Monday, 19 May 2014

If the church were Christian . . . .

“While many denominations claim to be growing, the largest group in American religious life is the disillusioned – people who have been involved in the church yet see few similarities between the church’s life and the person of Jesus.  In the midst of elaborate programming, professional worship teams, and political  crusades, they ask, “Is this really what Jesus called us to do?”  - Philip Gulley 

Building on my previous blog ‘Into the Spiritual Wilderness’, so begins the flyleaf to Philip Gulley’s book “If the Church Were Christian – Rediscovering the Values of Jesus’, (2010). Diana Butler Bass, author of 'Christianity for the Rest of Us’ endorses the author’s effort as she declares “In an age of shouting, Gulley gently points out the flaws in the church while opening ways to practise Christian spirituality with greater integrity.  If the church were, as Philip Gulley envisions here, people would be knocking down our doors to experience God’s love.”

In this blog I have deliberately ‘borrowed’ Mr. Gulley’s ten chapter subheadings each beginning with “If the Church Were Christian . . . . . and  inserted my own or personal observations which you can read here.  While it was not my intent to usurp Mr. Gulley’s writings, which are much more elaborate and definitive, but simply to express my own thoughts and ideas in answer to each of these ten headings.   In that way I would ask each reader here to consider how they in-turn might answer each item according to their own and particular understanding.  In so doing Philip Gulley’s book can become an inter-active exercise toward building Jesus’ greater inclusive Kingdom here on earth.  

If the church were Christian, Jesus would be a model for living, not an object of worship.

The Gospels (see esp. Luke 9:1-6) are quite clear as to how we are to preach the Good News. Note that Jesus reminded his disciples to take nothing with them but only preach about the Kingdom of God and heal the sick. Nowhere do we read in the scriptures that this task should demand an exclusive membership to a particular religion or more precisely to adopt his Jewish religion. Jesus does not demand that we must follow and accept any fixed dogma or doctrine. Instead the role of a true disciple is merely to invite others to follow or imitate the life of Jesus.  We worship (praise or adore) whenever we imitate Christ.      

If the church were Christian, affirming our potential would be more important than condemning our brokenness.
Again and again the gospels remind us that God is more interested in our potential than our sins. There are no sins from which we cannot be forgiven whenever we are willing to ask. Jesus came to heal our brokenness and said that he came to save the sinner not the self-righteous.      

If the church were Christian, reconciliation would be valued over judgment.
Many of us were taught that we are somehow separate from God. Yet, we would not be here if God the Creator of all things and matter were not present in ALL people. Jesus came so that ALL - not some - may be reconciled with the Father. God’s judgment has everything to do with restoration and being filled with God’s unconditional love, not with punishment.

If the church were Christian, gracious behavior would be more important than right belief.
God reads hearts not minds.  As Kingdom people we must learn to accept people where they are not where we would have them be.  Right actions will lead us to right beliefs. All life is about change - nothing in our expanding universe remains static.

If the church were Christian, inviting questions would be more important than supplying answers.
Faith is a gift from God – not from a religious institution. “Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” – Brené Brown.  Faith is not a mystery to be defined but rather a mystery to be experienced  and addressed to our own unique and personal needs and questions.

If the church were Christian, encouraging personal exploration would be more important than communal uniformity.
"We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race." – Kofi Annan
“Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” -  Albert Einstein

If the church were Christian, meeting needs would be more important than maintaining institutions.
Then Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.  Mark 2:27

 If the church were Christian, peace would be more important than power.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” - John 14:27

If the church were Christian, it would care more about love and less about sex.
Jesus said “I came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it”. The question Christians should ask is, “fulfil it with what?”  And they would know that we need to interpret the law with our hearts, not our heads.  
If the church were Christian, this life would be more important than the afterlife.

Many Christians may have been mistakenly taught that they had to earn their way into heaven. If that were so, then none of us would make it.  However, God so loves the world that he cannot share his heavenly realm without every one of his Creations for even a minute. When we come to realize God’s unconditional love in this context we can truly begin to live our life in the present without fear of the future.

In addition to Mr. Gulley's insights into all of these ten observations, his book includes a special chapter dedicated to 'Discussion Questions' to help readers explore and evaluate each chapter.  You can visit Philip Gulley's website here

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