The Common Good

Christianity Is Not a Club

On the road, listening to NPR's Terry Gross interview Lawrence Wright, author of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, and having recently spent two hours at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum seeing the Nazis photographed, not in the usual black and white, but in the full colors of the natural world, it occurred that the human impulse to be part of an exclusive group has deep, powerful roots in religion.

Red carpet image, disfera/ Shutterstock.com
Red carpet image, disfera/ Shutterstock.com

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People join "true churches" for this same impulse, a motivation that could not be further from the intention of the Gospel, which, at the heart of its mission, contains the abolition of exclusivity of any kind.

Christ following is not about joining the best club, but about following where Christ leads, straight into the company of every person, no matter their situation or circumstances, in order to be a servant to them, one who lays down his or her life, like Jesus, for the life of the world.

We were made for Communion with God and our neighbor, who Jesus tells us is every person.

Scientology, National Socialism, and other cults, past or present, religious or tribal, are modern forms of Gnosticism. They say, in varying ways, "We have something (usually 'knowledge') not publicly available to everyone and you must join us, submit to us, to participate in our secret." It's important to recognize that this is also an offer of power.

We see this "secret knowledge" in the conspiracy theories that grip many in our culture, including many Christians. The enlightened few claim to know how things *really* are, what's actually occurring in politics and finance, while the rest of humanity fumbles in the dark.

In clear contrast to this, the Gospel is public truth, available to everyone, that reveals to all flesh who it is who rules all things by love, who holds all things in the grip of grace, who is making all things new by Christ's resurrection life, whose government overthrows all conspiracies. This ultimate reality is no longer hidden but made known to all in Jesus Christ.

God invites all persons to freely embrace God's rule, grace, and life. The community gathered to remember Jesus knows no borders, no races, no secrets. God welcomes us all and we welcome all in God's Name. God draws us not by the allure of special knowledge or power but by something higher than these: active, self-sacrificial love.

What I realized, listening to NPR, and walking through the Holocaust Museum — this came to me also in something I read, about a man who moved from Catholicism to Orthodoxy, because the Eastern liturgy is ostensibly "purer" — is that too many people seek the church, and join the church, for the wrong motives. We must make it plain that citizenship in the New Creation embraces the end of all human exclusions.

We remain the unique individuals God crafted from dust — but the Communion we are baptized into celebrates a God who embraces everyone and this is a very different kind of community than the sorts we humans form when left to our own devises or those of the Evil One.

When our churches function like clubs, even have the appearance of functioning like clubs, we have lost sight of the One who is no respecter of persons.

When we offer something like special knowledge or special power and not the Way of the Cross, we need to recall his example of extreme humility and sacrifice: "Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant."

The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Mich.

Photo: Red carpet image, disfera/ Shutterstock.com

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