THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 3
The purity of the faith
The Evangelical Alliance has today (March 6th 2002) released a notice to the press about the expulsion of the Courage Trust from their alliance. It is to be thrown out because it does not conform to the mean values of that organization – to the lowest common denominator of their joint theological standards. So they are excluded.
Of course one realizes that such an alliance must have great difficulties as they have to travel at the speed of the slowest. And some are certainly slow ! But how sad, when clearly their openness to the Courage Trust was one of their hopes for a progressive dialogue with one of their own. They bend over backwards to commend Jeremy Marks, the founder and main person involved as a working member of the Trust, as a good Christian and pastoral leader. Yet they throw him out. Gay Christian everywhere will feel another stab of rejection by other Christians.
They felt that they had to make a decision. No doubt they did it after much deliberation. But what a decision !
This morning I read a quote from Leslie Newbeggin : ‘ The life of faith is a continually renewed grasp of meaning in the midst of meaninglessness’. And it is that progression of decision that life is all about. Why are we all ‘dwellers in time and space’ ? Why has God put us here ? So that we can exercise the function of choice – decision. The old rhyme focuses on the same thought :
Sow a thought, reap an act,
Sow an act, reap a habit,
Sow a habit, reap a character,
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
The mistake that countless numbers of we Christians make is to think that what we are here to do is to be good. What nonsense ! We are here to cultivate a progression of right choices, right decisions. This is what makes us human rather than purely animal. The Christian believes that we are here to respond to God’s initiative in our lives by choosing to follow him, to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Whether we do that well or not is largely outside our power. It will depend on our inherited genes, our physical body, our upbringing, our present circumstances – and a thousand other factors. But our power to see the need for choice and to make that choice – to choose right over wrong, good over evil, to serve others or ourselves, to grab or to sacrifice – that is what life is all about.
And for the gay man ? Yes, here too exactly the same applies. This dimension of our lives applies to all – to the heterosexual, the bisexual, and the homosexual, to the straight and the lesbian, to the white, black, yellow skinned and all colours between. To the Christian, the Buddhist, atheist and agnostic. To young and old and all between.
You can categorize, label, and sub-divide as you wish. It is irrelevant here ! All are invited to the feast of good things laid out by God for us. We are all invited to the celebration meal.
Really - all ? Yes, for this is the element that was so basically what Christ lived and taught, and the one with which the religious people of the day found so difficult and, ultimately, impossible. Pharisee and Sadducee want to build walls and preserve purity. What a different picture Christ draws again and again. The feast open to all, the dying of the Son of God for the world, the acceptance of the woman taken in adultery, the touching and healing of the sick and polluted, the dining with tax gathers, and with prostitutes. All, all, all are invited to the feast.
But no, We enter our churches and, consciously or otherwise, metaphorically draw our skirts around us and keep ourselves from being polluted by sin or error or unorthodoxy.
It seems to me that all the great Christians have an element of largeness and openness about them. Think of just John Wesley or Mother Teresa. The arms of Christ on the cross are outstretched, not beckoning this person and excluding that person.
“But what of the purity of the faith?”, I hear you ask. Ah, yes ! The perennial cry of the organization man. The everlasting concern of those who want to control, order, systematize and build a reputable organization. But what they build is not the Kingdom of God. It is a human construct. It may possibly have some place somewhere, but I doubt it. Excellent body of Christians though they may be, there won’t be an Evangelical Alliance in heaven ! No place for organizations ! And love is not sniffy.
Yes, of course we need a degree of organization, demarcation lines, boundaries – after all, we are human. But for God’s sake make it open not closed. Welcoming, not rejecting, Loving, as Christ loved.
So how do we preserve the purity of the faith ? We don’t. That is God’s task and we can safely leave it to him. The erroneous and the false may seem to flourish but it is only ever for a time. A short time, against the yardstick of the centuries. God leads us towards the truth, and the error and falsity die. How can that be ? Because the error and the false eventually are seen for what they are – transient, temporary, not from God.
Instead our unfailing attitude must be to love, to let all our lives be flooded with God’s love. To let that love influence every aspect of our lives. To open our arms in some pale imitation of Christ’s outstretched arms on the cross. To touch the leper, to have a great evening out with the prostitutes and tax-gathers. To open dialogue with everyone who wants to talk. To encourage every spark of Christian commitment we can find. To be open to life, and love and God. That way lies the Kingdom of God.
Well, maybe the expulsion will be a turning point. Now the division is a little more clear. Even Christians who are committed to taking the gospel of love to all men can be closed enough to think they should exclude from their fellowship real Christians who happen to differ from them on an interpretation of morality. But it must spur us to more open acceptance of all, more overflowing love for all, a more generous spirit, a greater heart. We still have a long way to go !