s116e00 30/1/2000 Sunday 4

"love builds up" 1 Cor 8.1

I can still remember my time in theological college - it was characterised by arguments over church - person - ship. (It was also the hot bed of rumours of changes in the diocese :-) ... I suspect life is different now, but I don't know.) It was the same time that the predecessor for our present Archbishop was appointed. I can remember some people claiming him for their own - even before he arrived - he was catholic, evangelical or charismatic - each at the same time! He was therefore being welcomed only so far as it was hoped he supported one of the traditions that existed in the diocese over the other traditions. As time went by, and as he was seen to be supportive of the variety of traditions within the Diocese, he also began to be accepted for the contribution he had to make to the life of this part of the Church.

But of course this calls into question the theology behind what was claimed to be catholic, evangelical and charismatic strands ...

St Paul's words in the eighth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, superficially are about the eating of food; but are in reality about the respecting of other people's religious perceptions. I believe that St Paul is saying, fairly strongly, that our religious perceptions are secondary in importance to our relationship with others who differ from us.

St Paul would rather alter his own perceptions of the faith in deference to others, than take his stand on a particular ethical principle and b...er the rest.

So when we had the sorts of debates we had in theological college, they were of course about trying to get others to agree with our theological stance - the object of the exercise was to get others to change and become like us. And in microcosm this was largely the attitude of all Christian missionary work. Others had to become like us.

But St Paul tells us that we are to defer to the traditions of others, we are to respect their traditions. Indeed, to wound another by insisting on some principal of faith, St Paul tells us "you sin against Christ". This is a remarkable statement, and deserves our fullest attention. The person who differs from us is Christ.

The catholic is Christ for the evangelical and the charismatic, the evangelical is Christ for the catholic and the charismatic, and the charismatic is Christ for the catholic and the evangelical. When Christians look at the Jew, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the atheist, the humanist, the whatever - the Christian sees Christ.

So it is only as we DO THIS that we can ever claim that others should become like us. For me, it is only this principal which lifts Christianity above equality with other faiths. For me, it is only this principal which means we are any better off from sectarians. For me, it is only this principal which lifts Jesus from being just another teacher or prophet or whatever, to God's only Son.

For me, it has to be fundamental to our Christianity that people are more important than doctrines - that the only belief that in the end we cannot betray is that God loves people whatever they believe.

Many years ago I recall hearing someone describe themselves as a "backslider". I think that the reference is to "Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They have held fast to deceit, they have refused to return." (Jer 8:5). But here we read St Paul saying categorically: "So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed." (1 Cor 8:11). So Jesus died for weak believers as well as for strong.

From this we can infer that Jesus DOES NOT reward strong believers with healing and punish the weak believers with nothing. Jesus constantly referred to his disciples as: "Ye of little faith" and still he died and rose again for them. The amount or the content of their faith didn't matter - he died and rose again for them. They were to love one another - that is what mattered.

For the person strong in faith - the person weak in faith - is Christ.

For what is catholic if it is not "embracing all" (not just those who agree with a particular ritual or doctrine)?

What is evangelical if it is not "good news for all people" (not just those who agree with a particular view about the bible)?

And what is charismatic if it is not to enable us to respond to others in their own language (not just to teach others to speak our language - be that language "of mortals" or "of angels". 1 Cor 13:1).

 

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