Call no one teacher. — Jesus (Matthew 23:8)
God has no grandchildren. — Evangelical saying
They don’t make you check your mind at the door. — Anglican Saying
Christianity has gone back and forth through its history. Sometimes, it emphasizes the value of having an educated clergy teaching the faith to an often illiterate laity. At other times, it values the need for universal literacy. This includes the responsibility for all Christians to read the scriptures themselves and learn to discern God’s purposes in the world and in their lives. With the rise of near-universal levels of literacy in North America and Europe, we are well into a time of emphasizing the need for all Christians to read and discern for themselves. As the institutional forms of the mainline churches diminish in the years to come, I foresee a time of revival as Christians take ownership of their faith and live it out in creative ways in their lives and in community.
I was raised in a Christian tradition that took belief very seriously. It was a tradition that was skeptical that you were a real Christian if you didn’t hold their beliefs. Growing up, I learned that the central task leading to salvation was ensuring that you had the right beliefs. Therefore, much of my Christian training was learning the correct understanding of Justification by Faith, Atonement Theory, the ‘correct’ creation timeline, the ‘proper’ understanding of the schedule of events of the end of time, and so on. However, as I got older and found major disagreements even within my own narrow tradition, I discovered the need to go to the scriptures to see for myself, and figure out for myself what they meant.
Faith Grows with Wrestling
There were two important wisdom lessons I learned from this. First, my faith in God actually grew by leaps and bounds as I wrestled with questions. I didn’t always find answers, but I found God personally. I didn’t just learn what my parents and teachers taught me ABOUT God, but I found the living God in the wrestling. It is no accident that the word Israel means “One who wrestles with God.”
Faith Grows in Community
The second lesson I learned is that I did not grow as a Christian alone, but in community. Part of it was in the community of the church of the ages. There, I read great saints who challenged me deeply. I found both commentaries on scripture and rich daily devotional practices that opened my heart. This is the inheritance of centuries, alive in the present-day community. By having conversations, praying with people, being helped by compassionate saints, and by watching their lives, I learned and grew. I laughed, prayed and learned with hundreds of people over the years. In all of it, God spoke to me and continues to speak to me to this day. I love God in Christ so much.
Discipleship for All
As we move into a new chapter in the life of the universal church, all of us need to take a greater and greater ownership of our faith. God is doing new and amazing things bringing the Gospel of hope, mercy and love to people around the world. This is a difficult time, and God is calling us to be the church in the world, not just in our building. For that to happen, we all need to know deeply how much we are loved by God. We need to know that God calls, forgives, renews and transforms us. It is not enough for me to tell you about the love of God; you need to pray that you would know deeply that you are a child of God. And that changes everything!