Friday, February 20, 2015

Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine

A friend of mine reminded me of this hymn recently. Although not one of my favorites it is one that I like. But I have a problem with it. 

Jesus is not mine and the idea that he might be possessed by anyone is not only bad theology but dangerous. That be a redundant statement. Bad theology is always dangerous, but this piece of bad theology is very dangerous. 

Believing that Jesus is somehow my possession leads very quickly to the belief that I have the whole truth, that I am right and everyone else is wrong. If I am relatively powerless this delusion may only make my friends uncomfortable. If I have power, especially military power, this delusion can be deadly.
It is this delusion that has become deadly with the so-called Islamic State. But it is also this delusion we encounter among some Christians who not only claim that they know Jesus but act like they know him perfectly. When you put it that way it's obvious that they are deluded. We can never know another human person perfectly, so how can we know Jesus perfectly? How can we claim to know, with no possibility of error, the answer to WWJD? (What would Jesus do?)
Recognizing that we are not infallible, that our understanding of the truth is always gong to be in some measure wrong, is an important virtue for Christians - and everyone else - in this age. What if the church, as the Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall wrote thirty years ago, "began to understand that it really does not possess any truth? What if it began on earnest to think of itself as being possessed by a truth that forever eludes it?" (Has the Church a Future? p. 106) If, as we Christians confess, Jesus is the Truth, then Hall is right in asserting that our "ideas and doctrines and theological explanations" of Jesus are not the truth. They are, at best, glimpses of the truth, like things seen through a glass darkly, and they are, at worst, self-serving attempts to hijack Jesus, to claim divine sanction for our own desires.
The kind of humility which I think we need does not mean that we have to stop bearing witness to the Gospel, to stop speaking and acting as Christians. Far from it. It is arrogance and not boldness that we need to avoid. The awareness that we may well be wrong should not stop us from acting or speaking boldly. It should, however, compel us to listen after we speak, to reflect after we act, and to stand ready to change. We need to trust the promise that we find in John 16:13. "When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." Trust it as a promise, as something that is already happening, but is not completed.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Improvising Christian

Many years ago I had an experience of God's love that brought me to tears. It was one of  those experiences, and there have been others during my life, that deepened my relationship with God. What happened more than once as I talked about the experience with others was that I received advice about what I needed to do after such an experience. Spending at least 30 minutes in prayer each morning was just one of the prescriptions that I was given.
Some of the prescriptions I tried; others I ignored. As my friend and colleague Polly Bowen says, there are no cookie-cutter Christians. The Christian life is an improvisation, not only for each of us but also for the congregations to which we belong. We can get helpful advice from others as we discern how God wants us to go deeper, but it's only advice, not a prescription. Congregations can learn from the experiences of other congregations, but thinking that we can simply do what they did and have the same results is foolish.
I am beginning my fourth year as a Priest Associate at Trinity Church in Topsfield, Massachusetts. It is a wonderful community and like every other congregation to which I have belonged it needs to discern what God has in store for it this year. That discernment is likely to be improvisational, a trying out of different spiritual practices and of different new ministries. That discernment will involve a fair amount of listening, to one another and, as each of prays in our own ways, to God.