Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Judging the Faith

From Wikimedia Commons
Growing up, I was given an understanding1 of what it was to be a Christian. There were points on which it was muddled, but the center remained the same - the Christian is one who has professed with his mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. If someone has made this declaration and confessed their sins, they're heaven bound (of course, they must have confessed it sincerely).

This created a few interesting problems. The church became a tribe of those "in" whose mission was to reach those "out" by any means possible. Because of this, understanding who was "out" became very important. Clear identification and classification of the Other became an important part of the Christian education, and an utter isolation of the faithful from those to whom they were sent was the result.

On the flipside, the faithful too got left behind. The mission of the church was to get the others "in," so the needs and concerns of those already part of the tribe was at best secondary. And God forbid you have a mission to minister to those in the church. No, the mission of every Christian was solely to reach the Other.

Obviously, I think this was mistaken, but I don't want to be misunderstood, there is something very admirable in it. Afterall, the ideal of this system was a tribe of people wholly devoted to the benefit of the Other. Their entire existence was saving "the lost" from a sinking ship. It might be alienating and unsustainable, but the model of self-sacrifice advocated here is at the very least respectable.

I don't think its right, however. The call of the Christian life is fidelity to Christ. We live in a limited, imperfect world, and we're chasing after the Supreme Good.

And we're never going to arrive.

That's the beauty of it. Our God is infinite, His goodness without limit. Even after this life there will be, as C.S. Lewis puts in in The Last Battle, "Further up, and further in."

So we always seek, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to draw near to Christ, that through Him the Father might be revealed to us. And because we recognize this as the Supreme Good, we do our best to share it with others, to draw them as close to Him as we can. This means, in the end, that its a good thing if we can help them to recognize Him as the Good, but sometimes it means a cup of cold water or a shoulder to cry on.

It also means there's no "in" or "out," just moving towards or away from Him. We minister to those in our lives, and Christ alone decides the rest.
1. I am primarily speaking here of what I was taught in church. As with many of the things in my upbringing I have rejected, I don't think this is really the understanding my parent's gave me.