Thursday, February 08, 2007

God's Quarrelsome Children


I am increasingly aware, and increasingly disturbed, by something I see in Christendom. We must stop sniping at each other if we are to have any credibility at all in this world.

Remember the words to "Onward Christian Soldiers"? When I was a child that was the hymn of choice for us, the children who marched into the church sanctuary carrying the American flag and the Christian flag. We First Baptist kids sang and marched and filed into our seats during Vacation Bible School each summer as Mrs. Polk pounded out the tune on a spinet piano. I loved the imagery of the song. Here is one verse:

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

It just doesn't sound the same to say "Siblings, we are treading..." I suppose. :-)
I know some Christians dislike the combative images in hymns such as this (and I am aware that some have used them inappropriately), but I am not one who wants to remove all such songs from the hymnbook. Scripture makes very clear that we are indeed in a battle. It is a battle against our old nature (Remember the Apostle Paul's cry in the Epistle to the Romans, "Who shall deliver me...wretched man that I am?") and against the forces of darkness.

Darkness of a spiritual kind brings poverty, injustice, disease, division, hatred, bitterness, pride, lewdness, slander etc. Ephesians 6, verses 10 and following tells us that we are to put on the whole armor of God and describes in detail just what that armor consists of--and why it is that we are putting on this armor. It is not so we can wage war against people ("flesh and blood" says the King James Version), but so we can effectively battle against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

We can debate theology and discuss just what that last part means and just what "darkness" is and who are the "evil spirits in heavenly places." That, however, is not the point of this post. The point is this--I am quite sure that this chapter DOES NOT refer to others in the "Body of Christ," the Church Universal--those who are my fellow believers in Christ Jesus. Perhaps they aren't? Of course. Going to church doesn't make one a disciple of the Lord. But who am I to say where someone else stands with the Lord because we disagree about something?
 
Yesterday, cleaning my office, I was distracted by a couple of old magazines. One, a charismatic publication, contained scathing letters to the editor because the magazine had dared to put Pope John Paul II on their cover and even write a positive article about him in the weeks following his passing.
 
Last week, looking for images, I used some some very innocent search terms about worship styles. I was horrified when what arose on my monitor was an extremely offensive picture of a feminine idol. The article accompanying the picture described, in vitriolic but educated-sounding terms, how those of us who lift our hands in worship are participating in pagan, dark, deceptive practices. Many scriptures were wrestled out of context to make this bizarre and scurrilous argument. I was well and truly shocked--and here I thought I had gotten past the point where some rant on the Internet could do that to me.

I've recently read derogatory and stereotypical remarks from mainline people about evangelicals and charismatics. I've also read or heard plenty of snide and prideful things from evangelicals about the "liberals' in the mainline branch--each side dismissing the other as if we do not have the same Lord.

Not long ago I posted a comment on the website of a minister known for his strongly patriarchal views. My comment was dismissed with the retort that my egalitarian words had about as much credibility as Mein Kamph or The Communist Manifesto. I was told that a woman pastor was a greater spectacle than a worship team where the women were flashing thighs and bellybuttons.

Recently one of our denominations district leaders was criticized for writing an excellent piece about how prayer could be written out beforehand when we pastors were participating in public gatherings, and why that was a good thing. Apparently someone took issue with the fact that he suggest that prayer could ever be anything but extemporaneous.

Have we lost our minds?
 
Malachi 6:8 succinctly instructs us about what God requires: "O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."
 
And what about these instructions?
 
Galatians 5:14-16 "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh."
 
And are we just choosing to ignore some of the final prayers of Jesus (in John 17) that his followers would be one with him and with the Father--and known in this world by their love and unity one with another?
This morning I attended the area ministerial meeting. Conversation turned to music styles and struggles with the pros and cons of contemporary versus traditional music. The consensus was that we wished we could have it all, beautifully and worshipfully and skillfully done, no matter whether the instrument is a pipe organ or an electric guitar or whether the singers are a robed choir or a jeans-clad praise team. We concluded that it wouldn't happen till we were worshipping in heaven.

As we sat around the table sipping coffee and later praying together and making plans for our ecumenical Good Friday worship service, I was struck with the diversity of the clergy. Two Catholic priests, two kinds of Lutherans, me (from the Assemblies of God), one Methodist, three from the United Church of Christ, and so on. This group has not always been trouble free. Our theology and our worship styles and our customs and our traditions differ widely. And yet, as I bowed my head and prayed for needs among the group and then as we recited The Lord's Prayer together, I was (once again) aware of the sweet presence and peace of God.
Loving my neighbor includes my neighbor from that "other church" too. My "enemy" who uses me spitefully should not be my fellow believer. And vice versa.
Dear God, help us, your quarrelsome children. We are brats sometimes, fighting and critisizing those within our own church families and lobbing grenades of misunderstaning and arrogance and foolish pride at those with whom we disagree--or who we just don't understand. Forgive me, gracious Lord, for the times I have spoken when I should have been silent, or when I have judged someone's heart. I am ashamed to realize how much pride lurks in my own heart. May we see the day when we are one in faith, a mighty army of the Lord, who the world knows are disciples of Jesus Christ because of how we love. Amen

9 comments:

D. P. said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I wish you could be my pastor, Singing Owl!

Quotidian Grace said...

A great, thoughtful post! I'm also a fan of Onward Christian Soldiers in the right spirit.And I love your new blog look, too.

P.S. an after-thought said...

Well put.

Weekend Fisher said...

Go, Owl! Thank you.

Psalmist said...

Dear Singing Owl! There's so much grace here! I'm still having trouble over the sex-obsessed religious leader who dared to accuse you as he did. Thank you for reminding me I MUST pray for him. I know it, but I've been stubbornly refusing. The biggest harm that does is allowing my indignation to fester and poison my own soul.

I love my pastor, who is gifted and effective and who could be a true sister to you, I think. But you have pastored me, countless times. Just thought I should again thank you for that. (Next to "blessing" in the dictionary, should be your picture!)

Jeni said...

This little village where I live and which I have always called "home" even when I lived in other areas, had a terrible time for many years with prejudical behavior with respect to differing religions. Until only the past 30 years, Lutherans and Catholics openly taught -from the pulpit - that their members should not associate with anyone from other churches. Much of this was fueled by being an immigrant community and people not understanding others basic customs and language and thankfully, it is becoming a thing of the past now too.

Singing Owl said...

D.P. I would probably be totally intimidated. ;-) But that sure is a wonderful compliment, coming from you!

Thank you, QP! I like your new blog look too.

HI, P.S. How is your mom?

W.F. Thank you. I thought you might understand this post. :-)

And Psalmist, my cyber sis, I am blessed by you as well. Someday I sure hope we can meet. Maybe if I can get my mothet to Texass some way to visit her 91-y.o. sis we can work something out.

Jeni, the same was true in this town, from what I have heard. And still happens in one church that shall remain nameless.

Singing Owl said...

I meant QG. You knew that, right?

Iris said...

Thank you.

(o)