Fifth Week of Easter 2007
In the Book of Acts we have the scene where the Apostles have been receiving disturbing reports. Folks have been going out and preaching some fringe things. These "missionaries" have been imposing their idea of what it takes to be saved and the hoops they believe people must jump through in order to be in God's love. On the surface that doesn't seem too bad. However, the problem is that these people have been distorting Jesus' commands. These folks have been making people adhere to their individual preference of what they believe constitutes true religion. The Apostles aren't having any of that! The Apostles seek to clear things up ASAP. The Apostles set out to do a refresher on the basics.
We have all experienced someone's ideas proclaimed to us as gospel truth. There are individuals in all traditions who declare him/herself as the bearer of truth. To disagree with these people results in him/her declaring that one isn't saved unless you do what he/she tells you to do. It doesn't necessarily mean these people mean any harm. But it does mean that they have stepped away from the basics and want to make the Church in his/her image.
When you stop and think about it, we face the same issues today that the Apostles faced in the first century. Someone was out there telling folks to do it 'my way or your lost'! Lovely. Nothing like a self proclaimed prophet running amok! Individuals, groups and even parishes can be torn apart when they buy into a self proclaimed prophet. As soon as we start veering from the core of our faith we are doomed to follow any passing teaching that will dissolve before we know it. That isn't to say that there aren't some really good unofficial teachings out there. On the contrary. There are many sound and edifying devotionals and practices of faith that are great. Yet it does become a problem when an individual is followed over the long standing teachings of our faith.
It doesn't matter if you call yourself a liberal or a conservative. Following the teachings of self ordained prophets before the revelation of God is always a dangerous path. To try and make the Church in our individual image is always a recipe for disaster. I often here many folk complain about how the Church use to be this or that and they lament any changes that come along. Point is the Church changes and grows as we come to understand more and more about God. The Church was different in the 1st century than it was in the 7th century, than it was in the 14th century, than it is in the 21st century. The true test is that the Church is based on Jesus' commands. The practice may be different from one generation to the next but it remains founded on the basics. Expression may change but the foundation is permanent. It is when we start trying to alter the foundation that we begin to crumble.
There are folk who want to try and create his/her own image of what church should be. That cannot be done. Well it can be but then it isn't The Church. Jesus gives us the core in today's Gospel. We cannot pick and choose what we want to follow in Jesus' words. When we do that, then we stray from the basics and we try to make the Church in our own image. Folks on all sides do it and it tears us apart just like the communities crying out in our reading from the Book of Acts.
If we follow what Jesus commands us to do then we find that we are united. If we do what Jesus commands us to do then we grow in faith. When we demand that things must be done our way, we turn our back on the basics of our faith. We must love God, love neighbor, and go forth and preach and teach God's salvation. Nothing less.