Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A friend's facebook comment..

I have a fellow Workplace support chaplain, Steve O'Conner, who is a bit of a rebel Baptist minister. He wrote the following on his facebook page. I like every thing he says, but I think I would be even more radical. I did pass an extensive comment, which I will include below.
2017 marks 500 year since Martin Luther published his 95 Theses and kicked off the “Protest-ant Reformation” The theses were written as an invitation to his peers to a public debate around some very important theological and social issues of his day. At the heart of his protest was the practice of ‘indulgences’ a fundraising scheme of the Roman church whereby people paid money to have their sins forgiven or to have their dead relatives released from purgatory. 
In this case theology, politics and justice were all intertwined. The church leadership was wilfully abusing its power to feather its own nest. The church hierarchy, which was in bed with the political leadership of Europe, was amassing great wealth, building huge cathedrals, living in lavish episcopal palaces at the expense of the poor. By abusing their power, creating a climate of fear (If you don’t pay an indulgence you’re sins will not be forgiven – you will go to hell or you will be responsible for your family’s eternal torment etc.) the church exacerbated the divide between the rich and the poor, contributed to the ignorance of the masses and supported massively corrupt princes. (Sounds all too familiar)
My hope is that in 2017 some brave church leaders might take up the debate again. The church needs more than a reformation it needs a complete transformation. I don’t have 95 theses to compare to Martin Luther’s but I do have deep concerns about the church and its interactions with society. I wish to ‘protest’ the extraordinary gap between the life and teaching of Jesus and the contemporary practices of the church. The issues of fundraising (think: tithing) of exclusivism (think: ‘our way is the only way to get to heaven’) are up near the top of the list. But also the more general abuse of wealth and power, the treatment of minorities, the disregard of the environment, discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community. The church’s desperate attempt to hold onto power by perpetuating myths of flat earth proportions and denying scientific advance and even the very good work of biblical scholars, by imposing a censorship against difference and a closed minded approach to truth is truly damaging not only to the church, but to human society and to the very planet we live on.
So my invitation to all of you who have managed to read this far is to join this very important discussion. Let’s start a transformation not just of the church but of the society we live in. What theses would you like to add for discussion? Here’s a few to get you thinking pleas add your own or contribute to the discussion in any way by sharing this post and adding your own comments.
1. Jesus invitation to ‘repent’ was an invitation to continuous incremental change, to grow to become more fully alive, more fully human, to become an agent of transforming love – that is to become like Jesus.
2. The church is to be a community of change imbibing, proclaiming and facilitating the life and teaching of Jesus for the benefit of all.
3. Justice, mercy and humility are paramount virtues in the quest to be such transforming agents
4. No institution or religion, or philosophy or scientific endeavour has a monopoly on the truth, we need to work together in a spirit of respectful dialogue to transform our religious, social and political structure so there might truly be ‘good news to the poor’.
5. “Salvation” (healing) is a much bigger idea than getting into heaven when you die, but involves health for the whole person, body mind and spirit, health for society and health for the planet.
6. Exclusivism, especially that which seeks to control people by decreeing who is ‘saved’ and who is not is an intolerable evil and completely contrary to the life and teaching of Jesus.
7. The bible is a collection of ancient documents that must be interpreted as such. It is not a science book. It is nonsense to say that it is infallible. Using the bible as a proof text to maintain power and control is an intolerable evil.
8. The ‘proof’ of good religion is the fruit that is produces, in terms of improvements to people’s individual wellbeing, community wellbeing and environmental well-being.
There’s my top-of-the-head list please add your own comments and share.


My Comments....

Hi Steve, "Amen" to all your statements above. I like your 8 statements and have copied them to keep. I have long thought that a reformation more profound than Martin Luther's is long overdue. I think people who have tried have given up and left the institution... very few of the people I went through College with during my four years of theological training in Aussie are still in ministry! Some good thinkers and ministers have given up. Others have not had the courage to follow their inner thinking, retreating to an insipid orthodoxy. I have tried to change mind sets, but made very little progress, people preferring the safety of the traditional. Even when they agree with statements, in practice they tend to revert to old outlooks. My "love/Hate" relationship with the Church continues and I prefer to call myself a follower of Jesus rather than "Christian" . From the perspective of following the way of Jesus... (1) I believe the Church is too "bums on seats, worship focused." The Church is not meant to be an end in itself. But we often make it such. Because of this we ask the wrong questions; Instead of "What does it mean to express the way of Jesus now?" we ask, "How do we get people in?" We may be successful at that, but its the wrong question. A friend of mine says that mostly the Church is "Spiritually masturbating". If worship was meant to be the main focus of the followers of Jesus, why does he virtually never mention it? Yet we spend thousands of dollars on worship centres, worship leaders etc... (2) I read progressive writers, Borg, Spong, Crossan, Meyers etc. etc. There is a lot of words and good thinking.... BUT in my experience words do not communicate the guts of Jesus. His invitation is to "Follow me". and it is in the following that the "Salvation" (wholeness) "Eternal Life" (A quality of life not length) "the Kingdom of God" become real. We can change the theology, the words, the concepts, but like so many reformations in the past, it will only solidify into a new set of "isms". In the DOING, the unity with the sacred, the unity with humanity, the sense of unity and awe in creation, and even worship becomes real. Instead of being a "Worship Club" that sometimes serves, the Church should be in the world primarily as servants, a serving group, facilitating wholeness, which sustains its being by also worshipping. In much progressive writing, good though it is, I feel that action/servant focus is missing I have seen progressive groups who get together to discuss what they do not now believe, and what is wrong with the church, and how they have risen higher and moved on, but who never get past that sort of navel gazing into actually serving.. They too are "spiritually masturbating" like the people they are critical of. John has Jesus say something like, "If you obey me my Father and I will come and dwell with you." In the obedience, the sacred, reality is found, not in words. Sorry for burbling ... just some thoughts.

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