I confess. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone can be completely convinced that their Christian tradition is absolutely the best, 100% on target, and exactly “the one” regarding which the God of the universe would say, “Yep, you folks have got everything right. Everybody else who is saved will be saved just by the skin of their teeth, but you folks have it right. I’m really proud of you.”
The Apostle Paul made it pretty clear that none of us “gets it right” and that the only way anybody will be saved is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. The playing field is absolutely level, and we’re all, apart from the grace of God, a bunch of sorry losers whose performance on the field is shabby at best. The Good News is that because of what Christ has done on the cross, the focus is no longer on us, it’s on God! If we can just get over ourselves, we’ll realize that when we as God’s people foul up, which is often, we should thank God for his grace and get up and go on. And when we do well, we should thank God for his power at work within us that makes anything good possible. Either way, the focus is on him.
To use a musical analogy, because of what Christ has done on the cross, the focus is not on the note I just mis-played or even on the fine performance I may have tooted with my little horn. The focus is on the Composer/Conductor who is the One behind all of the beauty of the music. That I am in the orchestra at all is an amazing tribute to his mercy and grace.
And what about that little section of the orchestra with which I worship on Sundays? What about the brand name on the sign that “denominates” us? If my tradition is part of the Body of Christ, it’s for the very same reason that I am: grace. Not because we “got it right.” This doesn’t at all mean that we have no responsibility to render our service to God with hearts committed to pleasing him. It does mean that we realize that every prayer we pray, every sermon we preach, every song we sing, are all acceptable to him only because of his grace, not because we’ve done so well.
On the one hand, I believe that each orthodox Christian tradition has blessed us by seeing and building on some different aspects of the truth of the gospel, and anyone with an open heart can learn something good from each one. (Of course, anything any of them has built stands only if it’s built on the foundation of Christ’s cross.)
On the other hand, I don’t mean to be cynical when I say I’d bet my bottom dollar that there’s not a single one of them (including my own and yours) that wouldn’t have treated Jesus just as those very upstanding and “religious” scribes and Pharisees did 2,000 years ago. They crucified him, and we would have, too. Thank God our faith is in Christ, not in our religious tradition. And his Church is bigger than our churches.
Church-wise, all the vessels on the sea are leaky crafts. But almost any of them is a great deal better than treading water. So pray about it, get in a boat, thank the Master of the sea for it, and love your fellow sailors in all of the boats. Do all you do out of love for the Captain of all and under his power, and look to him for setting the course. Then sail on!
Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.