THE BLOG

Seeking the True Church

01/03/2011 01:16 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2011

The recent Christmas holidays found a fair number of Americans in church, some for the first time, some for the only time of the year and some as a regular practice (at least once per month). The scripts for Protestant worship services, children's plays about the birth of Jesus and the plight/blessing of Mary are familiar to many. These narratives come out of the Bible. For those of us born into the Christian tradition and community, the Bible is integral in bringing us into a new relationship with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yet, we Christians are not called to actually believe in the Bible; we are called to believe in the living God witnessed to by the writers of the Bible. We are supposed to believe in the transforming power of living life like Jesus lived it even though few of us come close. Jesus requires a lot of giving up in a culture steeped in getting.

As Christians, when we speak of the authority of the Bible, we should only speak of its power through God's Spirit to help create and nourish our new life in relationship with God and with others. (Migliore, 2004)

Unfortunately, our Christian community often has the witness of humankind's coercive power in the Bible at the head of the bus and the witness of the transforming life of Jesus in the back. This failure of Christians to honor Christ is evident in the historical treatment of people of color, of women and, even today, of those who are non-gender conforming. As we slogged through the recent repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', I have no doubt that Jesus again wept. He came to free us from all idolatry, including bibliolatry and theocracy.

Jesus refused to ascribe ultimacy either to religious doctrines or traditions ... or to the claims of the state ... The apostle Paul distinguished between written codes that kill and the Spirit that gives life. (Migliore, 2004)

These killing codes are the ones that young queer people take into their hearts when they choose suicide over coming out to their families or churches.

I grew up in a killing-code tradition, yet it wasn't supposed to be. I am part of the Calvinist tradition. John Calvin refused to separate the authority of Scripture from experience that illuminates the life of Christ. He said that the Spirit convicts each of us of the truth in Scripture. Yet, sadly, when we speak of new revelation such as the role of women in the church and the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church and society, biblicists and bibliolaters say that we are destroying Christian identity and undermining the world's commitment to Christ.

Really?

Not in my world. Not in my Bible. My reference point for repairing the world is Jesus Christ.

Matthew 25:44 asks, Where is Christ? How we can recognize the true church and, by extension, the followers of Christ?

The answer is obvious to even the casual reader, no theological degree required. Christ is among the poor -- in body, mind and spirit. Therefore, by extension, the true church and its followers can be found in solidarity with the poor. Migliore says,

If this is not the only answer that should be given to the question of where Christ is, it is one that the church must never ignore.

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Have you seen a true church lately? I know one when I see it and I imagine that you do as well. Its demographics are rich and diverse. Women can lead in the true church along with men and people who are non-gender conforming.

In the true church, the first impulse of leadership is to serve, never to diminish. In the true church, the focus is on serving the Other -- the excluded, the isolated, the disenfranchised. In the true church, children are safe, people in jail are visited and elders are not forgotten and hungry people get fed -- no strings attached. In the true church, labels can be left at the door because the only label that matters is "loved." The true church is devoted to ecumenism and not afraid of the existence of different opinions about the many and varied expressions of faith. The true church serves a God of many names who is big enough to love everyone. The true church is not in the business of policing the moral lives of its members.

The true church doesn't take the Bible "literally" or insist on its infallibility. The true church understands that the Bible is a witness first and foremost to the love of God that is beyond human comprehension. The true church is constantly evolving through the revelation of the Spirit in the lives of its people.

If you are looking for the true church, look for one that is extravagant in its welcome to all people. Look for a church that is out of step with a homophobic, sexist, racist culture where everyone looks and sounds alike. There you will find Christ.