The ChurchAnd Her Inclusively Transformative Nature
Excerpted from my book, Leaving and Finding Jesus
I love the Church. She raised me. Most of my deepest friendships have been formed in the church. I’ve experienced Her compassion, authenticity, kindness, generosity, wisdom, grace, desire for righteousness, wholeness, and innocence. I’m also thankful for Her various expressions.
I’m not writing about the institution. Rather, I’m writing about the people I’ve known and with whom I’ve grown through the vast expressions of the Church.
I’ve been sensitive with seekers, shook with shakers, kneeled with kneelers, been lowly in high church, taken communion with robed Episcopalians, and fallen to the ground with 3,000 brothers and sisters after John Wimber prayed.
I’ve received benedictions with Catholics and confessed with a priest in Haiti just outside a children’s hospital where he poured out his life for the least of these. (1)
I’ve tasted God’s goodness with the Methodist, raised a song with the Baptist, missionaried with the Alliance and The Assemblies, prayed in tongues with Pentecostals, and cried out in righteous hunger with friends from Kansas City. I’ve become close with friends who are Eastern Orthodox and discovered the riches of the Anabaptists.
I’ve experienced the holiness of God in a home of the underground Church in China, danced with exuberant worshipers in South Africa, fellowshipped with hundreds of Filipinos who walked days to take part in revival, and laughed with loved and cared-for orphans in Nicaragua.
I’ve seen the impact of the church, miracles large and small—more than a book could contain, broken marriages restored, the lonely put in family, the poor made rich, bodies made whole, and hearts, minds, and lives transformed. I’ve seen addicts set free and imaginations restored. I’ve seen the poor receive care, the hungry fed, the widow, and the orphan loved and protected.
I’ve been part of men’s movements that swept the world, challenging us to live lives of character and kindness. I’ve been a part of equality movements for race and gender where faithful women and men of all colors confronted and led us as we repented for participating in prejudice, exclusivity, and hierarchy.
I could write a book on the history of how the Church has tended to every broken and unjust issue in this often cruel and punishing world. And it would barely scratch the surface of the heaven-to-earth impact the Church has had. Throughout history, the Church has been full of good people, friends of God whose lives became generous expressions of Greater Love. The world is infinitely richer because of the Church’s authentic other-centered kindness.
Greater Love is the hope for the world, and the church is God’s expression of it. The Church is God’s idea, and His ideas are always brilliant. The Church is the city on a hill; the light meant to illuminate His reconciliation for all creation.
I love the Church. I wrote this book for Her. And it’s because of my love for the Church that I confront our obsession with separation, our infatuation with retribution, and the hypocrisy of exclusion.
In my twenties, the early days of my deconstruction, long before anyone used that term, those post-Bible College years when I reacted against the cruel and unkind hypocrisies within the institution, I often wondered if a baby was in the bath water. In those early days, I thought the only hope for the Church was Jesus’ return, and I occasionally thought about waiting for Him at home. But those days are so far behind me I hardly remember them.
You see, as I’ve left every Jesus that isn’t reconciling. I’ve also left every idea of church that isn’t built upon the Cornerstone of Greater Love. I’ve left every aspect of the church that practices us or them, in or out, for or against; and when I find I haven’t, I repent.
Like Peter, I am discovering the Church Jesus described when He prayed we would be one just as He was one with His Father. (2) I am awakening to the inclusive Church Jesus revealed when He told His disciples, “On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (3)
There is no hierarchy in the Trinity, only mutual, self-giving love. The last are first, and the first are last because that’s how love works. Love is a circle, an ever-expanding revelation. And when the Church mirrors this Truth, there is no end to transformation.
I love the Church. Her history is rich in reconciliation, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of Her inclusively transformative nature. I see a Church awakening to the never leaving, never forsaking, cruciform love of God, and my heart is that we might repent of any heretic circles within the Church that shut people out—because I’m convinced Greater Love “shows no partiality.”
Jesus in us and through us has “the wit to win!” And we, the Church, are meant to partner with reconciling love to draw bigger circles that take all creation in!
1 Matthew 25:40
2 John 17:21
3 John 14:20