I’m not a Pentecostal.
Nor am I a Methodist, a Baptist or an Anglican.
Though, in point of fact, I’ve served (and continue to serve) in all of the above institutions as Pastor, Circuit Evangelist, Minister and Church Worker.
So maybe the correct answer is that I’m all of them. Simultaneously.
How about the label “Christian”? Does that one stick?
Well, I guess so, except that what I mean by the term might be different to what you mean. And when I see the adjective applied to various political or military or patriotic enterprises then I find myself quietly withdrawing, head-shaking, muttering “Not in my name.”
They had vicars blessing the bombs on both sides in the First World War. Would you want to be part of that kind of thing? Me neither.
And whenever it feels like the “church” is becoming a business or even a Project of some kind, then I get uneasy and wonder what it’s all about.
Do you not secretly think that ecclesiastical organisation -churches and vicars and things- was a bit of a mistake from the start? In many ways, early Christianity was just the new Judaism, wasn’t it? We inherit from Judaism the Law, the synagogue, the Hebrew Bible and all the rest. We call them different things but it’s hard to imagine Christianity without its special Sabbath Day, without its special buildings and without its professional priests. Are these things necessities of the human condition that they always reassert themselves and that therefore God tolerates them?
Come to think of it, Jesus was thrown out of synagogues and was careful not to lay anything down that could be construed as “Law” and was finally got rid of by a zealous and “righteous” bunch of assorted clerics and teachers… So we can hardly make an a priori assumption that these things MUST be. Don’t you think?
Of course, Jesus accepted the religion of his day, just he accepted everything in the world he lived in, tax, farming, even slavery…. everything except certain attitudes. And if it was the attitudes that raised his ire, is that not because it was there that the things he hated were most evident?
Jesus didn’t come to destroy one “jot or tittle” of organised religion. His aims were much more important, and I don’t think that those things concerned him very much. When he says “If you are offering a gift at the altar” or “when you fast” we cannot construe this as orders to take gifts to altars or to fast, any more than his citation of Jonah provides a charter for fundamentalist interpretation! And whatever the “Lord’s Supper” really looked like at the time, it surely wasn’t what it became. Was it a “religious service” at all? Are you sure?
He left no instructions for liturgy or public prayers. When the disciples, feeling one down in comparison to the super-religious Pharisees ask him to teach them how to pray, he says, in effect, “It’s as simple as saying ‘our Father.’
Now he did say “I will build my church.” Fair enough, but don’t presume that we know exactly what “church” means. It does not automatically follow that Jesus intended to found anything like the existing denominational structures or even a reunified combination of them. Look at the organisational improvisation that you see going on in Acts and in Paul’s letters…. doesn’t that prove that Jesus had said nothing that could be used as directions for founding a “church”? The apostles simply adapted Judaism and the things that they were familiar with. Does that mean that the system we see evolving during the New Testament period and subsequently solidified in the first centuries of the church are permanently necessary for Christ’s work in the world?
Isn’t all this stuff the wrapping, while the gift lies within?
It’s the gift, you see, that keeps me in fellowship, keeps me believing, keeps me praying, loving, hoping, and worshipping.
The gift is Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son…” Jesus is God’s gift to us.
And Jesus studiously avoided the “Messiah” tag (except to challenge its triumphalist assumptions),and people batted the various options about (“Who do people say I am?“) but the only one that he seemed to accept was “Son of Man.”
But even here, it’s not a straightforward piece of labelling. It could mean all kinds of things. But what impacts me is the translation: “The Human One.” You see, Jesus could have gone for “Son of David” (stressing his royalty); or “Son of Abraham” (stressing his ethnicity) or “Son of God” (stressing his divinity).
Instead he chose “Son of Man,” stressing his connectivity. He is one of us. 100% organic. Human. My brother.
And that’s the gift…. to look into the face of every human being that you see today and recognise a family member.
So that’s what I want to choose too. Human being. Handle with care.