Wednesday, 11 March 2015

And the greatest of these is love

Over the past few days I’ve been exploring various sites in Greece with a group of thirty-four other people – all of whom are Christians. This is in stark contrast to a month or so ago when I was travelling solo for three and a half weeks through parts of Israel and Palestine.

I’ve been reflecting on what it is like to travel with people who (apparently) believe in the same things that I do: that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died and rose again for both my salvation and the salvation of the world.

Yesterday at the site of the Baptism of Lydia, we were invited to renew our Baptismal Vows. For many of us, these vows were made by our parents and Godparents at our Baptism (Christening) when we were infants. Some of us will have renewed these Vows at our Confirmation, and others will renew them each year at an Easter Vigil Service.

In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him. Therefore I ask:
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
I repent of them.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
I come to Christ.

When Christians are baptised, it is into the Universal Church. Baptism is not into a specific denomination - Protestant, Catholic, Baptist, Orthodox or any other – those who are Baptised are Baptised into the Church of God. How and where anyone chooses to worship later may be in any one of these denominations, but where we all begin is exactly the same. It is a pity that so many Christians forget this truth and that the denominational markers of practice and orthodoxy become barriers to the simple truths that we are children of God and we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

In these past days of travelling with this group of fellow Christians – some of whom are Church of England, others members of the United Reformed Church, Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches – it has been interesting to note the conversations that have taken place as people have sought to understand where people are ‘coming from’. “It’s not my tradition,” says one. “My choice of clerical shirt is black or… black. I can’t ‘do’ colour,” says another. “So do you use incense?” asks someone else, and it is not certain whether the question is being asked from someone of one denomination to another, or someone who is High Church in the Church of England (‘up the candle’) to someone who is Low Church (“I call it a [holy] table, not an altar”).

At its best, this kind of questioning can lead to interesting conversations of mutual discovery which open the mind and heart of one Christian to another. At its worst, this kind of questioning is a means of pigeon-holing others and seizing yet another opportunity to take the spiritual high-ground that ‘my church’s way is better than yours (and everyone else’s) and so are our prayers, thoughts, teachings and practices'. Alas, the history of the Church of God is littered with the outcomes of this way of thinking – schisms, excommunications, martyrdoms, murders, lies and deceit – all of which are a far cry from the prayer of Jesus to God, “Father, may they all be one.”

Before you mistake my intent, I am not of the mind that says we should all sing/say/pray the same thing at the same time in the same way. Prayer that glorifies God and seeks God’s will and God’s way is worthy of acceptance and encouragement by all. Worship that gives honour to God and reveals the truth that Jesus is Lord is worthy of acceptance and encouragement by all. What I hope for is a time when the worship offered by others or by me will be seen as valid and acceptable (note, not ‘valid’ and ‘acceptable’) by others, whatever their denominational or churchmanship affiliation and preference. Attacking me because you do not agree with me is not the way to proceed. Accusing me of preaching a false gospel (of which I was accused in Jerusalem because I said that God will be the one who judges as to who will be close to God in heaven and who will not) is not the way to proceed. If anyone claims to be a follower of Christ, let them first pray together, worship together and seek salvation together. Let them learn together as to how the Holy Spirit moves and challenges them to grow, develop and be corrected in faith. And let each of these be done kindly and in love. 1 Corinthians 13 is a wonderful treatise on just what this journey Christians make together should look like. Much loved for Weddings, this passage finds its locus in a letter to the people of Corinth who were having a challenging time being people of faith together. Many Christians in our current age would do well to read it and attend to its expression of truth, me included. Faith, hope and love [charity in older translations] abide, and the greatest of these is love. It is a genuinely wise soul that lives this.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 comment:

  1. Another thoughtful, thought provoking post. I'm sometimes challenged about being 'too catholic' but my heritage IS Catholic, having been born and raised RC. But I was called to be an Anglican, in a specific place and time, therefore, I'm an Anglican, who has learned that Catholic heritage isn't a hindrance and in some cases, is an advantage, because I'm able to move between high and low without any discomfort and my middle of the road parish does things in a liberal, broad church way that accommodates me alongside others, who have a distinctively Evangelical heritage. And we do those things that you speak of. Worship and praise together, share ministry together and we act out and witness as Christians with the five other churches of various denominations within our local community. On the ground, unity is much nearer than it is in the higher palaces of power in Lambeth, Westminster or wherever the higher echelons of our churches operate.

    Easter will be the time where we demonstrate that unity, by starting the Palm Sunday Procession at the Baptist Church, and all will come to worship with us. Our Good Friday activities including Stations of the cross will be started at one church and will process through the streets with someone carrying the cross, with others being called to help as in the Gospels Our vigil will be shared with leaders of each church speaking during Holy Thursday Eucharist.

    Lots to celebrate, but I suspect don't expect it to be welcomed wider than our own deanery.