One of the features of a traditional church which puts some people off are what they perceive of as complex sets of rules. Where some people find this attractive and, indeed part of the appeal of joining such a church, others find them, and the language in which they are couched both baffling and off-putting. There is certainly, for those of us in big churches, the danger of looking to outsiders like a Gnostic church -one where insiders understand complex language and the requirements of the church, but where others feel excluded. The Apostles did not ask of converts whether they were orthodox or of the right quality, they asked whether they believed Jesus was Lord. We know that many converts misunderstood what the church meant – in fact we owe such inadequate comprehension a great debt as it prompted most of St Paul’s letters. So, those who thought that, having confessed Jesus was Lord meant they could carry on sinning with impunity because they were ‘saved’ were given short shrift from Paul – salvation was like a race, and we had to train for it, and we had to keep running to the end to win the prize. But somehow, people still seem to confuse being converted to belief in Christ with being saved once and for all.
There are some who find the whole concept of belonging to a ‘religion’ uncomfortable. But ‘religion’ comes from the Latin, ‘religare’ which means to ‘bind together’ or to ‘tie fast’ – and as I am bound together with Christ and want to be tied fast to him, I’m not sure what’s wrong here – except for the fact that perhaps in the eyes of those who do have an objection, it means signing up to a set of beliefs which makes them uncomfortable.
I am not the first Christian, neither will I be the last. I am in a long line of people, and back along that line, people smarter and holier than me did something for which I am extremely grateful – they wrestled with issues such as how the Father and the Son could be one, and how believing in Father, Son and Holy Ghost meant believing in one God not three, and what it meant to say we ate the body and drank the blood of Christ at the Eucharist but we were not cannibals – oh, and a host of other things too. It means I am able to benefit from their insights, and able to know what better men and women than I encountered in their walk with the Lord – why on earth or in Heaven wouldn’t I want to be part of that tradition? Why on earth and in Heaven would I think that my personal encounter with Jesus had no connection with the encounters others have had? For me it’s a huge joy to be able to visit with other Christians from across the ages – and here and now too. But perhaps people like Bosco have gained the impression it is the church and its ceremonies we are worshipping and not the Lord. That isn’t so, the Church is the bride of Christ, and she can be arrayed in a variety of wedding garments, but it is the bridegroom we – and she – worship. She exists to bind us together with him and so that we can be a help one to another – and of course, so that we can receive him at the Eucharistic feast. None of this is unbiblical, and anyone who can’t see that may not be looking very carefully – or we may not have explained it – I hope I have now 🙂