-conservative crowd." My second thought was, "where did our gospel understanding go wrong that someone would actually feel the need to preach that from the pulpit?"
Then I remembered the exchanges between Peter and Paul, and I remembered--this stuff's been going on since the founding of the faith.
I'm just a layman now, a person who has a piece of cheap internet real estate and a keyboard. As sure as shooting, there's a pastor out there who will take umbrage with my words. But as a well-traveled believer in this thing we call the gospel, allow me a bit of leeway. Sometimes I reckon we'd be better to admit that things are neither as predestined as we like to think, nor are they as subject to the free will of man. Sometimes, I reckon we'd be better to recognize that things aren't as miraculous as we'd hoped, but at the exact same time, they are. Perhaps the teachings on women are contextual? Perhaps the teachings on speaking in tongues are, too? Perhaps they are literal? Sometimes, I reckon we'd be better to resolve ourselves to the possibility that we have it all wrong, or maybe we don't, but either way, the greatest of all things is love expressed through one central character in the gospels.
If we started and ended there (oh, audacious thought you are!), we might find a better way.