What We Teach New Members: Part 1
Several times a year we welcome new members into the church. It’s a chance for interested people to find out why we do the things we do. As we explain and discuss our theology, we come to a richer understanding of our relationship with God and our purpose in life.
We start each session by emphasizing two things that lie at the core of our understanding of God and the world. Today we’ll cover the first. The second will come next time.
Assertion 1: We are saved by God through grace, not by our own works.
This declaration is as old as the Protestant Reformation, 500 years ago. It’s the foundation of our journey together. None of us is perfect. If we could be, we would not have needed Jesus Christ to die and rise again to redeem us. Jesus’ arrival on earth swept away the notion that we earn salvation ourselves by any deed or belief. To claim otherwise would create a “Christian” church which did not follow Christ!
Though this is easy to say, it’s also easy to forget. Most of us carry a dividing line in our heads between “that nice faith stuff” and “real life”. We say that Jesus saves us, but then we act as if church depends on the things we do. We uphold traditions as central, fret over the placing of candles or the color of flowers, debate the appropriateness of songs, and define “success” by numbers on a piece of paper. All of these things have a place, but none of them lie at the core of our identity.
Being saved through grace means that we’re imperfect, that we’re going to mess up. No tradition or practice will change that, or bring us to God. No matter what we say or do, no matter in what order or season, when the practice is completed and the tradition fulfilled, there we are…still imperfect. Whether our human foibles crept into the process or we did it correctly and falsely assume that the practice makes us “good” now, we’re still lost.
Being saved through grace also means that God meets us in our imperfections and works through them, filling the cracks with his love and forgiveness, making us whole again. God does not work through our church because we said or did the right thing to summon him. God works in our lives and community because he loves us no matter what.
Instead of engaging in the hopeless quest to find the perfect practice, we explore and try things together, letting many people and many voices lead. In each we find flaws, but in each we also hear the voice of God. Nobody at our church will measure if the candle lighter was held at an exact 45-degree angle relative to the altar. Everybody at our church will consider it a blessing that somebody is lighting that candle, that God’s light in shining through, and that we have a chance to ask again, “Where is God in all of this and how is he changing our lives today?”
When we stop sitting as judges over faith--determining what is executed rightly and wrongly, separating the world into better and worse--and start looking for God at work in the midst of imperfect things and people, we begin to follow God instead of leading him on a leash. Suddenly, God appears all around us: in worship, through children, in the normal, everyday moments of our lives. This is the beginning of wisdom.
We do not welcome people into our community by telling them we have the right way, defining ourselves merely by practices and traditions. We ask people to be on the lookout for God in everything
we do together, knowing that their vision and contributions will help us see God in ways we never have before, and never could without them. We don’t inquire whether God is working among us. Instead we ask how. We don’t assume that God works only through us either, nor that faith requires becoming just like us. We confess that God is bigger than all of us, then we spend our lives discovering just how big without worrying whether we’ll be damned if we ask the wrong question or see things through a less-than-perfect set of eyes.
This is the great blessing, and great freedom, that being saved by God’s grace instead of our own works gives us. It’s at the heart of everything we do.
Up next: Another key assertion that informs our faith life together!