The arrogance of certainty

The Christian Church is fast becoming

just another option for those who wish to explore what faith means.

Not that any of the other options are new,

but the Christian Church has been (rightly, I think)

stripped of its position of privilege,

where spiritual matters are concerned.

 

Does this trouble you?

 

It need not – for the purpose of faith

is not to enforce our ideas on those who are different;

the purpose of faith is to guide us in understanding our place in the cosmic order.

 

Faith points to a power greater than our own –

faith longs for a sense of order, and justice, and mercy –

things that are constantly stymied

by human decisions and human greed, and human nature.

 

We who proclaim faith in Christ

propose to seek that order, justice and mercy

in a particular way;

it is only greed and ignorance that lead us to proclaim our way as the only way.

 

That has never been more apparent to me than during these last several days.

 

Upon hearing of the death (on Wednesday) of Dr. Henry Morgentaler,

My attention was drawn to some incredibly hurtful on-line comments.

While National papers eulogized Dr. Morgentaler as a divisive, but courageous figure,

A minister of the church, and a casual acquaintance of mine,

offered a statement suggesting his satisfaction at hearing of Morgentaler’s death.

My acquaintance takes his stand as a result of his personal experience and his Christian faith,

Yet his position (and other like it) left me increasingly uncomfortable and, eventually, angry.

 

I am appalled by the approach we take toward opinions within the church.

I myself am constantly learning how to “agree to disagree” on all sorts of topics –

But when we claim positions of absolute certainty,

and bend the rules of logic and compassion to justify our position,

I begin to understand why the church is in such a miserable state.

 

Who would join us in our worship,

when we cannot be publically civil in our debate;

Who would willingly join a group

that first insisted you put aside your own opinion, or abandon reason,

before you were deemed capable of full participation in the life of the congregation?

 

The church, in the name of “preservation”

is in danger, in some quarters, of becoming dangerously narrow-minded

and suspicious of new ideas, or anything that sounds secular (or worldly).

This kind of behaviour is death for an organization

that is called to engage the world

by “doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly” with (its) God.

 

We walk a troubling and difficult path.

 

Between the proclamation of the truth we hold dear,

and the presence of those who would tell their own story,

we cannot seem to express ourselves intelligently.

 

Some have profited from the language of certainty

at the expense of those who have legitimate questions

about the relationship between Humanity and the Divine.

 

I am tired of certainty – I find no profit in it –

and today’s Scripture lessons should provoke questions

about the way we proclaim our devotion to God

 

(brief précis of Elijah story) Elijah has been on the run –

he is reported to be the last of God’s own prophets,

and he is summoned by the king (and encouraged by God) to a showdown.

350 prophets of Baal v. God’s own prophet – winner take all.

 

Since this is Hebrew Scripture, there should be no doubt of the outcome –

God answers Elijah’s prayers – the offering is consumed –

but let us not ignore the brutal coda to this story

(omitted by the editors of the lectionary, but included by yours truly)

Elijah adjourns to the wilderness with the 350 prophets of Baal,

and presides over their murder.

 

Once upon a time, we believed that all enemies “of the one true God” should suffer this same fate:

If your practice of faith fails the test – you must die.

From such attitudes came the crusades,

conquest (in the name of God) of new lands and new peoples with strange attitudes toward the divine,

and all manner of atrocities.

 

We are slightly more civilized in this century –

our missionary efforts were determined only to wipe out competing ideas,

not necessarily individuals –

the results have been just as hurtful –

the Residential School experiment is but one example.

 

Following close on the heels of these attitudes,

comes a missive from our brother Paul.

 

Once an avid persecutor of “that which is different”,

Paul has been met on the road and won over by the Risen Christ.

His intolerance of alternate opinion has been maintained, however:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!  (Galatians 1: 8-9)

 

His argument is simplicity itself: I have received this message from God –

no other opinion (even another claiming revelation from God!)

is to be trusted, tolerated, or accepted.

My opinion is better than your opinion, because I said so.

 

Is this the Church we want?

The church we love?

The church we need?

 

Speaking for myself, the answer is no.

 

The tonic for all this, comes in the person of Jesus.

The centre of controversy, in life, death and beyond,

Jesus has lent his name to our efforts, and his Spirit to the “Christian” movement.

But we neglect his example, to our shame.

 

In Luke 7, Jesus is met with a request from the strangest of places –

a centurion, who it seems has become a friend of the community – seeks a favour of Jesus;

But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed…(Luke 7:7)

 

There is no reason for these two men to meet.

There are few similarities in their culture or their belief systems.

The authority figure does not typically beg a favour of the subject people.

Their meeting place is one man’s need,

and his belief that the other has the knowledge, wisdom, and power to grant his request.

 

Jesus does not seek to convert –

rather he commends the centurion’s faith –

and the deed is done, the servant, healed.

 

The question that remains after my week of struggle –

And the question I believe is raised by this contrasting collection of Scripture – is this:

when our faith presents itself in speech or action, is it commendable?

 

Are we mercenaries for an ancient creed –

ready to lay waste to the rich diversity of opinion that our society has become?

Or are we ready to share knowledge and encounter the power of God in unlikely places?

Are we open to the changing voice of revelation and proclamation

in a world no longer ruled by Christian certainty?

 

For the sake of the gospel, I pray that we are.

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