Saturday, May 31, 2008
The Foundational Church
When my brother had children in the 50’s he and his wife decided that they would not take their children to church, but let them decide about faith when they were grown. My sister-in-law had been raised in the strict Southern Baptist tradition. And Bob had moved so many times during his childhood that he did not have occasion to really belong to a single denomination or church family. When their children came of age, faith was not an experience that they could absorb. My eldest niece found the strictures of the Roman Catholic Church of her husband absurd and ridiculous. The scientific training of her college work was all she needed. My nephew has accepted the traditions of his wife and goes to church regularly but I do not believe he “gets it”. He doesn’t know the stories, the sense of belonging that comes from being a part of God’s family. And my younger niece has absorbed the Christianity of Texas society without having attended church. It is filled with oughts and have-tos with more law than gospel. My family cannot embrace the faith because they don’t have the foundations. And if they do come to have a personal relationship with God, they are not going to know how to embrace the wholeness of faith because the bedrock of the faith isn’t there. Christianity is not a faith to be lived alone. We come together because faith is not to be lived privately.
Now, I did not grow up with a faith community either. But when I came to faith, I spent an inordinate amount of time learning my faith, learning the foundations so that I could enter into the relationship with God and others. I have said it before and I will always say it: Jesus came to teach us how to love God and how to love one another in community—that he came to save sinners is just a wonderful abundance of grace. It is in the community of faith that we most clearly learn the foundations of faith.
The Gospel reading we have today—the “3 Little Piggies Gospel”, I call it—the story of the home builders who built on sand and on rock, is one I often use at weddings. When a couple builds their relationship upon the rock of Christ’s love, then when tough times come, their relationship with each other can withstand the assaults of life together. Jesus tells this parable about building the right foundations for our faith.
It is for this reason that the reformers that wrote the Book of Deuteronomy in about 600BC; they called for a teaching of the law of God to the children. They were to teach the laws to their families; it was to be a foundational part of their growing up and essential to be members of the Israelite community.
Foundations are important to faith. The fundamentalists denominations believe that faith is best articulated by the Bible and so they hold onto Biblical teaching as if it was an end, in and of itself. The Bible is a tool of our faith—not an object of our faith. Church is a tool of the faith, not an end, in and of itself. It is the people who hold the essence of faith—the community of those who are being about the transforming love of Christ.
In her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, Diane Butler Bass writes of the foundations of the Church. She has studied mainline Protestant churches all over the country and compared them to the mega churches of the Evangelical right. She has found that the mainline churches that are growing are ones who have addressed the foundations of faith. She is not talking about Bible study or education in denominational history or tradition. She is talking about the kind of fundamentals that have to do with our relationship with God.
Bass says that those churches which practice intentional hospitality, discernment, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, reflection and beauty grow. They do not grow like the mega-fundamentalist churches in individual saved souls; they grow in being Christian communities that make an impact of loving on their surroundings.
Foundational Christianity is a faith that is mindful of its responsibility to others. It is not about individual salvation—it is about what happens when Christ transforms us through the love that God pours down upon us in salvation. It is not a passive faith. It is about being a way—a plan by which one exercises their faith with gratitude and awe.
Fundamentalist faith is about the first step of faith —surrendering to Christ, but all too often stops there. It is about individual salvation rather than the transformative faith that is found in Christ’s life. Christianity is about changing lives, and about changing society.
During my lifetime, I have seen this nation move from being a Christian nation to a post-modern era. Now we can shake our heads and say, “Ain’t it awful.” Or we can be about living in our present age and be about its transformation. Since the era of the 3rd century western civilization has been marked by Christian dominance. Perhaps in our own age, we are returning to that time before Christianity was identified with government. Perhaps now we can be about what I believe Christ meant for the Followers of the Way to be —transformers of society.
If our churches are about radical hospitality, discernment of actions, healing and forgiveness, contemplation, testimony and witness, diversity and acceptance, justice, worship, reflection and beauty, the people who attend them will be about changing the society they live in. I am not talking about parish programs to feed the poor here. I am talking about the changed hearts of those who attend here being about the kind of change that comes when we live our Christianity to the fullest—when we are able to make decisions based upon our faith rather than on what is convenient or expedient.
We have too many people attending St. Luke’s to ignore that we can change the world. Granted in our lifetimes, it may be only felt here in the Southern Tier, but it can be about changing the world. We are about changing the world of our communities now—but to what end? Are we changing our communities so that they will be more hospitable, discerning? diverse? Accepting? Just? Etc.
One of the things that Foundational Churches are doing is being more aware of their ministry. They are being intentional in living out their faith. They are trying to be clear about what they have found in being loved by God. They are sharing what they have found in loving one another—how to get along with others. They have found a sense of shalom —a type of balance in their lives through the faith and community that is church.
I must admit it was that balance –that shalom that attracted me to St. Luke’s. It is here. And it is that equilibrium that invites others to be part of you. It is not for nothing that the ancient Hebrews put so much stock in shalom. This is not just peace; it is a sense of active well-being that does not become stagnant. It is kind of sense of things being right and holy. Our church needs to be a place of shalom. It is this that the coming generations are going to need as we have over populated the world. St. Luke’s needs to be a place of grace where respect and shalom is the calling card of our life together.
We are to teach these foundational issues to our children. They need to know that it is within our common faith we find a place to raise children that come to know that shalom, that genuine sense of balance in Christ Jesus. Others will come searching for that quality of faith—that quality that is transforming our lives together. Christianity is not a treasure that is to be kept. It is a quality to be shared so that we can live in shalom—in peace, in grace, in balance and with support. AMEN