Thursday, December 4, 2008

reforming from within

“In humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” – Phil 2:3

The NY Times headlined the following article in yesterday’s paper: “Episcopal Split as Conservatives Form New Group.” As a soon-to-be Episcopal priest (God willing and the people consenting of course), people often ask my opinion on the current tensions that exist within the Episcopal Church. And as of late, I’ve just shrugged and mumbled something along the lines of, “I think it’s really sad.”

There’s something really sad about schism in Christ’s Church. After all, there is only one Church. And Jesus is the head of it. We may have 36,000 different Christian denominations (and the number grows every day), but that doesn’t mean that we have 36,000 churches. No. There’s only one Christian church. And any man, woman, or child whom Jesus draws to himself is a member. And I find nothing in the Bible or in our 2,000 year tradition or in the arena of human experience or reason to suggest otherwise. There is only one Body of Christ. And at present, we are a body of broken bones. And so when a group splits, another bone snaps. And I think that broken bones in Jesus’ body is really sad.

That being said, I’m glad that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the castle in Wittenberg in 1517. And yes, these “theses” did help spark the Protestant Reformation – a “split” from Rome. But Martin Luther’s original intention wasn’t to part with Rome. He wanted to be a reformer from within.

I think we need more reformers from within – more people willing to “stay put” when tensions arise. Because this issue of schism is more relevant to our lives than we’d care to admit. At the corporate level, it’s hard to maintain fellowship with churches that maintain doctrines and practices with which we disagree – whether the doctrines and practices be “conservative” or “liberal.” And at the personal level, it’s hard to “stay put” in a church when tensions arise. Leaving is the easy thing to do. In fact, many of us hop from church to church looking for the right doctrine or the right music or the right preaching. We seek not a church (in the Biblical sense of the word), but the “right religious goods" to consume.

Now, choosing a church – or choosing a denomination – isn’t an insignificant matter. I don’t advocate “letting the chips fall where they may.” But eventually we have to make a choice – and that choice should be an informed and prayerful one. But once we do, times will arise when it would be much easier to leave than to stay put. But is the “easy road” the path Jesus asks us to walk (Matt 7:14)? Why not stay put? Why not seek to be a reformer from within?

I began this entry with Phil 2:3. This verse is what “reforming from within” is all about. Reforming from within is about looking at people with whom we disagree, and then regarding them as better than ourselves. It’s about taking seriously the interest of others. It’s about having the mind of Jesus – which Paul then explains in terms of Jesus’ intentional death on behalf of others. Schism – at both the corporate and personal level – is often inevitable. But schism – in whatever form that it takes – usually comes about when people ON BOTH SIDES OF THE SPLIT arrogantly regard themselves as better than others; when they look primarily to their own interests and not to the interests of others; when they let the same mind be in them that was in Peter, who when hearing the thoughts of Jesus’ mind, said “God forbid it. This must never happen!” (Matt 16:22)

FOR THE WEEKEND: Figure out a practical way to be a “reformer from within.” Where’s the tension in your life – Your marriage? Your church? At the office? Sometimes schism is inevitable. But if you ever choose to part ways – whether it be with a church or in a relationship or at your job – make sure it’s not because you demonstrated the exact opposite of Phil 2:3.

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