Church Life

Fairly Long-Winded Saturday Night Musings from a Pastor Who Clearly Has the Day Off Tomorrow

rev-ed commented:

“I’m not sure how any kind of creed is meant to embarass a denomination. Affirming the deity of Christ is a basic doctrine of Christianity and has been for almost 2000 years. I’d much rather force people to make a choice (I’m talking congregations, not necessarily individual congregants). While services should be open to anyone, if a Christian church is ashamed to stand for the deity of Jesus Christ then I have to wonder why that is.”

The United Church of Christ was formed in 1957 by the merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical & Reformed Churches. In the CCC, each congregation had to vote as to whether to join the new UCC. AT THAT TIME they affirmed a Constitution that states: “The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior.” In other words, we’ve already done this.

Our Statement of Faith says of Jesus Christ: “In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.”

The resolution is intended to embarrass the denomination, in my opinion, by making a question of our faith in and our calling by Christ, because those proposing it don’t like the liberal theological stance of the national setting, nor of local churches and conferences in certain areas of the country. The proponents of the resolution want it to fail in order to say we are not Christians at all; the opponents cannot “win” if the resolution is voted up or down as it stands, because giving in and voting for it will mean giving local autonomy away. And local autonomy is the keystone of our polity. It is the responsibility of the local association to determine fitness for ordination and ministry. As members of Association Church and Ministry Committees, local pastors and lay folk exercise that responsibility solemnly and prayerfully. A loyalty oath administered at the national level would upend the polity on which our denomination was formed. That’s why it’s a serious matter and not just the slam dunk or no-brainer it might appear to be.

I cannot believe that Jesus as portrayed to us in any of the four gospels would have given five minutes to this debate, except perhaps to point out how pointless it is. How much time did he spend describing what titles we should give him when we formed complicated and unique institutions 2000 years down the road? None at all. Time may be short, and I will come again, but meanwhile, feed my sheep, he told us. Give a drink of water to the thirsty. Visit the sick, and those in prison; clothe the naked and feed the hungry. When you do these things for those who are least important in the world’s eyes, you do them for me. For me, that answers Bemused’s question, too. I believe God does appreciate those acts of caring and understand them as worship, along with our spirit of thanksgiving for creation, and also our praise offered up in church, but I have a hard time making the case that one would be that much more important than the other.

As for the UCC, it either is or isn’t a creedal church. And it’s not. Neither were the Southern Baptists; I ought to know, having grown up as one. Look where they are now! And it began as seemingly innocently as this.

What possible reason would I have for giving my life to Christ’s service if I did not believe in him? The fact that I don’t say “Lord” every time I say “Jesus” doesn’t mean that I minimize him or think he is any less God than someone who uses more, to my ears, old-fashioned language. My language is inclusive because I understand Jesus to have been inclusive in his love and his teachings and in his death and his resurrection.

On the other hand, my taste in church music is pretty old-fashioned and although I am friends with the pastor of the UCC congregation close by that does a more rocking service, it doesn’t feel like worship to me. I miss the hymns. The hymns leave his folks cold. Which way is right? I would say both and neither.

Tomorrow I’m going out of town to attend a Latin Mass, because I want to understand, or at least to try, what beauty and God-presence occurs there. I’m not a consumer looking for something to make me feel good but a seeker who wants to know God and give thanks to God for the different ways God has given us to worship.

Well, scratch that. I *am* looking for something to make me feel good–in the sense that I am seeking an experience where I feel GOD, the ultimate GOOD. Worship is not one-sided. God is present there, too, in relationship with us, whether we’re singing Morning Has Broken or Here Comes the Sun or Christ the Lord is Risen Today or whatever I will hear tomorrow. Vatican II encouraged worship in the local language, so that the people might understand the words being spoken, but there are still many Catholics who feel God more keenly in the Latin Mass. Are they wrong? Is God not there?

I believe God is everywhere, on the lake and in it and beside it, atop the mountains, at Mass in the gorgeous cathedrals and ornate churches and ugly little modern ones, and at the services in the tall-steeple churches on the village green and in the little white clapboard ones that no one much notices, and even at the services in a hall or a school, where they use an overhead projector to shine the song lyrics up on the wall. God is expansive enough to appreciate different styles, I feel sure of it. The important thing is that faith leads us to worship however we do it. It’s all good. It’s all God’s.

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