My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Friday, April 14, 2017

"I believe in the holy, catholic Church..."

My prayer is not for them alone. 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. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus while praying for his disciples on the night of his betrayal (John 17:20-21, NIV)

This is an open letter to my brothers and sisters in Christ who live in and around Chetek. This is not addressed to those who do not consider themselves disciples of Christ. This is for “insiders” - whatever their flavor or stripe or religious tradition may be – not “outsiders.” This is to “us”, not “them.” I'd like to hear how you understand this part of Jesus' earnest prayer as recorded in John 17. When he prayed “...that all of them may be one...just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” What I hear is that when it comes to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ of all men and women, unity is not a nice thing; it is an essential thing. Am I reading too much into these verses?

Current roster (missing - me!)

Here's why I bring up the subject. Our local ministerial is called (officially) the Chetek Christian Ministerial Association. It wasn't always so. When we moved to town in 1991 it was simply the Chetek Ministerial Association. But then one of our local pastors serving at that time forced the question: are we an association that welcomes all faiths (e.g., Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) or only “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3)? In other words were we an inclusive organization or an exclusive one? We had several talking sessions about this. I wouldn't refer to them as debates per se but there were a few among us at the time that were uncomfortable adopting a position that was considered restrictive or exclusive. Eventually a vote was taken and the majority opinion was confirmed: from henceforth we would be the Chetek Christian Ministerial and even though half of us are not what I would call credal churches the basis of our unity was agreement on the three historic creeds of the Christian Church: the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. The statements of Christian belief contained within these documents became the passwords into our fellowship. A few years later when some members from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ approached us about officially joining the ministerial they were denied because it wasn't clear to us who they understood the Person of Jesus Christ to be.

It might be dumbing down the whole thing but in a nutshell Jesus is the Main Thing. All the rest is details. Religious traditions and practices – details (and secondary or even lower details at that.) Views on the Second Coming (really only an evangelical preoccupation) – details. Tongues and all practice of spiritual gifts – details. Human sexuality – (gulp) – details. There's no way around it but when the E.L.C.A. adopted their official stance on same sex marriage as well as ordaining homosexuals in 2009, they made it a whole lot more challenging for the practice of local Christian unity (at least in Chetek). But having said that this, too, compared to the deity and lordship of Jesus Christ is details. In the First Century, Christian men frequented local temples in Corinth and engaged in promiscuous – (we would call it obscene) – behavior with temple prostitutes. And yet the Apostle Paul doesn't address them as perverts or miscreants; rather, he calls them “ those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy...” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
Presumably the Church of that century was made up of some shady characters or why else would Paul write, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer”, “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander” and “do not get drunk on wine” (Eph 4:28, 31; 5:18)? My point is that we are not united because we are all on the same page in the way we live our lives. Christians differ on matters regarding alcohol consumption, political affiliation, the right to carry a hand gun and whether or not we should be in Afghanistan. But we are united because we all agree that Jesus is our common Lord and Savior.

A simplification of the Athanasian Creed

So my question then is this: if we all agree with the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed why shouldn't we feel free to pray with one another? Prayer is all about agreement and in our affirming of these historic statements of faith we certainly concur together about the Main Thing). And yet in our community right now certain Christian leaders will not or feel they cannot join in corporate gatherings of the Church body because either Catholics (are they really even saved?) or ELCA Lutherans (too cozy with the gays) or Pentecostals (all that shecameinonahonda-stuff) might be there. Better to pray with our own kind. At least they abide by our rules.

Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca) wrote a farcical little book of fables and such called Squids Will Be Squids. In it there is the fable called “Straw and Matches” and it goes like this:

It was the end of summer vacation. Straw had done everything he could think of. He was bored. So he went to play with someone he had been warned to stay away from.

Let's play checkers,” said Straw.

Okay, I'm the red ones I get to move first I get two moves and you get one,” said Matches.

Forget it,” said Straw. “Let's play Ping-Pong instead.”

Okay, I get the good paddle you stand on that side I get to serve first and you have to close one eye,” said Matches.

Never mind,” said Straw. “Maybe we should just watch TV.”

Okay, you sit over there on the floor I'll sit on the couch I get the remote and we have to watch my favorite video,” said Matches.

I think I hear my mom calling,” said Straw. “I'd better go.”

Moral: Don't play with matches.

This is how some of our fellowships in our community make me feel when I suggest we come together to pray for our city. Apparently unless we play by their rules, on their field with their ball we can't play together. Whatever that is that is not unity. That's conformity. I get the feeling that some people around here feel unity is I smile at you as you go to your church while you smile at me while I go to mine. That's not unity. That's just being neighborly which any run of the mill pagan can do. We should expect more from each other.

If I were in charge, I would require every pastor from every Christian fellowship in our city to sit down once a week to have breakfast together. Over time something truly remarkable would flow out of that practice among many being recognition that we have more in common than we have differences. But I'm not in charge and even as mayor I don't have that kind of power.

We oughta do it more regularly
I love the Body of Christ – the Catholics, the Baptists, the Lutherans (both groups), the Methodists, the Covenanters, the Alliance, Advent and Refugees alike. And on Good Friday, when we all remembering the great cost for our salvation, it's a darn shame that we don't pray or play better together.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Well said, Jeff. The Roman Catholics can be somewhat exclusive (I know, I grew up one!), but as Catholics do, usually in Latin, they coined a phrase to be more inclusive - Et unitatis in - In unity with... They keep adding more and more :) Now if only they can become Et unitatis with the Unitarians!

Seriously, encouraging fellowship among different Christian faiths is a worthy endeavor. Start small. Who doesn't like food events? Invite everyone. encourage mingling. We're good people.