Competing Creedal Institutions
|What mankind today needs more
than technology is a spiritual awareness to control that technology. While the churches traditionally may preach
spiritual awareness, do not
make an illogical jump of association to say the churches are preaching it therefore they have
it. That isn’t necessarily so. It is a dangerous assumption. It seems to me our churches sometimes talk of a
Spiritual Kingdom, but by no means are they to be considered that. A spiritual sense of the Kingdom
of God is one thing the churches largely seem to lack. The churches seen around seem to be mostly flat
and one dimensional creedal institutions competing with each other while obsessed with bad values:
materialism, secular morality and often an underlying assumption there really is no personal God.
The split seems between liberals who often use being non-creedal as their creed to oppose conservatives who have more old fashioned and doctrinaire creeds. But whether the creed is old or new, the sense of the presence of a Spiritual God I find not there. I am often caught between one dimensional parties arguing over creeds but I do not feel the presence of the Spirit of God in them. The Catholics are far too literal while the liberals are far too liberal. I am not reconciled with either. So I end up a conservative Protestant caught between extremes. But even the conservative Protestants appear stale and flat. When attending church I like to feel God there. Images, rituals and incense are visual cosmetics that help me little. I want a feeling of God in churches and not a church without a feeling of the Transcendent Sovereign. There are to me certain signs of the Kingdom of God that I need to see in a church: the poor, the sick, the converted, the joyful. Then the church is part of the Kingdom. It invites my soul.
Jesus preached the Kingdom of God (Luke 12:32) and that Kingdom of God within you (Luke 17:21). He preached an invisible transcendent parental-world-spirit. What has this to do with many of our churches of today that are moribund, asleep in a materialistic coma, not offering much real experience of God? Our churches are urban, secular, socially active but spiritually empty. They are more statements about social status than instructive about God. Of course there is no more amusing narcissism of the rich than those who seek in the social mirror of themselves to find God. But if I do not see a poor family in a church, I leave. I know this is not the Kingdom. Why wait for a lot of holy la-te-dah.? The sincerity is not there. The Kingdom of Heaven is not announced.
So many churches have “footnote religion.” God is mentioned mostly in the footnotes of their creeds. Many churches are like potted plants grown pot bound by the constant overgrowth of their own roots. Removal from the creedal pot is what these churches need. But most are simply social institutions full of religiously duped people leading non-spiritual lives. How many duped people have I known to give money for church parking lots and thought they furthered the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God will be found more with the poor, materially or mentally, the hungry, and those lacking vehicles.
The modem secular world needs spirituality. But spirituality may be a long time coming from many of the churches around us. Shallow in God, what can they give? The recital of a creed, a charitable program for the pious much like what the Kiwanis Club is doing, an agenda, a five year schedule for the impulsive heart? The best in religion is when people tap directly into the energy of God, so why settle for a creed which is an empty recital? Pray for grace to seek God yourself. Don’t by-pass God for a church settlement treaty but seek God while He may be found. (Deuteronomy 4:29) Then you may go to a church, which is a good thing, but not think the church is God, which is a bad thing and blind.
Let us remember it is the duty of the church to put people in touch with God. The Apostles said they went down into the villages and “ gave them Christ.” It is not our duty to slip the people a creed and then by-pass Christ. They need a meaningful relationship with a living God. They need to know Christ as their personal and sympathetic friend and Savior. A creed is second hand information and only about God. The people need to know God as a sympathetic spirit, enjoy and be sustained by a personal relationship with Him all day long. They should make their hearts into chapels of ease, that is a holy place of accessibility to refresh themselves, when they cannot worship God all together.
It is not our duty as a church to set up one more gray ecclesiastical institution of rationalization that tries to survive and thrive in a semi-pagan and secular society by acting that way. Our duty is to preach Christ Crucified and Risen that people may know of God and have a relationship with His invisible Spirit. It is our duty to preach to a world that doesn’t really believe in God, that God is Real. That is shocking information today as always. Some always respond that I am somewhat “off ” for believing in God, but I think they are blind and insensitive as well as morally barbarian.
Then I pray, saying to God: “Lord, I have a quarrel with you. Why have you sent me to cast pearls before swinish minds?” So I may pray. Then later on I will find His answer coming to mind “Grace is like music. Because there are some tone deaf in the audience, don’t you think yourself rather childish to want to cancel the symphony? What about the good people who came to hear the music and can appreciate it? Share the light you have with everyone as I share the sun with everyone, good or evil, blind or seeing. Forget the swine. You are too sensitive to clods. Be always polite, but ignore the ever present pigs.”
People may not in discovering God be able to digest all of God or understand everything about God, because men’s eyes are too small to survey God and understand His territory fully. But we can still learn to love God. We can discover that share of God we were meant to appreciate. We may go to grace. Then we may have some part of the transcendent Kingdom of God in our heart, in our mind and in the way we view the world.
Yes, spirituality is what the world and many individuals in it have a deep need of, but I am not always sure it can come from the long gray line of religious denominations sleeping around us: the sacramental smugly dishing it out, the confused preachers spouting God knows what, and so many of the intelligent not believing in a personal God. For if God is not personal to us, He will be nothing to us. No source of energy and not a directive in our actions.
However with God who knows where the future lies? He is a mystery, subtle and very ironic. He has been known in the past to change things. He has pulled down the mighty from their seats and the rich He has sent empty away. (Luke 1:52-53) I suggest He may do this again in our churches. Why? Because I am convinced many of the gray spirit-less churches and many individuals in them are waiting like Jericho for the trumpet to sound. Then walls will come tumbling down.
The Holy Spirit has much in common with an opera soprano whose voice has vibrations that can shatter glass. The spiritual vibrations of the Holy Spirit may also be felt in the heart. John Wesley said of his conversion that his heart was “strangely warmed.” Hearts now dead can again be strangely “warmed.”
I suggest the dead bones of the modern, dead and boring churches can like those in Ezekiel 37:4 be raised again by the Spirit of God and will, if the churches will heed the Word of the Lord which is that God loves us first and creeds come later. God’s love is greater than mere creeds.
Our creeds are but nursery rhymes to God. He hears them as a fond father listens to his children, smiling, and very proud of them, but His knowledge is beyond the children’s. The father knows what is important is the attitude of the heart in the children reciting while the relationship the children have with Him and others is profoundly important. The priority is not so much which nursery rhyme of faith they recite. But God hears the different nursery rhymes and smiles at each in the way a proud father should since God is the father of all His children all over the world. This includes Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists, Jews and Christians. If the children do not know Him, He knows them. He is their father too. All are children of God. Having the correct information may be significant but it is not why you love your children. You love them because they are your children. And all are the children of God who loves them.
I hope we are leaving that long era when religion failed to furnish spirituality, but often became in some things an unhealthy influence that further divided mankind. What religion needs to bring to the world is spirituality, love, hope, tolerant peace, and not just be competitive institutions fighting over creeds and status. May God help the churches of the future. The world needs them, but only if they can behave and act like spirit filled institutions.
If all the religions of the world would just teach the virtues they can agree on, which is an enormous amount, and not fight over what they disagree on, the religions of the world might be a greater blessing to it. Religion could then be a more powerful spiritual influence and more of the example the world needs. All of the denominations of Christianity have much in common while all the four major religions of the world are true to a theme of suffering love. If only the religions and faiths might magnify the positive while recognizing disagreements respectfully (but learning to look down the road beyond them), then religions could once again offer not only the heavenly salvation of mankind but aid in redeeming a troubled, bitterly divided world. That is after all part of the mission of all churches.
Let us so pray as we are assured (James 5:16) the prayers of a righteous man avail much.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.