Clearly I have no idea how to title this blog post. Perhaps I have way too much going on here. But my heart and head are still spinning with the events of yesterday at our consecration. I’m still a little raw. I’m still moved and touched by all the show of support we had. I’m still thinking ahead to all the ways this building is going to be used once we’re in a position to use it.
As stated, we had our Consecration of our new church yesterday. I had looked at all sorts of stuff online to help me shape the service. A pastor friend gave me his services he had used at a consecration nearly 20 years ago. I had never had to plan one of these and felt great pressure. After all, the Bishop was going to be here.
The problem with so much of the stuff I was looking at was that it was so “high church” and formal. “Process with Bible and Cross.” Tons of ritual. Lots of formal language. It looked great for the right setting. Our church is a lot more informal than this. None of this was going to feel particularly “Girdwoodian.”
This is not to say we don’t have important rituals in our church. No, rituals are very important. We have communion every week and go through the full liturgy. We have the kids come down for children’s time. We do the creeds often. It all just seems to have a more informal feel to it. It seems “common.” It seems “colloquial.”
Granted, this reflects me, personally. However, from a theological perspective, I don’t pretend to have some religious “realm” or state of being and some “secular” realm. I really don’t have a style of language I use in church and one I use at home. Or at least I try not to. Because I don’t think these two things can truly ever be separated. When Christ became incarnate he, as Petersons’ The Message says, “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1). He entered this real world with its real people and the salvation he offered was for the real world…with our own language and culture and problems. Yes, we need to be in awe of God. We should fear God. We should offer God reverence. But we can do so by offering who we are here and now. We stand before God, with all of our quirks and baggage and problems, and are redeemed in the real world and we offer that salvation to those around us in the real world.
One of the illustrations I use frequently in church to talk about the very worldly salvation that Christ offers is the problem of slavery in the US in the 1700s to 1800s where slaveowners would tell their slaves that they had to keep being slaves but that Christ had set them free IN THEIR HEARTS. It was a disembodied salvation. It was gnostic. It only “seemed” like salvation. And it’s wrong.
Likewise, a church that says it believes in a Christ that saves, but isn’t trying to transform its community is practicing the same kind of gnostic salvation — a salvation that doesn’t really transform anything at all.
Just as our salvation is one that is intimately connected with our skin, so the salvation the church offers is intimately connected with the community and the culture. Our faith is about changing how we live and how the world operates. I remember a preacher at Duke Divinity School that “God not only wants to save us in the ‘Sweet By and By’ but in the ‘Nasty Here and Now.’” The only religion worth its salt is one that is tranformational–of the individual and the world. (Remember our mission statement here at Girdwood Chapel: “Love God. Love others. Change the world.”)
That’s the understanding of salvation and faith I’ve tried to live and to teach and is why, yesterday at our dedication, we tried to connect with where our people are and why we had a question and answer time to include the community members in asking how we can, together, work to transform our community for the better. There is not a separate life for my faith, apart from how I live and experience the world. There is not a separate world of the church, apart from the community in which it finds itself.
I found the following quote from Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio that gets at the theological underpinnings here:
Much of modern culture, with its Gnostic undertones, alienates us from creation and its givenness. Theologian Colin Gunton sees the affirmation of the Incarnation as essential to our enthusiastic participation in creation and therefore in cultural life. “A world that owes its origin to a God who makes it with direct reference to one who was to become incarnate — part of the world — is a world that is a proper place for human beings to use their senses, minds and imaginations, and to expect that they will not be wholly deceived in doing so.”
Christians have the only account of human and natural origins that can give cultural life meaning. But even after 2,000 years of opportunity to reflect on the Incarnation, many contemporary Christians persist in believing in a Gnostic salvation, a salvation that has no cultural consequences. In such a dualistic understanding, our souls are saved, the essential immaterial aspect of our being is made right with God, but the actions of our bodies — what we actually do in space and time — are a matter of indifference if not futility. Salvation is an inward matter only. It affects our attitudes and some of our ideas. But insofar as our cultural activities have any Christian significance it is as mere marketing efforts — things we do to attract others to our essentially Gnostic salvation.
Believing in a gospel that has few earthly consequences is, ironically, just the sort of state our secularist neighbors would wish us to sustain. They, too, are dualists, believing that religion may be a fine thing for people, so long as they keep it private. Their secularism isn’t threatened by Christians as long as they aren’t too “Incarnational.” As long as the cultural lives of Christians aren’t significantly different from those of materialists and pagans, secularism is safe. Christians may pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” but as long as they don’t actually do anything that demonstrates how such a petition should affect their political, economic, and cultural activities, the Enlightenment legacy is safe.
That’s a great quote.