[This is the seventh in a series of columns I'm writing for the Community Press newspapers. They're meant to be loving responses to what my non-churchgoing friends say keeps them from being part of the church.]
Sitting in my office one day, the phone rang. When I answered, a woman asked, "Are you the pastor?" "Yes," I said. "I've been calling churches all over Cincinnati," she told me. "So far, I haven't found what I'm looking for." "What exactly are you looking for?" I asked.
"Well," she explained. "I believe in Jesus and stuff. But I can't find a church that believes in reincarnation. Does your church believe in reincarnation?" "No." She was frustrated. Here she believed in "Jesus and stuff," yet she couldn't find a single Christian church that believed in reincarnation.
In this era of hyperindividualism, many people want to create their own religions, belief systems that cater to their specific prejudices and dispositions.
I'd be lying if I claimed that I didn't find that somewhat appealing. There are aspects of Christian faith and life that I find personally inconvenient, things like the call to servanthood and giving. Or, the necessity of confessing my sins and surrendering my life to Jesus Christ. Life would be easier if I didn't try to be what the Bible calls a disciple.
But each of us is confronted with a choice: Whether to go our own ways or to surrender to the God we meet in Jesus Christ. Faithful churches insist on our common need to surrender.
When I was in elementary school, I resisted as my father and grandfather forced me to memorize the multiplication tables I was supposed to be learning. I couldn't have cared less if 5-times-nine equaled 45. Besides, why couldn't 5-times-9 equal 46 if I wanted them to sometimes? For someone as math-challenged as I was--and remain, the multiplication tables were an inconvenient truth and way more trouble than I wanted.
Over thousands of years, through thousands of people, God has revealed Himself, His identity, and His will to all of us. We have a book that catalogs these many encounters, including the ultimate encounter, when God took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, died on a cross, and rose from death in order to save all the lost people on this planet who dare to follow Him. That book is the Bible. Others may disagree, but Christians believe that it is, as we Lutheran Christians put it, "the authoritative source and norm of our life, faith, and practice."
Under the prompting of God's Holy Spirit, our understanding of the teachings of the Bible may change over time. And different Christian traditions may emphasize some Biblical teachings more than others. But all believe that human beings are called not to look for a God or a religion that caters to what we prefer, but to follow the one true God of the universe Who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. The Bible, in a way, is God's multiplication table and in the end, it does us no good to pretend that 5-times-9 equal anything but 45.
"There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death." (Proverbs 14:12) Christian faith, for all its inconvenience and challenge, promises us new life that lasts forever.
So, I pray that while you find a church where you feel at home, you never find one in which you feel completely comfortable. May you never find a church fellowship that accommodates any beliefs or inclinations you have that are contrary to God's will as revealed in the Bible.
I pray that you find a church home that challenges you to follow Jesus even when it's inconvenient to do so.
[You might want to send this link to a friend. It contains the first seven installments of this series.]