I wonder why we Christians can be so inflexible at times. Not that other religions don’t do the same. But for us Christians it is especially, what’s the word, ironic that we are so. I say ironic because we claim to believe in the ongoing redemptive work of God through Jesus, empowered by the Spirit as the Body of Christ. I know. That is a mouthful.
Put simply, we Christians are carrying out the mission of building God’s kingdom, begun by Jesus but not completed yet. By the work of the Spirit we affirm that we are now the Body of Christ, the physical presence of Christ in the world, doing that work.
That is the core of Christian belief outlined in the New Testament.
Now it is no other than the Apostle Paul who reminded us that a body is one, but has many parts. The feet don’t tell the hands they are not necessary, or the ears tell the eyes they are not important.
So how did we get to a point where the Body of Christ is so dysfunctional that we are seen by most people as “judgmental, hypocritical, and old fashioned?” (unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, and Why it Matters)
I’m sure there are lots of reasons. I believe there is a process that leads to it, but also provides us with a way out of it. I call them the Four “R’s.”
Christian belief begins with the personal experience of Jesus, dead and risen from the dead. How do we know this is true? It has been revealed to us by God the Creator. All of our experience begins with God’s revelation. God is the first actor. We love because God first loved us. We act in response to God’s actions.
Revelation and Response, the first two “R’s” are essential to a healthy faith. The third “R” is that after we have responded to God’s revelation, whatever it might be, we pause at some point and reflect on it all. We reflect for two reasons. First we have the need to unpack what took place, to make sense of it, and second, to figure out a way to explain it to someone else.
You see, our response is always spontaneous. We don’t think about it and then respond. We just respond. We respond with movements, words, songs, and actions filled with gratitude. They are often joyous, and can also bring us to our knees. They can be profound responses that bring us to tears, tears of unexplainable joy and peace.
That is why reflection is important. It helps us attain a deeper understanding, a deeper meaning that can be shared. It also helps us recognize that we are not the only ones who are having these experiences! We are not alone!
Our shared stories form us into community. Family. One Body.
But then, and history bears this out, we add the fourth “R.” We make rules. In church language we call them rubrics. Rubric is a Latin word that means red which actually indicates the color of the instructions (rules) to follow in worship and, by extension, life.
I believe the problem is, that over time, the rubrics have become the most important of the four “R’s.” And that’s a shame.
Worse than that, our inflexibility actually leads to violence. In God’s name. Physical. Verbal. Judgmental. Violence.
Rubrics have their place, I know. We need rules. But if they supersede God’s ongoing revelation haven’t we become the “Pharisees” of the 21st Century?
We can be better than that. We must be.