The Church

Extra ecclesium nulla salus.  

There is no salvation outside of the church.  

This proclamation set a standard for “the church” to dictate who is in and who is out; who is saved and who is damned.  Sadly, this misguided ideology hasn’t worn off much over the years and we have been left with an image of a church that is guarded, judgmental, and hateful.  

I would argue that the idea of “the church” is a fallacy to begin with.  There are many churches,  but not one church.  It is unfortunate that the pervading thought is that there is one church with such a reputation and arguably, deservedly so.  

But what is the alternative?  What would “the church” look like if we were to build it again today?  What would a good template be for individual bodies and communities that seek to be who they are called to be?  

I can recall marching in the Chicago Pride Parade wearing my clerical collar with cutoff sleeves and shorts and having people hug me with tears in their eyes as they thank me for accepting and loving them.  While this is touching, it isn’t right.  Nobody should have to thank anyone for accepting them for the beautiful creation that they are.  

Many churches (though far from all or even enough) have become more open, accepting, and welcoming.  There is a high degree of tolerance, but something is still greatly lacking.  There is a hope for something more like the plea of Pink and Nathan Ruess, “Just give me a reason, just a little bit’s enough just to say that we aren’t broken, just bent, and we can learn to love again.”

I think that’s a big part of it: LOVE.  Love is not exclusive.  Love is not even tolerant.  Love is purely relational and this includes people we don’t agree with and people who are not like us in whatever way.  

1 John 4:17-21 says: 

“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

We need to turn to the core needs of all people when considering building the church.  One of those core needs is love.  We need a safe space to wrestle with the deep difficult questions without fear of being ostracized or fed empty platitudes.  We need a place to marry our intellect with our feelings and yearnings and not have to exclude either.  We need genuine and real community where we can experience connection.  We need room to wander with reassurance that we are still at home and home will be there when we return from our wandering.

I cannot claim to know exactly what this church should look like.  We see glimpses of it in churches that we know and attend, but there is still more that is needed.  What would it look like to not merely be welcoming, but to co-create this community with those who are already there, with those who stumble upon them in their wanderings, and with God?

We have become more and more comfortable with accepting people of other faiths, but are still extremely squeamish with people who approach Jesus in their own unique ways.  It seems that we need to learn to be open to people entering the church with their own mindset and relationships with Jesus and be comfortable and radically welcoming of it.

In fact, we use the language of welcoming for people to come into “our” churches.  But is the church really ours?  Indeed it is not “ex ecclesium nulla salus,” but instead we too are guests on this holy ground prepared for us by God.

What of contemplative practices?  We often turn to eastern religions when wanting to experience at-one-ment with God, the universe, our True Selves, and all that is beyond us.  We seek enlightenment, but overlook the practices that are a part of our own tradition.  Why not embrace all of these practices and delve into them with a great sense of wonder and intentionality?  

Meditate that we might become enlightened.  Do yoga that the kundalini may be full realized within.  Live into the True Self while feeling the white light pour down upon your crown chakra and through you to the ground of being.  And at the same time, embrace the centering prayer, mantras, and all of the contemplative practices of Christianity reflected when Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world, that light dwells within us, and the Kin-dom of God is already a reality waiting to be birthed from within us.

What is the fear?  Why not let go and as Howard Thurman reminds us, trust the ru’ah hakodesh?  Let’s have a conversation and start co-creating this thing together.  Let’s do this that we may hear the “sound of the genuine in one another” and “So that when I look at myself through your eyes having made that pilgrimage, I see in me what you see in me and the wall that separates and divides will disappear and we will become one because the sound of the genuine makes the same music.” 

One Response to “The Church”

  1. Jon Shima Says:

    Preach Pastor! Isn’t in Christ ? Yes the church is the body of Christ but it is for everyone who chooses to recognize Him and their Creator and Father.

    I agree we can do it in many ways. Yoga, meditation, music, writing. Yes I believe it is with the love of Christ which is unconditional beyond human understanding.

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