No Shirt, No Shoes, No Salvation

Photo by Nick Ciske

Pictures like that aren’t very encouraging (thanks to Nick Ciske). It only highlights the division in the worldwide church. Since I attend an Episcopal church, this hits close to home. If you’ve been reading these thoughts lately, you know I’ve been struggling with how to respond to homosexuality.

Yesterday at church the sermon directly confronted this issue. In the past few weeks it seems like homosexuality has been hinted at and talked around, but never directly mentioned. It’s always the “situation” or the “decisions” or simply the “aftermath of General Convention.” It reminds me of the “mistakes were made” political statement that every writing teacher uses as an example of passive voice — hiding who is at fault.

Ernie Ashcroft gave the sermon, a former rector at my church, and coincidentally, the husband of one of my writing professors from college. As a visiting speaker, he made the bold move of potentially disturbing the congregation. But before he began, he made the statement that sermons are intended to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comforted. The only trick is to figure out which one you are.

Ernie began by plainly stating the decisions of the Episcopal church at General Convention that dealt with homosexuality (as well as another that the media never reported – the 2020 project, an attempt to double Sunday morning attendance in Episcopal congregations by the year 2020). He went on to explain why Paul would be upset about these decisions, which was surprisingly not about homosexuality. He then tackled the varying interpretations of Paul’s stance on homosexuality, concluding that either interpretation is potentially biblically valid, but that homosexuality was not one of Paul’s main points. One of his main points was the unity of the church, which is what Paul would have been upset about.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV)

This was Ernie’s main point. Despite all the disagreements, sin, and infighting in the early church, Paul valued unity over all things. Ernie used the Galatian and Corinthian churches of the New Testament as an example. The Corinthians had all sorts of problems. Fighting and division was rampant. But Paul didn’t suggest that each faction should go their separate ways. He encouraged them to live in the contradictions and be united. That is what the church is all about. It’s not a community of like-minded people. It’s a community of people who don’t always get along, who don’t always see things the same way, and yet somehow they have to deal with each other anyway.

Ernie told a story about Charles Spurgeon, who was approached by a woman searching for the right church. Spurgeon interrupted the woman and told her that she would never find the perfect church, and if she did, he encouraged her not to join it because she’d ruin it.

That is what Christianity is all about. We are a broken people. The church is a broken institution. It is only through the grace of Christ that we amount to anything. This confirmed a suspicion I’ve long had that pulling up stakes and leaving a church is not the solution we think it is.

Individualism, which America is founded on, leads us to church shop. We look for the church service that appeals to everything we want, never mind what we need or the fact that church is more than a service. I’ve given in to this as well.

But rather than seeking like minded folks to agree with us, we should simply be seeking fellow broken vessels, people yearning for God’s healing. We can disagree over everything as long as we come together over Christ’s salvation. That is why the church is such a radical idea, and that’s why it’s not working so well today. Social clubs are great, but they don’t change the world.

The church is supposed to be the place where liberals and conservatives sit down together. After the sermon, I realized the importance of liturgy and communion comes because I have to say the same words and share the same food with people I don’t agree with. We say aloud, together, the words that we do agree upon.

(I apologize for recapitulating Ernie’s sermon. The original does a much better job supporting the argument, and I’m merely trying to reiterate what I took away from the sermon. If you’d like to request a copy of the sermon, I’m sure the church staff can help you out.)

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