Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Take to the world this rare, relentless grace

I'm tired of what I grew up in and I'm tried of where I went. I'm needing to find a happy medium, part 2.

So, yeah, not a lot of talk about salvation, and I get it, actually. A lot of us grew up in environments where "salvation" was what I talked about in my last entry and we were tired of it. We also didn't like the emotionally manipulative techniques to get people "saved." We loved God, and we wanted to do the work of Jesus in the world, but we didn't - in large part - want to evangelize by talking about Jesus explicitly. I was one of those people. I'd been damaged and bruised by my experience and I didn't want to inflict that on others.

In the last couple of months I've come to start thinking about salvation a little more, and I blame Scott Gunn for his post Of Elephants in Rooms in which he says,

We are not in the social justice business. We are not in the museum business. We are not in the social club business. We are in the salvation business.

By “salvation” I do not mean that the church is a giant machine to punch people’s tickets to get them into heaven. Rather, I mean salvation in the fullness of the underlying Greek word, sozo. That’s redemption, wholeness, healing, and salvation.

So, sure, we seek to draw people into God’s everlasting life. In this life, though, we have a lot to offer as well. At the core of the Anglican tradition is an emphasis on holiness of living. Salvation is not something that you earn after this life. It’s something that begins in this life. Read the Gospel according to John if you don’t believe me.

And that's been rolling around in my head ever since. It tempered how I went to General Convention. While Fr. Scott was calling us to bring up church crises in our testimony and consideration, I didn't do that. But I did think about how the things that I would be supporting lead to salvation as he used the term. We're in the salvation business, but not ticket punching for heaven, or getting a great reward at the end of life, but rather working for wholeness and reconciliation among people here and now...as a result of the work and reconciliation that has been brought to creation by the redemptive work of Christ.
Q. What is the mission of the Church?

A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ

So that got me thinking about how are we in the salvation business? What are we the Church doing to bring wholeness and reconciliation through Christ? And then because of my background, I loved (despite the cry from people of different politico-theological orientations) when the Presiding Bishop said
The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.
Last week she followed up with
Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian.

The spiritual journey, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is about holy living in community. When Jesus was asked to summarize the Torah, he said, "love God and love your neighbor as yourself." That means our task is to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors. If salvation is understood only as "getting right with God" without considering "getting right with (all) our neighbors," then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands.

By my background I pretty much mean as a reaction to the tradition of my upbringing, I completely agreed with what she said about reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus and that being "salvation." I've been there. That is not a slam - from her or me - about the importance of personal faith. However, I reject the notion that salvation is something we do: by praying a prayer or whatever; it's always something that God has made available to us through Christ. In order to get right with God and our neighbors, we have to be seeking the reconciliation, the wholeness, the sozo, the salvation made available to creation in Christ.

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