I moved and settled down here in Saskatoon because some of Gods people asked me to do so. I have come to love Saskatoon, her people, beauty and personality. As someone arriving from far away I was thrilled to recognize the imprints of the work by the Holy Spirit in the city, she is founded on the spirit of the aspiration of mutual understanding and cooperation rather than colonization and segregation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M–y1AEX9pM (Thank you Chris Randall for bringing this to my attention). Many spiritual gifts are at work in the Church of Saskatoon. The Holy Spirit is at work here and the Kingdom of God is just a perspective away. Like an orchestra the Church in Saskatoon is tuning up to play beautiful music, but before that can happen, before the full potential of the orchestra is unlocked, the orchestra needs to put it’s full attention on the Conductor first, not each other. When full attention is given to the Conductor then we are able to play at the right moment, giving our all back to Him, receiving instruction and life in turn. We are able to listen and hear the melody of the Conductor in the others of the orchestra when we are waiting in anticipation to play.
When the different members in the body of Christ (i.e. the orchestra) try to communicate and get to know one another we often refer to this as “ecumenism” or “dialogue”. Here in the city of Saskatoon there has been such a process going on between the Roman catholic church (RCC) and big parts of the Evangelical church (EC) for the last 3,5 years. A group of 10 representatives from each “side” have met regularly to try to find out what we have in common, where we differ and where we can cooperate for the overall good of our city. The group has been trying to “tune up”. I admire and feel inspired by such an endeavor and process and I respect the work of the group walking trough all of this as well as the many forerunners that made this conversation possible. The goal, as I understand it, is for the representatives to eventually sign a document that outlines the similarities, differences and how we can cooperate.
It just turns out that this is harder than maybe anticipated. There is a hold up. Leaders asked to sign struggles with signing it. They are looking for their instruments. They don’t even know that a tune up has begun. They don’t even want to play. Why is that?
I believe that the ecumenical dialogue, the tune up, will only move forward if Truth is put forward, and in this dialogue process of getting to know each other better we are discovering notes missing and instruments being bent and out of tune. Getting a symphony ready to play takes time. Truth is that under a politically correct and polite surface there are many, old and deep resentments lingering in the members of the body of Christ. If those instruments are played out loud, the world will hear an orchestra out of both tone and sync. The beautiful music She was intended to play becomes a testimony against Her, the audience and the musicians fleeing the scene. Then after a while we eventually start a new dialogue or a new attempt at “revival”…
It is pretty easy to sign a document but it is hard to be one. We can sign a document and feel pretty good about that for a while but unless we are actually prepared to go back and repent and return from the things that caused all this disharmony in the first place it will be just another “nice” document to put on the already overflowing shelves of “historical events in the church” in the “humanities” section in the “library of pride”, another concert that appeared maybe even nice but did not stir the hearts of the musicians or the audience.
Documents and notes worth their while, always need to be representative of an existing reality. This goes from everything from bills and bonds to creeds and sheet music. Money without trust or a functioning economic system is just, paper… Notes without a person with an instrument interpreting and playing them in tune are just ink… No spirit and no life. If ecumenism is going to remain true to it’s name and continue in the Spirit of the 7 ecumenical councils (to draw all the members of the Church to Christ by the Holy Spirit, to bring us home) it must seek what is true about how the church ended up in her current state. Ecumenism must not dwell on the sin and despair but it must aid the Church in acknowledging the history of Herself and repent from the things that seek to destroy Her from within. The members of the body must be prepared to remain in proximity to one another even when the worst sins are brought to surface. In a process like this, (and don’t get me wrong, the formulated document is very much stating the reality of our current agreements and differences), the different parties/members must be prepared to grow the environment in which the document is formulated in. It must be a living letter/document/covenant before it can be written. A document can never bring about reality but reality can bring about a document.
Sure there are 20 representatives in a working group that are able to come to an understanding of what the document is about but that is because they have committed to relationship. If the goal is to state the truth about our current situation then we must have representations from a greater and more diverse base doing the same. We must refrain from calling it a vision statement because that communicates that we share a common vision, we don’t. We share One Lord, One faith, One baptism and One Lord and Father of all, (Eph 4:4 – 6) not a common vision/understanding/interpretation of Him. God can never be grasped by our imagination or knowledge. He can only be experienced through a bond of love. He remains forever elusive to the proud but forever close to the humble. He remains the same but in His greatness we experience Him in different ways on a personal level recognizing Him in one another. So, rather than a vision statement I’d like to call the document “A current assessment of the Church in Saskatoon – a living document.” (Even though that might sound a bit dry. Other suggestions are received with gratitude!)
