Thursday, September 8, 2016

One and Many

One of the other ways to look at this idea of "liberal" and "conservative" Christianity without the icky political words poisoning our theology is to consider whether our theology leans more toward the one or toward the many. 

For some, the strength of the community of God comes from the overwhelming mass of its faithful adhering to the same main ideas. That is, we have the same fundamental ideas about what God says is truth, what God says is good, what God says is right, and then the ragamuffins are those who are outside of this larger community of God, the ones to whom we must extend grace. In real terms, this means our churches are filled primarily with those who have embraced our core theology, and we open our doors to sinners in the hopes that they will learn the love of God and become a part of this community.

To this theology, the one is never sufficient to change the entire structure for the many. We do not change who we are because it doesn't work for you; it works for the community, and we are not willing to give it up.

For others, the strength of the community of God is that it is made up of ragamuffins. What binds us together is not that we are many, but that we are ones. That we all come with our own unique ideas and there is, for us, a place here. There is plenty of room among us for those who think we ought to be doing this differently, but they must understand that to some extent, each one of us is already doing this differently. We are each doing this our own way in the small sense, and in the big sense, we're doing differently together. We are the community of God precisely because we are all things to all people, in order that we might win some. We are sinners, all of us, and we're only getting this right in that none of us are getting this right.

To this theology, the many are never sufficient to exclude the one. If we were to come together in some way that made it more difficult for even one specific individual to join us, then we are sure we are doing something wrong. 

It's very easy, again, to see this in political terms, but the church is not political. At least, it's not supposed to be. What we're wrestling with here is not government, but God, and these positions are an outflow of our theology.

And again, just as we saw yesterday with grace and truth, we need both.

In a world where everyone is looking for a place to belong, we need those whose fundamental orientation is toward the many. We need to know that there is a real community here, a real people of God, a real thing to which we can belong. We may not agree to all of the rules or abide by all the tenets, but anyone who has ever been to Thanksgiving dinner with their family knows that that doesn't make us any less related. There's something about having a place around a big table that does something for our aching spirits. Those whose theology tends toward the many are those who set the table.

In a world where everyone seems to feel a little lost and wonder who they are, where they are, and what they're doing here, we need those whose fundamental orientation is toward the one. We need to know there is a God who will meet us where we are, who hasn't lost sight of us, who can help us find our way through this tangled underbrush. Anyone who's ever had to ask a stranger for directions knows this well - you feel better when someone knows where you are and how to get where you're going. You breathe a little easier. Those whose theology tends toward the one are master navigators. They're the ones who seem to know where we are, even when we feel lost.

It's so easy for us to fight against each other on these ideas, to insist that our way is the right way and that the other theology is backward or wrong or ridiculous. But that's not how it is. That's not how this really works. We need each other. We need those who remember that we're a community, and we need those who remember the ragamuffins.

One sets the table, and the other brings the guests.

And this...this is where we feast. This is where we break bread together, pour wine, and where God is present among us.

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