Since I have lived in Neosho I’ve been working with the church I lead to help us develop an informed, grounded, tangible faith that does not misuse scripture by misreading, a faith that does not fear science or challenge, one that is not fragile or easily offended by differing ideas; one that facilitates transformation.
Part of what makes this a challenging task is that Christians have been conditioned to argue the particulars of faith while ignoring the more important task of building relationships.
We jockey for the title, “Keeper of Truth,” spatting over Biblical inerrancy, tussling over social issues of inclusion, splitting our churches over doctrine.
We major in the minors while we need to be focused on the fact that we’re called to be people of ever deepening relationships with one another, nature and God.
Splitting theological hairs and arguing dogma has some value, but perhaps those debates are better left to ivory tower professionals less concerned with wrangling kids and enduring difficult coworkers.
Your task and mine is to be tending a relationship with truth.
What does relationship have to do with developing faith? Everything. (I’m thankful for Bill Tammeus for reminding me of this.)
In the Christian tradition, we should constantly remind ourselves, truth is not an idea or a fact… truth is a person, Christ Jesus. And although denomination, doctrine and scripture may illuminate or point us toward truth, they are not truth themselves.
We worship Jesus, not the Bible. Jesus is our authority, not church dogma. Jesus decides who is worthy of inclusion in his family, not you or I, not denominational directives.
It is telling, if not a bit distressing, that so many younger Americans self-identify themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” It’s not that they are disinterested in God, or dislike our Jesus.
Rather, they seem to be insulating themselves from the rancor and ribald of what is presented as modern Christianity. It’s also telling that these same young people value connectivity. They are connected via social media, gathered through group-sourcing efforts, they maintain relationships and share ideas around the globe.
Younger Americans are repelled by “religion,” yet drawn to relationship. Why? The modern church’s witness is more about being right than it is about being relational to Jesus. Selah.
As the church, (and by “church” I mean the Body of Christ spanning every creed, confession and persuasion) we need to refocus our energies from building walls of doctrine to relationship building with Jesus and the kinds of folks Jesus seemed to care about most.
We should listen more than we talk. We should seek out friendships with those unlike ourselves. Read about cultures we don’t understand. Visit churches we aren’t familiar with. Be generous.
Relationship with Christ, the world and people requires the investment of time. We have to share some conversation, sometimes hard, honest conversation that seeks to understand; we have to be willing to trust one another.
Being right is a good and helpful thing, but the real benefit of faith is when it is transferred into relationships that are generously tangible, grounded and informed.
(Mitch Jarvis pastors Neosho United Methodist Church. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)