Wow! I said, “Let me have it!” and you did.
It’s all good. This is a conversation that we must have in our tradition, by our churches and for our institution. I had a number of comments on the blog as well as a handful of emails responding to this past blog. There are so many issues that could be addressed, but rather than go down every rabbit hole I will move into the first Great End and look for some of the themes that emerged from the comments.
The First Great End: The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind.”
First, let me remind you why I invited you to step into this with me. Many of our churches have struggled with connecting with the broader culture, language and values of the people of their surrounding community. When I realized that my readership represented a cross section of people who are both in the church and beyond it (but still care enough to read my blog) I felt that this was an opportunity to have this conversation and for the people of our churches to listen in (and participate, as interested). The blog format provides a little more safety and anonymity to be honest without jeopardizing actual relationships in a church or community.
One of the things that is exceedingly clear in this dialogue is that we are suffering from the sins of our own past. Many of the comments referred to the damage that we have done in the name of Christian religion and for the sake of “bringing salvation to all humankind.” Whether it says it overtly in our great ends it is a history that most of us know. For many, they can’t hear the first great end, “Proclaiming the gospel for the salvation of humankind” without hearing colonization, imperialism, and an “us vs. them” attitude.
But many other commenters saw the clear call to Christian identity. All of the language is rooted in scripture and, as one commenter noted, “It is Biblical.” This gets to the heart of this series. I asked the question, “What does it mean to be a Presbyterian Christian.” For many the answer is right here—to share the liberating message of Jesus Christ for the “salvation of” or least, for the good of all humankind.
I felt one commenter was able to hear both the reaction from those who bristled at the language and those who rely on this language for a sense of Christian identity and purpose. He posed (my paraphrase), “Is it possible for us to share our experience in a way that also honors the experience of others?”
I admit that underlying this series is the assumption that we now live in a globally interdependent world. I would also maintain that it is now arrogant to think that we are responsible for the salvation of all humankind. But this one commenter seemed to cut to the heart of this by posing a question that honored our Christian identity and experience without imposing that same experience on others.
I wonder if this even deepens our concept of salvation. Might the word salvation (or something close to it) still be appropriate? Rather than thinking that salvation is based on people accepting our “gospel truth,” what if salvation is the natural and organic result of people sharing their experience, listening to the experience of others, and discovering God in the midst of relationship. What if salvation is not some far off reward for believing the right things, but a quality of life found in mutuality, respect, and appreciation for the rich diversity of humanity?
Could it be that this great end is still as foundational as ever, but that it needs some freshening up in language and a new lens that helps us hear it, interpret it and live it out in a globally interdependent world?
Next week we will start unpacking the second Great End, “The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” Remember we are trying to answer two basic questions, “What does it mean to be a Presbyterian Christian,” and “How do we best communicate that to the rest of the world?”
Also, I will be highlighting the recent decisions of First Presbyterian Church, Ashland, as they wrestle with these issues in real and tangible ways.
Keep commenting and emailing me.
We won’t solve everything, but at least we are talking about things that matter.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades