One of the most wonderful things that I learned and came to really understand while working for Bread for the World was the importance of backing my faith up with my actions. My belief and trust in Jesus should work itself out in my behavior and not just in church attendance, reading the Bible and prayer. In fact, these behaviors or spiritual disciplines should inform other actions such as giving to the poor, providing for the needy, speaking up for those who do not have a voice, loving our neighbors, loving our enemies, relieving oppression and injustice, and the list (well, not really a list) goes on and on.
In our western American culture, which has been heavily influenced by an ancient Greek way of thinking, we do not always easily see the connection between these two ideas: faith and action. In fact, we often see faith as something that is sacred and should be thus honored, and action as something more secular, nice to do but not necessary for spiritual enlightenment and thus expendable.
Yet, this division of sorts is wrong and not only so, but enables us to perpetuate injustice, exploitation, and oppression as we can’t seem to figure out that what we believe and what we practice are related, and with very tragic consequences.
Tuesday morning, as most mornings, I listed to Kerri Miller’s mid-morning show on the way to work. If I’m not listening to her, I am listening to Chip Ingram’s Living on the Edge broadcast, which I find really inspiring for my Christian faith. Anywho, Kerri Miller had retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong on her show, who is the recent author of Re-claiming the Bible for a Nonreligious World.
Amazon.com describes Spong’s book as such:
A definitive voice for progressive Christianity, Spong frees readers from a literal view of the Bible. He opens the possibility that some of the characters in the New Testament are imaginary composites or even literary creations—such as Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus; Judas Iscariot; Nicodemus; the Samaritan woman by the well; and Lazarus who was raised from the dead. He presents the Bible as an ever-changing and always growing story. He demonstrates that it is possible to be both a deeply committed Christian and an informed twenty-first-century citizen.
Sound scary to you? It does to me. This sounds scary and is in fact so because it rips apart the Word of God, this holy inspired Word of God, for the purpose of making it more inclusive, more universal to a world that is rapidly changing and growing by the minute. It is not that I do not agree with Spong’s mission or aim – inclusivity and universality, it is just that I disagree with his approach as in his approach he puts the onus on the Word rather than on the church.
Allow me to explain. The Word of God is innately inclusive and universal, meaning that in it we see God consistently inviting those who are far away from him, into relationship with Him. It does not matter who they are or where they are from, He welcomes all and invites all into this relationship of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.
The church, however, throughout its existence, has struggled to portray this same level of acceptance. Throughout church history, we have seen those who name the name of Christ, discriminate and ostracize others who are not of the same race, socio-economic background, culture, and many other things. In addition, those who claim Christ have also committed vast evils and atrocities in His name, such as slavery and genocide, which Spong references in his talk. Yet these things have little to do with the Word of God, in fact they have nothing to do with the Word, and have much more to do with the inability of those who bear the name of the Lord to reflect his character of love, kindness and compassion.
MY ADVICE FOR SPONG – it is not the Word of God that needs to be “re-claimed” or challenged, but the church! The Word of God is inspired, unspoiled, but it the actions of human beings, like you and me, that have tainted it! Call the church, rouse the spiritual fervency of the church so that we turn away from practices of ostracization, discrimination and hatred, and truly begin to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is what we need in this 21st century world – not a watering down or stripping away of the Word. In fact, we need to ever more be challenged by the truth of the Word so that we can be the people that God calls us to be – a people full of His Spirit and a people full of His mercy and love!