If We Were Christian

Church: Old and New

If We Were Christian
Friday, November 1, 2019
All Saints’ Day

A Circle expands forever
It covers all who wish to hold hands
And its size depends on each other
It is a vision of solidarity
It turns outwards to interact with the outside
And inward for self critique
A circle expands forever
It is a vision of accountability
It grows as the other is moved to grow
A circle must have a centre
But a single dot does not make a Circle
One tree does not make a forest
A circle, a vision of cooperation, mutuality and care
—Mercy Amba Oduyoye [1]

Hospitality is the practice that keeps the church from becoming a club, a members-only society. —Diana Butler Bass [2]

Practical, practice-based Christianity has been avoided, denied, minimized, ignored, delayed, and sidelined for too many centuries, by too many Christians who were never told Christianity was anything more than a belonging or belief system. And we only belonged to our own little club or denomination at that! Some of us were afraid to step foot into a house of worship across the street for fear of eternal punishment. Now we know that there is no Methodist or Catholic way of loving. There is no Orthodox or Presbyterian way of living a simple and nonviolent life. There is no Lutheran or Evangelical way of showing mercy. There is no Baptist or Episcopalian way of visiting the imprisoned. If there is, we are invariably emphasizing the accidentals, which distract us from the very “marrow of the Gospel,” as St. Francis called it. We have made this mistake for too long. We cannot keep avoiding what Jesus actually emphasized and mandated. In this most urgent time, “it is the very love of Christ that now urges us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, If the Church Were Christian. [3] Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of what is emerging in Christianity today:

  1. Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
  4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Peacemaking is more important than power.
  9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
  10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (Eternity is God’s work anyway).

If this makes sense to you, you are already participating in evolving Christianity. Do read it several times. It only makes more and more sense.

References:
[1] Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “The Story of a Circle” (Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians), The Ecumenical Review, vol. 53, no. 1 (January 2001), 97. Used with permission.

[2] Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (HarperOne: 2010), 64.

[3] See Philip Gulley, If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus (HarperOne: 2010). This list is adapted from his chapter titles.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Emerging Christianity: A Non-Dual Vision,” Radical Grace, vol. 23, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), 3, 22.

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Now that new voices are being enunciated about Jesus by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. —Choan-Seng Song
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