Sunday, 2 October 2011

Changing the church, or changing ourselves

This post with its quote from his - um - holiness annoyed me this morning. I've heard the like so often, from conservatives on both Catholic and Protestant wings of the church. As John Donne said though, no man [add women here] is an island. We're designed to work in community, and the church is precisely that; a community of people trying to follow Jesus together. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling together (Philippians 2:12; I don't like quoting little out-of-context snippets, but Paul uses the plural 'you', and illustrates the point perfectly. The Philippians were advised to do exactly what I'm describing).

So it's not a matter of retreating into my closet or wherever, and trying to change me, or even trying to get God to change me. It's a question of advancing - or not - together, with the community's support, and their wisdom to keep us on the straight and narrow. Individualism is a modern invention, it destroys community, and it paralyses the church. Everything is narrowed down to me and my Jesus, me and my salvation, and there's no concept of church or community at all. It challenges nothing, changes nothing, and that, of course, is the point when we hear rubbish like this from church leaders. It prevents any challenge to them and their ideas. If you persist, you probably find - as I have - that there's something wrong with you, not them. In their own opinion anyway.

Surely Wesley had it right in emphasising both faith and works. It's in our deeds, in changing the church, and building it anew for this generation, not the last, that we're changed ouselves. Together, not separately, we become - perhaps - more what God intended us to be. You can keep the Beatific Vision; I'd rather feed the hungry, and try to make the church something people are going to want to belong to. It's not either/or, it's both/and. You won't change on your own, and we won't build the church unless we change, together. Even the pillar saints were still part of a community; the emperor himself visited St Simeon Stylites, and apparently went away most impressed.

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