The article in New York Times “Can liberal Christianity be saved” on 14 July 12 by Ross Dothat was provocative for many don’t believe in atonement or salvation now faced with the need for redemption themselves. Perhaps the church as a whole was declining and those trying to save the church from her own evil ways such as causing harm against the gay community goes down first.
Some are so dogmatic about being “Progressive” and “Post Modern” yet what is left without atonement and justification from sin or beyond the miracles and supernatural aspects of Christianity.
We say that the churches needed to change and follow the enlightened ones to survive and be revelant, to be progressive and post modern. Yet, the depth, duration of half a century, and irreversible trend of demise is hard to deny for the Episcopalian Church and United Churches.
The distinct voice emphasising the humanity of God in Jesus Christ, the physical touch of love and embrace of Christ in kinship will never be lost. Ironically, Bishop John Shelby Spong cried out loudly “Why the conservative church must change or die”, when it is his church that was dying.
What is wrong with bridging the gap between the power structures, to feed the poor and the sick, and to stand by the outcasts? There is a large number of questionioning people, exploring what faith means, how to “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”, to see spiritual redemption as guided by social justice and kinship. But they are doing it individually and not in church groups.
Can the church be saved? does it need saving?
I am reminded by my visit to the Pitt St Uniting church in Sydney. It was mostly white, middle class, high intellect. Perhaps that is the problem with some churches – middle class and highly intellectual (even though inclusive and welcoming even of other faiths). It was rapidly declining from a church that could fit a thousand to barely a hundred elderly folks.
How do we move from intellectual heaven of Yale and Harvard to the back lanes of society and build a church at the edge of humanity – an impossibility for they are at the two ends of the Maslow hierachal of needs unless it is a gay church.
The liberals knew that something very wrong with the exclusive and power/control/wealth driven church hierachal and that the church must change. They tried to have a new theological framework of doing church but ended up in free fall decline.
Redemption is not in our secular humanity of the 60s season of radical love but in Christ the Messiah and His finished works at the Cross.
It was not to survive (for the church has survived and gone from strenght to strenght for a thousand years) by any means but to be saved from own herself and have her soul be redeemed and returned to Jesus Christ as her centre.
Mat 16: 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood,but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
The powers of Satan, the powers of darkness will not overcome a church that is based on Christ, being revealed as the Lord and Saviour. We stand on the rock that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life to God.
A church or a denomination can be large with a billion in attendance? but replaced Christ as her center with other mortal gods. Some churches are fallen in the inside but on the outside looked white, pure and holy.
We have replaced Christ with the smaller rock, our carnal man based humanity that is based on control, power and wealth and oppression of the weak.
We start moving in the road to redemption when we proclaim Christ, the risen Lord, who gave mercy and grace contrary to the religious law based faith that was prevailing. Jesus was killed not because He caused trouble, but because He claimed Himself to be equal to God, to be God incarnate.
We proclaim the mystery of Christ incarnate and we become the hands and feet of Christ to continue on the message of the Gospel and the ministry of Christ. It is not a message of the law, but of love shown not only in the message of hope for a heavenly destination but of blessings, provisions, justice and support for those who sought Jesus out in the desert.
Jesus was focused on both the earthly and heavenly needs of those who sought for Him in the deserts of life. He didn’t live in the city but roam from the outskirts. When the crowds were hungry and sick, they got fed and healed miraculously.
Yet, Jesus was not the misunderstood activist, His goal was very clear. He wasn’t going to change the world and the power structures, for His Kingdom was a heavenly kingdom. He came to call us back into communion with God amidst the very many religious faith and claims to be the way to God. But when we are changed on the inside, we begin to change the world around us and make a difference.
Jesus came to proclaim both the Kingdom of God where our citizenship is eternal, and kindom of God where radical love governs our relationship for one and another for those within our kingdom of faith.
How do others know we are from God? Jesus asked? by the way, the Christian community loves each other (John 13:34-35). And this love extends not only to those within the Kingdom, for to those outside. For if we love our own kind, we are no different than the world. But if we love those who are against us and causes us harm, because of our faith in Jesus, truly we are born of God. For Jesus loved us, even though we as humanity killed Him. (Mat 5:44).
Jesus was killed not because He went against the religious power structures and the political powers, but because He chose to die. But He made it clear that He died with the message that He is God incarnate and that His death will bring the path of forgiveness and redemption to those who killed Him when hitherto “salvation” was by obedience to the law or religious good works.
Luke 2: 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
As a child, Jesus went into the temple and engaged in an intellectual discussion with the teachers for three days! whilsts His parents were desperately searching for Him. Some churches spent years in the temple of theological reflection.
There is clearly a space and a forum for intellectual discussions and questioning on what faith means and the religious texts demands of us. But it is not to be imposed as the Christian Right has done by insisting that gays be put in prison.
The forum for intellectual faith discussion on the different aspects of Christian faith is one where we treat each other as equals and worthy to be listened to with utmost respect. All of us are equally guilty of being too dogmatic.
The conversation, and intellectual discussion with the religious elite didn’t change them or the religious environment. Reflective theology tickled their minds and thinking but didn’t change their hearts.
When Jesus in His humanity had compassion and healed and fed the thousands, it impacted them, but all was forgotten when they shouted crucify Him at the Cross of Calvary.
Without faith in Jesus death and resurrection, we could not be the temple of the Holy Spirit for inward change to start occuring. Jesus Christ is the brigde, the doorway into the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God must come into our hearts and we must open our hearts and minds to God to let the Holy Spirit change us inwardly. This comes when are hearts are soft to allow communion with God, to listen to the still voice of God rather than have our way, and to connect with God at a spiritual level not only at an intellectual level.
We may have come to God through the law based legalistic religious needs of wanting to conform to the prevailing notion of Christianity where homosexuality is considered a sin by their intepretation of the religious laws.
Like the Pharisees, it is hard work to reach God through the religious laws and they ultimately sinned by killing God Himself.
When we believe that Jesus could make us straight, when He has created us as a gay person, we are killing ourselves and blaiming Jesus for it. We were into a law based religion and not the Christian faith whose foundation is in God’s radical love, grace and mercy through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Can the church be saved?
Can there be salvation for the church so steeped in religious laws of good works and obedience to man made laws, devoid of the centrality of Christ where the communion with Jesus has been replaced with the confession to the priests and allegience to the pope and the church hierachal.
God is not interested in our religious intellect or strict religious obdience to our interpretation of the ancient religious laws, it always has been a journey of faith in Jesus death and resurrection, Hope of eternity with Jesus, and a love for God translated in communion and fellowship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
The love for Jesus is also translated into the love for the other especially those at the edge of the body of Christ – the Christian gay community who has been so victimised and condemned by all.
When Christ is the center of it all, the church will stand on the solid rock instead of the man made rock of mere carnal humanity. When Jesus was at the Cross of Calvary, He said “it is finished”, for all might and authority was at the Cross despised by men but the way and the path to God and for the salvation of the church.