11.01.2006

Staying Attached

I am a follower of Jesus before I am a Presbyterian -- so if being a Presbyterian ever required me to be disloyal to my commitment to Jesus, I'd be out! However, even with things as they are in the PCUSA these days, there is no way I can say that being a member of a congregation in that denomination compromises my ability to be obedient in anything at all.

We have a million independent congregations of Christians in our country (poetic language, not an actual count!), and there are many doctrinally sound, thriving, God-honoring congregations among them -- so I do not mean in this post to disparage any of them for not being a part of a larger denomination. However, I do believe there is real value to an individual congregation participating in a larger community with accountability and commitments, and that there is a greater likelihood of real error (and of failure to be obedient followers of Jesus as a community) in a situation where leaders are not formally connected to the leaders of other congregations in relationships of real accountability and mutual commitments.

We live in a world of individualism and independence. "I can believe what I want to believe and do what I want to do, and you're wrong to tell me that I should believe or do anything else as long as I'm not hurting anyone!" And this spirit permeates our congregations as well!

We have a greater commitment to "my own beliefs and convictions" than we do to any community of faith. We shop around for the "perfect church", and feel not only right to leave when a "better church" comes along, but seem to believe we are wrong to stay in the church we perceive as "less" in some way -- less alive, less anointed, less conservative, less missional, less evangelical, less doctrinally correct.

But -- as I've written a lot about in previous posts -- the Christian life cannot be lived alone. It is not just a matter of individual conscience, faith, and practice. It is a commitment to "the Holy Catholic Church" -- the world-wide community of faith in all denominations and congregations -- and although we do not have a unified "Church in the World", we do have the ability to join our congregation to a community of other congregations and participate formally in the on-going way the Holy Spirit works in community. Koinonia is not just a matter of individuals joining in community, but of those communities joining in community!

Part of community is disagreements and "growing apart". Our Christian beliefs tell us that, when this happens in marriage, there is enough of a value to that small community of the family and to the commitments made in marriage that we invest everything we need to invest into coming back together again and into keeping the commitments we made. (Even here, though, our American individualism has erroded the Christian beliefs, and our practice is to urge people to stop "wasting their lives" on putting so much energy into a commitment that they really don't need to keep -- not in their circumstances! Don't get me wrong -- I do believe divorce is a necessary reality and that obedience to Jesus occasionally leads us right there. However, I also believe we've allowed Jesus' real values to be distorted in our minds and lives in this place.) Obedience requires that we care enough about our commitments that we keep them -- even in and through conflict and pain and embarrassment and great cost -- until and unless the cost of keeping those commitments is disobedience to the clear leading of the triune God. (That is part of the AGAPE that Jesus told us was to be our primary identifying characteristic to the rest of the world!)

All of the congregations in the PCUSA were started by the denomination. All of the ordained ministers in the denomination who minister to our congregations have been nurtured by the denomination in many ways, and have made vows in their ordination to the larger community of faith found in the denomination itself. And both the ordained ministers and the congregations who owe their existance to the PCUSA have an obligation -- as followers of Jesus -- to do what Jesus wants them to do in their commitment to the PCUSA.

I am grateful that the leaders of my congregation know the value of community, and the value of being faithful to our commitments until and unless our primary commitment to the triune God requires a break in those commitments. We are called to embrace the struggle to call the whole community of faith to faithfulness -- and we cannot do that at all if we show ourselves eager to break huge commitments just because we do not like spiritual warfare.

We have been told that the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. How much more, then, will the hearts of our brothers and sisters be opened by the Holy Spirit when we are willing to answer the call to a battle by living out real AGAPE -- speaking the TRUTH in love, setting whatever boundaries we can set while still maintaining our commitments, and exercising grace and humility toward each other.

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