Thoughts On the Church

We are “peculiar”.   We have chosen not to go with the majority.  We shall pray and reflect on the life of Christ:  most people don’t do this.  We shall worship and receive God’s gifts in His sacraments: most people don’t do this.  We shall be in a minority: we shall be odd. There will be no danger for us in that, as long as we don’t begin actually to like being odd.  We can see there, of course, the danger of wanting to withdraw into the small group of like-minded people, and to build the barricades to keep out those who are not sufficiently odd in our variety of oddness.  That is the way to create sects and divisions, in which each is sure of his own chosenness and pours scorn on that of the others.  In fact, we have to find a balance.  It is our faith that God loves all, and all to Him are welcome.  But there has probably never been a time in history when the majority of people were seriously seeking Him.
–Kate Tristam

I ran across this passage in Celtic Daily Prayer.  The author, Kate Tristam, was one of the first ordained women in the Anglican Church. She was the Deaconess of the Church on the island of Lindisfarne, one of the earliest Christian monastic communities  in the British isles.  (St. Aidan founded the monastery there in about 635 A.D.)

I think this passage contains two terribly important messages for the Church.  First, the Church must, of necessity, seem “odd” to the world.  Our values are not the same as the values of the world.  The Church values prayer, contemplation, and spiritual growth.  The world values power, and wealth, success. The world calls for clarity and certainty ; our faith calls us into mystery. Thus, St. Paul cautioned, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:2.

The Church’s message must always remain counter-cultural.  Ever since Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire (in 380 A.D.), the Church has struggled with the lure of culture. The problem wasn’t that the Empire began to take on the attributes of Christianity; the problem was that the Church began to look a lot like the Empire.

Our church’s must recover their focus on spiritual growth and discipleship, rather than budgets and average Sunday attendance. The world compels us toward comfort; Christianity pushes us toward change.  The world calls us to love those who are good or kind or pretty; Christ calls us to love those who do evil, those who are cruel, and those who are scarred. Thus, C.W. Lewis wrote, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly wouldn’t recommend Christianity.” Conversely, when we’re feeling really very much at ease in our churches, and when our churches are feeling really comfortable with themselves, we need to question just how authentically Christian they are.

The passage then offers us another  admonition.  Amma Tristam cautions us against withdrawing into “small group of like-minded people, and to build the barricades to keep out those who are not sufficiently odd in our variety of oddness.” In other words, she rightly warns us against the schismatic impulse, teaching about the danger of dividing into ever-smaller groups until our churches become echo chambers where the only voice we can hear is our own.

The Church must constantly welcome new voices, new insights, and thus the ancient virtue of hospitality becomes so critical.  We need the constant reminder that our idea of sanctification, of holiness, does not offer the exclusive path to God.  The Spirit works through us, but can work through those who differ from us, too.  Here, we learn the virtues of patience and forbearance.

I welcome this wisdom, and hope you do, too.

May the peace of Christ disturb you profoundly,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2012 James R. Dennis

26 responses to “Thoughts On the Church

  1. I feel the blessing of this profound disturbance, I bow before it with gratitude. Thank you for this special post. I loved it, Linda

  2. “In other words, she rightly warns us against the schismatic impulse, teaching about the danger of dividing into ever-smaller groups until our churches become echo chambers where the only voice we can hear is our own.”

    The ECUSA/TEC and various sundry Anglican churches have reinforced schism by the ordination of women and practicing homosexuals.

    “We need the constant reminder that our idea of sanctification, of holiness, does not offer the exclusive path to God.”

    John 14:6
    Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

    This sort of New Age ‘Kumbaya’ reasoning is why I have left the Episcopal Church and am going to be received into the Roman Catholic Church and become a member of the Anglican Use Personal Ordinariate.

    I’m not odd because I follow the Word; the world is odd because they do not.

  3. My dear brother, In addition to looking forward to reading your blog, I also appreciate the various comments – they always give me something to consider that has not occurred to me before. I may not agree with some of them, but as I consider the writings it still helps to inform my thoughts. I was told by a priest I loved dearly many years ago that in his view schism was one of the greatest of sins, and sadly, there are times in this day and age that I believe if we are not already there, we are headed ever closer in that direction. What I may or may not believe in todays painful times, I am exceedingly grateful that God has not given me the responsibility of judging anyone – even myself. I look to Christ and his welcoming of all to his table and give thanks that even such as I am allowed to come to eat and drink of his body and blood. May you and your readers, each and every one, be blessed by Christ’s perfect love.

    • Barbara,

      Like you, I look forward to the comments. I share your gratitude in turning away from the task of judgment, which is reserved for God alone. Thank you for the rich blessing.

      Pax Christi,

      Br. James

  4. When did staying in the room with, or listening to a new or different voice become equivalent to a stamp of approval? If I share lunch with a friend who is atheist, am I atheist? We broke bread, we must therefore agree on all things? Does God’s grace have boundaries? If it does, I cannot and ought not seek to establish them. God’s Kingdom has a center to which I can yearn and aspire, and if I am looking that way, I pray the borders will be none of my concern.

    • Father Guy,

      To my knowledge, it didn’t. I think you’re precisely right: too often we try to contain the limits of God’s grace. I thank you, however, for your thoughts, and for the grace of your friendship.

