There is significant polarization in the church these days. Folks who still take part in church life seem to be divided into three camps: those who believe that following to the letter every word that comes from leadership is the only way to be saved; and those who believe that reason is a gift from God, and, when guided and informed by faith, enables a person to be alert and respond to the Holy Spirit in everyday life; folks who do not “take sides”.
The painfully current polarization in the church shows the unnecessary suffering brought on by an institutional system that seems to have forgotten its origins. Even in Jesus’ time there was polarization. He hinted at it when he said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). And so its seems today. The problems develop when any claim their understanding of God expressed in their terms is the only one for everybody always everywhere. Christians are not the only traditions who have to deal with this.
An unpleasant spin-off of this polarization is what is known under many names such as “temple police”, “thought police”, “catholic taliban”, etc. These are good folks who consider it their duty to ensure everybody else follows their interpretation and terminology. Their perspective might be summed up as “If I don’t like it, you can’t think, say, or write it”. It is not uncommon for them to take notes during mass on how the priest presides at Eucharist, what and how he preaches, and then confront him either after mass or some unexpected place during the week, and take him to task for not following their viewpoint or using their terminology. They often write to whomever they feel will support them and discipline the priest, or to whatever web site will agree with them. Always in the name of Jesus, that is, their version of Jesus. Deviation from their norms will not be tolerated.
The opposite “side” seems to think that laws get in the way. They make a distinction between church doctrine and church governance. They see the institutional aspect of the church as an outdated system interested only in protecting and promoting its on good.
That more folks are becoming aware of this polarization and its negative impact on any who are trying to imitate Jesus and live his word may be another indication of the resurrection happening.
Many folks today are looking for the church to be a witness that can be trusted to live seriously in imitating Jesus, and is basically open to the world and what is going on. This does not mean that the church must accept every trend and movement, or water down its beliefs, but needs to witness and live Jesus’ love without condemning the world or attempting to destroy it. This church has to restore its own credibility which has been seriously damaged by many recent scandals.
This church, if it is to believed and make a significant contribution to humankind, cannot be centered only on itself and its traditional ways. It has to live with and for people, go outside and beyond its systems and rules, reach out to them, teach by example and not by force and threats. Folks do not exist to serve the church, the church exists to serve the folks. It cannot exist only for itself, but lives for Jesus as he is in his folks. It cannot generate an atmosphere of fear and punishment, doing in Jesus’ name things that Jesus did not do. It cannot focus only on its own perceived rights and prerogatives, but has to look to Jesus to lead it out among the folks, accepting them where they are, loving them, encouraging them, learning from them, in other words, living Jesus’ ministry of bringing his Father’s love to all. Such a church cannot say, “We have all the answers to everything, so just do what we tell you”. Instead it needs to say, “Let’s spend some time together and talk, we can learn from each other”. It must not restrict or attempt to silence God’s gifts, but instead call them forth wherever they are. With things as they are today, and the institutional church’s less than favorable track record in living Jesus’ love and ministry, there is a great need for reform.
Folks need to encounter someone who is open to them, who listens to them, and who loves them as they are, whatever their condition or way of life. These days it is not the Roman church. Other churches, though, are doing this quite well.
But, then, does the stone seems to be rolling back and does Jesus seem to be coming forth?
Just sayin . . .