We'll end the week where we started, with a not-so-simple question: should Joe Biden receive Communion from the Catholic church?
This week, we've looked at how a question like this arises - when we have a closed Communion versus an open Communion, and we've looked at why it's important that we have standards of fellowship in our churches (because it actually means something - or at least, it should - to be a Christian), and we've even challenged ourselves to look at our own congregations and discover what our standards of fellowship are, since we all have them.
All of that said, I don't think any of us can sit here and determine what the church can or should do about this. It's a tough question. It really is. For all of the reasons that we've already discussed (and for many more).
But what I think we have to recognize, no matter how we answer this question, is that there is a tremendous danger in a question like this one. It sets us up for something that the church has - rightfully - been too guilty of for too long, and our non-churched culture even recognizes this. A question like this sets us up to become a single-issue people.
It sets us up to look like we care more about one thing than about all other things. If there comes a headline that says that the Catholic church has decided to not allow Joe Biden to receive Communion because of his public policy on abortion, then what we have is a church that looks like it cares about abortion over and above every other issue. It doesn't care about prayer life, Bible reading, church attendance, financial giving, or anything else as much as it cares about abortion. (We could, of course, expand this to say that it is a church that cares about life, but we know that our culture doesn't like that argument when Christians have been pro-death in other situations and when, ironically, the church becomes pro-death over your position on life (i.e. abortion). So it's complicated, to say the least.)
And this is what the church has been accused of, and been guilty of, for far too long. We were a single-issue people on the notion of salvation. For years, for decades, we preached that you must confess a belief in Jesus or go to Hell. Those were your choices. If you didn't wear Jesus on your sleeve, you were a heathen. No matter what you actually lived like. No matter how you actually treated others. No matter whether or not you loved Jesus or loved His people or loved the church. If you didn't profess a belief and agree to our doctrine, you were going to Hell.
More recently, it seems the church had taken the same stance on homosexuality. Homosexuality was the church's favorite sin for awhile. We could forgive anything...except homosexuality. And we could believe the best in, and trust redemption for, everyone...except the homosexual.
The church has a long history of being a single-issue people. That issue changes as culture changes, but it seems that the church always seems to zero in on one thing and ride it until we're all sick of it - inside the church and outside of it. Until we've beaten that horse deader than a doornail and realized we've lost our voice in our culture because we have been too narrowly focused on something that isn't the thing. And then, for reasons we can't explain, we move on and make another thing the thing...that still isn't the thing!
So my greatest fear when we ask a question like this one - should an individual receive Communion if his public life doesn't adhere to this particular point of our doctrine - is that we're becoming a single-issue people all over again. We aren't asking anything about this man's faithfulness, about his prayer life, about his heart, about his belief, about his love - we're asking about one single little point of his doctrine. That's...a slippery slope. It's one that Christianity has been sliding down for a long time, and the running back and climbing the stairs and sliding down it again.
Interestingly, it's actually not that we shouldn't be a single-issue people. The problem is that the single issues we're picking are always the wrong ones. Our single issue has to be love. That's it. That's what Jesus says. They'll know we are Christians by our love. Period. Not our doctrine or our preaching or our policy, but our love.
And I just think that ought to be the thing that we're judging all of us by - love. Is this person loving? Is this person doing his or her best to be loving? If someone were to look at this person and judge all of us by what they see, would they believe we are loving? If someone were to look at this person and form an opinion of Jesus by what they see, would they believe He is loving?
That ought to be our single issue. That ought to be our standard of fellowship.
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