What do we as "Christians" value? I'm not sure that there could be a broader, more loaded question than that one. So, let's try again. At our hearts, at our most base, having stripped away all of denominational/personal differences, all of the extemporaneous stuff (for lack of a better word) that we get ourselves caught up in, what do we collectively value? Still loaded and still very broad; this isn't going very well. And you know what, maybe there is no way to really streamline that question to get at the "heart" of the matter, but then again...lol. Of course I know all of the seminary answers to these questions. I know what we're supposed to say. I know the pat answers and frankly they ring pretty hollow most of the time. Ultimately, I suppose, whatever your answer, does your church, does your life, and does your witness back up whatever answer you might give? I absolutely loved seminary, all of the studying, the currency of knowledge, but if there were one thing that seminary (and life for that matter) has taught me, it's that talk is cheap. Faith without works is indeed dead...sorry Luther. Church without authenticity...I'll be nice :)
Okay, where was I? :) The mission of the United Methodist Church, per the Book of Discipline, is as follows, "The mission of the Church is to make disciples of
Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide
the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs." Sounds good and it is. I think that is also pretty representative of most denominations; it is after all, in part, paraphrasing the "Great Commission". Whether or not we, meaning all of us collectively, are accomplishing that goal is a discussion for another day and probably for someone else. I have grown weary in worrying about what other churches and or denominations are doing right, wrong, or otherwise. I'm concerned only with my little piece of paradise here in South Louisville in those regards.
Beyond this, and I'm just going to throw some other terms/ideals out there that we are all supposed to collectively value as defining traits. Faith as a verb. Perseverance. Love. Mercy. Grace. Selflessness. Charity. Kindness. Holiness. Righteousness. Risk taking. Fearlessness. This is by no means exhaustive and I'll be very honest, I'm listing those things that I think we do really well at Heathen Church :)
We are doing our fool best to very intentionally, as well as facilitating the means for it to happen organically, to live out the examples set in Matthew 9:9-13 (#3) and Mark 2:13-17 (#4). The values in the preceding paragraph are what we hope to be defined by, and I think/feel/hope/pray that we are doing a great job at it, but really, that is for others to decide. But what I can say with full confidence is that we have audaciously reached into the places that few other churches are willing to go. We are willing to search out the sinners and the tax collectors and then to break bread with them. We are also willing to worship with anyone who comes through our doors. We don't care who you are, what you believe, what you might have done, or really, why you're there. There are no requirements to join us. Come as you are.
That sentiment when lived out, literally scares the h-e-double hockey sticks out of most Christians. And really what it comes back to is, what I ask our church all of the time, "Do you really believe that which you proclaim?" If we do, then we have no choice but to trust the Holy Spirit to do His work. We have to believe that God wants the people coming through our doors bad enough to have died for them, which is every bit as bad as He wanted us.
If we believe these things, if we are being obedient, and striving to be authentic, then we shouldn't fear allowing anyone to "come as you are", because they will not be able to stay as they are. I think this also scares us because so many of us have not truly experienced the type of transformation that makes us unable to keep those values listed above, within. Which of course is a conversation for another day, but suffice it to say, the lack of transformation in our faith journeys is troubling. ("If conversion makes no improvements in a man's outward actions then I think his conversion was largely imaginary." CS Lewis)
And once again, even that statement, that sentiment, will cause all sorts of indigestion, "You are welcome to come as you are, but you cannot stay as you are." Does this mean that we have some sort of mystical ideal of what you ought to be turning into? Are we trying to mold you into someone or something we ourselves cannot live into? No. The changes that are wrought within someone is between them and God. My job, our job, is to be facilitators of that meeting. I trust God enough to do what He needs and wants to do within someone, just as He did within me. And let me quite clear, there's still an awful lot of people in this world who are shocked, "Wait!? You're a pastor??? How on earth did that happen???" God happened :) Do we really trust God to do God's job? Teaching, preaching, leading, walking alongside people, are vital make no mistake. But to what ends? Our goal at Heathen Church is to do those things ever with an eye towards letting God do His work. If our beliefs and our faith are authentic, why on earth would we not have the faith that God can reveal that to someone else? And if it's not, if we are mistaken, do we not also have the faith that God will point that out to us as well?
All of this to say, or rather to invite the wheels to start churning, is that Heathen Church is an exercise in attempting to live out our faith in a way that truly says, "As Christians, we really do believe the things that we proclaim" and we are going to do our best to live out the example that Jesus left us. This place truly is an exercise in faith...and it appears to make an awful lot of Christians (and pagans too for that matter) uncomfortable.