      In Christo fratau,

      Br. James

  5. James, the fact that I was actually at Lindisfarne last month makes this writing even sweeter for me. Thanks for reminding me that I am called to be “odd” in a world that is so out of sorts with itself and its God. Marjorie George

    • My dear Marjorie,

      I envy you your trip, which must’ve been wonderful. I think with you and I, we needn’t worry about the “odd” part (wry grin).

      Be blessed, and be a blessing,

      Br. James

  6. Brother James, thank you for this reminder of the need for the Church to be both counter-cultural and inclusive. In living a faith that does justice (Matthew 25:31-46) we need to challenge the dominant cultural tides that contradict the beatitudes of the peacemakers, the gentle, the bereaved, the merciful and those who thirst for justice – in short, the commandment of love. And we also need to remain always open to dialogue and conversion. In the Gospel, Jesus did exactly that – challenging the blindness, prejudices and injustices of those in power, while also opening up to the marginalized or those who were simply seen as ‘different’, like the dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). That encounter astonished his disciples, but led to a great flourishing of faith amongst a people who were, in the eyes of the disciples, ‘not of our church’, so to speak. Jesus’ own ‘inner circle’ might have learned a lot if they had been able to set aside differences and tired old prejudices and listen to this woman speak. Blessings!

    • Father,

      You are most welcome. I think we are too rarely astonished by the reconciling work of Christ, as you mention in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

      Thank you for your thoughts, and more importantly, for your kindness and friendship.

      Pax Christi,

      Br. James

  7. You always seem to “speak to my condition” in some inexplicable way. I have been reflecting along these lines. Sometimes I wonder why l feel so alone even when I’m not, then I realize that my longings are different than most people as you say. I read a devotional from “My Utmost for His Highest” in which the author writes about the Savior saying “Blessed are the Paupers.” This is so contrary to the world. I don’t choose to have conflict, but it seems to follow me because my life is a statement of resistance. You have done a great job of explaining this, and have challenged me to enjoy this discomfort. Thank you, my dear spiritual brother, for your messages which are always fresh and truthful.

    • Dear Olive,

      Oswald Chambers is no bad place for us to find our wisdom, is it? You’re exactly right about the difference between resistance and conflict.

      Thank you so much for your thoughts.

      In peace,

      Br. James

  8. YES! So true, and such a great reminder of our existence as counter cultural. It is who we serve that makes us different, unique. It is who we serve that gives us balance, purpose beyond this life.

  9. Thank you for this. I am going now to the bookshelf to pick up Celtic Daily Prayers once again. It is definitely an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. Blessings on you today.

  10. Pingback: Thoughts On the Church | Resting in His Grace

  11. Thank you my brother, a provocative post. The thought that so few do kingdom business, or exercise Christian principles reflects the darkness of this age. As Paul wrote to Timothy: “men would be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” I have often loved myself so much I didn’t want to appear odd. Working with alcoholics and addicts has moved me into the discomfort zone, and bystanders consider that odd. Yet as uncomfortable as it may be, God’s peace is present. Thanks!

    • Keith,

      You’re most welcome. That’s holy work you’re doing with those suffering from addictions, and I know that sometimes it can break your heart.

      God watch over thee and me,

      Br. James

  12. Proclaiming God’s hatred of sin and warning of the judgement that is to come for arrogant men who have hardened their hearts to the truth before the hoards of people at the Edinburgh festival I was approached by a kind natured, nicely spoken lady. She shared with me that she didn’t think I was helping by being so outspoken. She said she was a church attending Christian from an Anglican Church in Weston Super Mare and told me of some of the work she does for her community. Penny was keen to remind me that God was loving. Our conversation unfolded…turns out she doesn’t study her Bible, and doesn’t witness to her neighbour. I said to her, “do you realise you have interrupted the proclamation of the Gospel?”, “oh yes”, she said, “I suppose I have”. How do I know this was your typical Anglican parishioner? Because before I became a Christian I was an Anglican, even served as a Church Warden at Crowland Abbey LIncolnshire (00-01), and have met a multitude of luke warm, nominal christians who think their jam making, meals on wheels or diligent coffee rotor work will keep them from going to hell (Isaiah 64:6). As C H Spurgeon once said, ‘there is enough dust on some of your Bibles to spell damnation with your finger’. It’s time to tear down the fences and leave the comfort of New Wine and other cosy Anglican gatherings and hit the streets not with soup but with Bible. Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the Word.

    • Adrian,

      I’m sorry you’ve had a poor experience with the Anglican church; that certainly hasn’t been my experience. I pray that my faith is not lukewarm.

      Similarly, I am praying for the work you do, and the work of Penny, the jam makers, and those who deliver meals on wheels.

      God’s great peace,

      Br. James

  13. I just had a conversation about church music…speaking of young people a dear 80 year old said, “they can have theirs and we need to have ours…I’ve lost so much already, why do they take away my hymns that bring me comfort?” She pondered awhile and didn’t want her complaint to be the last word. Then she said something that made me smile…”Satan would love to split us up into smaller and smaller groups.”

    • Heather,

      I don’t know that woman’s name, but there are angels speaking out of her mouth.

      God’s peace,

      Br. James

      • Thank you. I would point the 80 year old to 2 Corinthians 1,2 that reminds us through Christ our comfort overflows. She has a comforter better than hymns if she would only repent and put her faith and trust in him. In fact, better still, go for all of 2 Corinthians and she need worry no longer about hymns and church tradition so no matter what man takes from her, even life itself, she will be sealed with the promise of the New Covenant. Amen?

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