Free To Think…Bound to Serve
Christianity is more Doing than Doctrine:
Half of every relationship with God is the individual. God, who is timeless and constant, is known “as in a mirror dimly” while we live. We, who change and die, find our knowledge of God change throughout our lives. And we not only differ from our younger selves or who we shall become. We differ from each other. Temperament, experience, inclination give our approach to life different emphases. We each have our own perspective.
Some Christian traditions address this fact by establishing doctrine as definitive. Individuals subscribe to set teachings, by an act of will, and forgive themselves privately for being puzzled or unpersuaded by some of the formulations. Personal conviction is in the authority of the church which has decreed dogma.
Our tradition takes a different approach. We urge that for religion to be real, it must be based on a person’s honest beliefs. This means that each individual trusts himself or herself as a reader of scripture and a thinker about what is revealed there about God. We know we shall each understand God a bit differently from each other, and that the inevitable limitation of our understanding will carry through all the concepts which are part of our religious life. We trust God’s grace and the Spirit’s work to keep us in community, and to keep us ministering to the world.
We are required, as followers of Jesus Christ, to love others. Feeding, healing, forgiving, clothing, and paying attention to those with needs is the way Jesus embodied God’s approach to life. We must do the same. The twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel states that it is caring for other people, and not profession of religious views, which counts with God.
The church long has aimed to make its Christianity a matter of active service, and long has accepted open, earnest inquiry as part of its character. For twenty years we’ve summed up this approach to discipleship with the credo “Free to Think, Bound to Serve.”
THIS MONTH’S ESSAY FROM THE PASTOR
“I’m giving up smoking,” he said, ” and I’m telling everybody, because I figure the more people I tell, the more pressure there will be on me to stick with it.” “So should I print it in the church newsletter that you’re giving up smoking?” I asked. “Sure, better yet.” That was years ago. He since has given up smoking, on the fourth or fifth try. Back when he was relying on public declaration and its attendant accountability to help, it didn’t work. He resumed smoking and faced down the slight surprise of those who knew him. The church has for years challenged itself to more responsible discipleship by listing on the back of the bulletin, under “Minister”, “Members of First Baptist Church.” (There’s a separate line to identify the pastor.) We are doing it again. The Deacons directed that we add to the outside bulletin board the words “All Are Welcome.” That’s a more daring claim than that the membership ministers, since ministering to the world’s needs can mean a lot of things. It would be unusual if people who already knew and cared about others didn’t offer them support during difficulty. It would be common enough that persons aware of human tragedy at some remove–tornado victims in the Midwest, or political refugees overseas–felt called to contribute to their relief. Consciously and consistently welcoming any and every person who shows up at the church, on the other hand, will only result from determined Christiianity. We’ll be practicing what we preach, and that’s exciting. Loving other people from the conviction that all strangers are children of God who need the care and attention of a God-focused community will help us to be our best selves. We’ll need God’s help. Each of us should pray, “Lord, help me be the welcoming person who confirms the promise the church is making to the world.” That will help us if, like most people, we find it uncomfortable to initiate even a slight social connection with people who belong to different social groups than us, people with whom it is unclear how to establish common ground. What the sign now declares is that we collectively feel the calling to be hospitable. We are telling the world that we want strangers to join us, and no longer be strangers, but brothers and sisters in faith. We are promising that the ordinary prejudices and misgivings which many persons have grown accustomed to encountering when they try to “fit in” won’t be an obstacle with us. This is the right way to work at being Christian. It never has been an easy way. The Letter of James, written in the period of early Christiany’s expansionin , in the first thirteen verses of chapter two reproves a church for showing a preference for rich and respectable visitors. That was a human tendency almost two thousand years ago, so it won’t surprise us to discover that we have to pray, and persevere, not to find ourselves lapsing into the same approach. Peace, Mac