Thursday, August 12, 2004

pulling down the fences

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of meeting some of the wonderful Christians who inhabit my favourite internet forum, 24-7 Talkback. I like to think we are a church, of sorts, but unlike many churches, we sometimes find it difficult to stand up and say the same creed together. Our ranks are made up of Christians of every theological persuasion, from evangelicals to semi-Buddhists. This is why I love it. So, meeting these guys last night got me thinking on the nature of our relationship with God. We might all be his children but we each have our own way of approaching the Father.

Lots of people draw lines between religions like barbed wire across warzones. Even within the Body of Christ, the fence posts are set up. This becomes profoundly sad when we see Southern Baptists who won't even talk to other Southern Baptists. Perhaps one day the perimeter fences will get smaller, eventually encircling every church in the southern United States. Then one half of a congregation will be divided against the other, until each church-goer starts setting up the boundaries around his own feet. When we reach that point, maybe then we will discover a profound truth. The truth that in reality there are as many religions as there are people.

Jesus may have been talking about the forces of Satan, but his point that "a house divided against itself cannot stand" applies equally to the children of God. Happily, ecumenical movements and inter-faith dialogues are becoming more common these days, but sadly there are still some who don't realise the importance of Jesus' prayer in St John's gospel:
"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you" - John 17:20, 21
At the very least, this calls for unity among all Christian believers, but in today's plural age, we might extend this hand of unity towards our sisters and brothers in other faiths.

In a previous post here, I have been comparing Jesus' teachings on a personal level and the level of wider society, with the friendliest horticulture student I know. In my view, I think the teachings of Jesus are not destined primarily for the social level. His teachings, and I think, the teachings of the most important teachers, are destined for the individual. I was raised in an unchurched background, and perhaps consequently I have always held a belief that faith must be a personal matter.

Of course, faith doesn't stop with the individual. When I became a Christian, the importance of spiritual community suddenly became apparent to me. I think that our individual faith is the starting point for community, and the community faith comes out of the collective faith of individuals rather than the other way around. Why? Because ultimately we all see things slightly differently. In recognising this, perhaps then we can begin to work out what this unity business means. It doesn't imply the assimilation of individual faith into a big melting pot of syncretism. Nor does it imply that we must all be handed out the same creed. Finally, unity doesn't mean tolerance. Unity means a seeking to understand, a desire to share, a willingness to listen and the strength to be a humble witness.

Easier said than done though, ain't it?

Once the gospel becomes locked in one particular culture, instiution, or whatever then we will get sectarianism. Let's hope that Christians can follow the archetype of the stories of the hebrew faith in it's eventual shift from the partisan Yahweh to the universal YHWH. The boundaries were smudged when Isaiah decalred that God had a hand in the lives of the surrounding peoples. The implications for us and our faith, so easily set in smug defiance of God in the 'non-Christian' or even 'non-Catholic', 'non-Evangelical' ect., of this witness are quite profound.

ps. can you see how I might overcome the glitch that sees my latest webloggy entry stuck halfway down the screen. It's most annoying.

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