“I am, maybe, the ultimate Protestant, the man at the end of the Protestant road, for as I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here.” — from Jayber Crow
By my rough calculations, I have attended over 1,300 worship services in the course of my lifetime, the majority of them in liturgical traditions. Mostly, I have considered myself an Anglican. By that I mean I am have been confirmed in the Anglican Communion and have spent many years as a member of a local Anglican congregation. I have written articles critiquing the increasing numbers in my generation who eschew the institutional church.
Yet when I read this passage it immediately struck a chord within me. I’m still trying to figure out exactly where I sit on the spectrum of disorganized religion and institutionalized religion.
When I graduated college, I moved back to my hometown. I was (too) quick to judge those around me for the ways they lived out (or in my judgmental state…failed to live out) their Christian faith.
This short passage brought to the surface an internal conflict for me that I wrestle with every once in a while. I’m not sure how to reconcile the following:
1. In my opinion, Christians (at least American Christians) have largely neglected this foundational tenant—that we should go out into the streets, bars, countryside and love radically and generously—and have chosen instead to maintain huge institutions.
2. We should extend grace to our fellow Christians (and of course to non-Christians) who choose to live their lives differently, with different priorities than we ourselves have chosen. Not only because we are one body with many parts—but also because for all we know, we may have a log in our own eye.
When I moved back to the Chicago suburbs 7 years ago, I started attending a large Anglican congregation. What was most off-putting to me was the attitude that Anglicanism was the Best Expression of Christianity. But after a few years attending the church, I found myself falling into the same thoughts. It’s not just those from a liturgical tradition who get sucked into wanting to be part of the best. I’ve seen it in those who are leaving the institutional church, too – and those who are Reformed – and those who are “living incarnationally.” I mean, who doesn’t want to believe that their way of doing things is The Best?
But I don’t want to. Not anymore anyway. Because when I start believing I’m doing things the best way, then I start to criticize the way everyone else is doing things. I then start to spend too much energy making sure I’m doing things the best way. My focus becomes inward instead of outward. Maybe other people can simultaneously think their way is the best without looking down on others. I can’t. I want to be a person that overflows with grace and love—to do that, I need to start by assuming my way is just one (good) way. Some Christians might say this is “too postmodern.” But this is where I have to start.
When I start here, I can look at that church down the road and see the good in what they are doing, rather than focus on what they aren’t doing. I can read the Gospels and then live out my convictions – but I can do it in love.
Here’s to not being the best.