Wow! I said, “Let me have it!” and you did.
It’s all good. This is a conversation that we must have in our tradition, by our churches and for our institution. I had a number of comments on the blog as well as a handful of emails responding to this past blog. There are so many issues that could be addressed, but rather than go down every rabbit hole I will move into the first Great End and look for some of the themes that emerged from the comments.
The First Great End: The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.”
First, let me remind you why I invited you to step into this with me. Many of our churches have struggled with connecting with the broader culture, language and values of the people of their surrounding community. When I realized that my readership represented a cross section of people who are both in the church and beyond it (but still care enough to read my blog) I felt that this was an opportunity to have this conversation and for the people of our churches to listen in (and participate, as interested). The blog format provides a little more safety and anonymity to be honest without jeopardizing actual relationships in a church or community.
One of the things that is exceedingly clear in this dialogue is that we are suffering from the sins of our own past. Many of the comments referred to the damage that we have done in the name of Christian religion and for the sake of “bringing salvation to all humankind.” Whether it says it overtly in our great ends it is a history that most of us know. For many, they can’t hear the first great end, “Proclaiming the gospel for the salvation of humankind” without hearing colonization, imperialism, and an “us vs. them” attitude.
But many other commenters saw the clear call to Christian identity. All of the language is rooted in scripture and, as one commenter noted, “It is Biblical.” This gets to the heart of this series. I asked the question, “What does it mean to be a Presbyterian Christian.” For many the answer is right here—to share the liberating message of Jesus Christ for the “salvation of” or least, for the good of all humankind.
I felt one commenter was able to hear both the reaction from those who bristled at the language and those who rely on this language for a sense of Christian identity and purpose. He posed (my paraphrase), “Is it possible for us to share our experience in a way that also honors the experience of others?”
I admit that underlying this series is the assumption that we now live in a globally interdependent world. I would also maintain that it is now arrogant to think that we are responsible for the salvation of all humankind. But this one commenter seemed to cut to the heart of this by posing a question that honored our Christian identity and experience without imposing that same experience on others.
I wonder if this even deepens our concept of salvation. Might the word salvation (or something close to it) still be appropriate? Rather than thinking that salvation is based on people accepting our “gospel truth,” what if salvation is the natural and organic result of people sharing their experience, listening to the experience of others, and discovering God in the midst of relationship. What if salvation is not some far off reward for believing the right things, but a quality of life found in mutuality, respect, and appreciation for the rich diversity of humanity?
Could it be that this great end is still as foundational as ever, but that it needs some freshening up in language and a new lens that helps us hear it, interpret it and live it out in a globally interdependent world?
Next week we will start unpacking the second Great End, “The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” Remember we are trying to answer two basic questions, “What does it mean to be a Presbyterian Christian,” and “How do we best communicate that to the rest of the world?”
Also, I will be highlighting the recent decisions of First Presbyterian Church, Ashland, as they wrestle with these issues in real and tangible ways.
Keep commenting and emailing me.
We won’t solve everything, but at least we are talking about things that matter.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
I like the approach: Can we share our experience in a way that honors the experience of others? That IS the question. Can we? Can we be alright with the outcome that they continue to believe as they do, and don’t “join” us?
Some will, but many won’t.
And can we really sustain those that do decide to “join us”? Once upon a time I read — and still agree — that people believe what they believe because it allows them to do what they want to do.
Thus, changing anyone’s belief affects their whole being — and their doing — and their social circle. When Christians undertake to convert (or “save”), are we willing to see this all the way through with someone? With all the consequences that ensue? Will we really “be there” for that?
For me, that is a very large undertaking, requiring great love and a good amount of time. In our busy lives, are we really willing to fit this in? If not, is the first Great End any more than lip service?
My actual experience of the last two churches I joined was that I was clearly on the “outside” of an internal network of established friends, you could even say cliques. With time, there was a thawing, and a welcome to help out with the work of the church. It helped that I was already “churched” and I knew the ropes. What if I had not known how to proceed? What if my whole
life had been thrown into disarray (as befitting Jesus’s invitation)?
Thus the first Great End may be in conflict with the second Great End. I will be curious to see the responses to that one.
“What if salvation is not some far off reward for believing the right things, but a quality of life found in mutuality, respect, and appreciation for the rich diversity of humanity?” Amen to that!
The great end does not suggest that we are responsible for the salvation of humankind. We are responsible for sharing the gospel. That is, we are responsible to live lives that reflect Jesus’ influence on us. We are called to be willing to talk about the influence Jesus has on us. I think that can be done without arrogance.
God is responsible for salvation of anyone. God knows what salvation will look like in anyone’s life.
David, this is a great point. To assume that we are responsible for the salvation of humankind leads to colonialism. To share the gospel of Jesus Christ means to demonstrate in our own behavior the Way of Jesus.
I was puzzled by Brian’s basic question as to “what does it mean to be a Presbyterian Christian” since I have never viewed my church membership in that manner. Certainly one can be a “Christian” (a follower of Jesus and his message of God’s grace) without any formal church affiliation. Even if you are a Presbyterian member, most people convey their feelings about religion or the Christian gospel to others through their own personal actions and statements relating to love, compassion, and forgiveness that are the key values in the life of Jesus.
As an adult I became a member of the Presbyterian Church USA for some solid reasons that appealed to my own personal reasoning and temperment;
A) Presbyterian Theology tends to be less focused on a literal interpretation of scripture and allows more flexibility in understanding broad meanings conveyed in metaphor and symbolic language—you don’t have to disengage your brain when you enter the Presbyterian church.
B)The Presbyterian Church very clearly in their written constitution state in (section F-1.0403) “The Presbyterian Church USA shall guarantee full participation and representation in it’s worship, governance and emerging life to all persons or groups within it’s membership, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sex, geography, or theological conviction. —-(Equality for Women and those of sexual difference is a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT in the Presbyterian Church—I personally would not attend or be a member of many other denominations who shamefully do not afford equality) C) Presbyterian Church members have the Constitutional Right of private judgement according to conscience in their religious life, (F-3.0101l) and can differ in theological or scripture interpretation. (Their are no Popes or Bishops to dress up in costumes to tell you what to think) D) The Constitutional form of government in the Presbyterian Church USA is democratic and functions at a local level with the congregational election of Elders who carry out the governmental functions of the local church in cooperation with the church Pastor. It is a relationship of equality, discussion and cooperation, not one of issuing edicts or orders. My feeling is that any “proclamation of the gospel for humankind” is really the function of INDIVIDUALS through their own personal life, thoughts, and actions with others, about the Gospel and the saving grace of God. The Presbyterian Church USA should make
this clear in any revised statement of “The Great Ends of The Church” The following is a sample statement that could be something to consider and work with. TO PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL OF JESUS AND GOD’S SAVING GRACE FOR ALL MANKIND, THROUGH THE LIFE, WORDS, AND ACTIONS OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN OUR CHURCH.
Hang on and keep asking the questions.
I think of this as sharing Good News for the wholeness of all people. I wonder if the damage done by narrow framing of the words in our “Great Ends” Significant/Essential Goals might sound and be felt differently. Sharing where we have found life giving love feels more to our point today.