It is not that God is not at work in Saskatoon, He is always at work, everywhere. He Is. It’s just that we won’t experience (t)His reality, Him at work, until we submit to His will and authority. What is His will? That we love Him and one another (John 13:34 – 35), it is here that we fall short. We put our own, or at least I know I do, agendas/believes/egos before loving others. If we love one another, unity will follow by default, by divine decree. Why is it so hard to love one another?
In my own research about the history of the Church I have encountered two patterns, two spirits that seems to hold a tight grip, undermining every try to truly love and to reconcile. These two spirits are hard to identify because they have formed paradigms that many persons operate from within. Once within a paradigm, it is very hard to see it from “the outside”, hence it is hard to identify these spirits if one is operating in them.
One spirit I call the spirit of paternalism and this is the spirit that claims that it is only certain people with certain abilities that can have revelations from God or interpret what God says. The spirit of paternalism undermines true conciliar process, and the voice of every believer. It tries to regulate the Holy Spirit by definitions and protocol. It refuses to wait in patience for the Holy Spirit, fearing exposure. It hoards legal process, scholastic method and fixed strategies to be applied on diverse circumstance. The spirit of paternalism in many ways is the parent of colonialism. Paternalism says that the body of Christ is something to be ruled over, not membered into. It clings to status quo to a fault, it suspects creativity, spontaneity and diversity. It shuts its ears for anything that it can’t control, for the miracle and for the unexpected. It is addicted to nostalgia. Paternalisms creed is “No change.”
The other spirit that is roaming around is the spirit of independence, or rebellion. Some 33.000 denominations (http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm) testify to the fact that this spirit does not want to come in under any authority except its own. This spirit breeds church splits, dissent and emotionalism. It is the harbinger of restlessness, discontentment and confusion. It leaves and disengages rather than committing to the relationship. It seeks something “new” as to stimulate its appetite while discarding anything “traditional” as dead religion. It claims ownership over “new” discoveries while failing to recognize that this “new” truth had been present all along. The spirit claims that it is the guardian of individual freedom but it is a false claim since true freedom can only be actualized when we give our freedom away, binding ourselves to Christ. We need His authority as incarnated by the Holy Spirit in His Church to be free. This, the spirit of rebellion refuses to recognize. The spirit of individualism might say that it has Jesus as Lord but will often refrain from taking any instruction from Jesus very own body, the Church. It abhors repetition, structure, discipline and accountability. The creed of the spirit is “Everything must change”.
I leave it up to your conciliar discernment to determine what different doctrines these two spirits has put forward within the history of the Church.
When these spirits clash, murder happens, as we have seen in both crusades, post reformation Europe, inquisitions, slave trade, power agendas in worldly politics etc. They enforce each other in a vicious circle leading towards death. When we refuse to recognize that both these spirit are present within our own hearts we often choose to endorse one and “kill” the other but there is a different way. By acknowledging the presence of both they start to loose power over our hearts and eventually it becomes clear that we, as the body of Christ, in a mystery, must change to remain the same (to use the words of fr. Alexander Schmemann). It is our lack of love for one another that keeps us from seeing that structure and freedom are not opposed, that ritual and creativity is not mutual exclusive and that liturgy and spontaneity actually benefit from one another.
The problem was never that we didn’t know the solution. The solution has always been there. The solution is a Person and our hearts as parts of this Person has always known that deep within. We, as the body of Christ are the mission (Missio Dei). The Kingdom of God is standing at the ready to launch in and invade a broken city, one act of love at a time. The highway to His city runs through our hearts (Ps 84:5). The problem was/is that we never thought it might actually cost us something, or rather everything (Matt 16:25). Pure love, Gods Way, requires pure hearts (Matt 5:8) and in that area, I must confess, I have much that I must offer back to God for His healing. There are many stones in my life obscuring the path (Isa 62:10) to the gate that stands wide open. I just can’t make it on my own. I need my Conductor to be able to play. As churches we can’t make it on our own, we need our Conductor and one another to manifest the glory of Christ’s body, to find and reveal that glorious city right here in Saskatoon (1 Cor 12:20 – 22) Everything is ready, a feast prepared, (Matt 22:2) a robe waiting (Luke 15:22), gates swung open (Rev 21:25), the table set (Luke 22:29 – 30).
For the reconciliation of the body of Christ in Saskatoon, to be obedient to the will of Christ Himself , to be one, (John 17) I suggest the following:
- Continuously pray for the Holy Spirit, the Giver of life, to be present in all of the aspects of the process. Allow for time to wait and listen for Him. Take a posture of waiting and expectation.
- Continue the dialogue with holy tension. Invite more and more people to public meetings, talking about the different parts of the document, what they mean and how they can be applied. Create a place where relationship can happen and we can get to know one another. Do not set a “goal date” for when a document needs to be “finished”. The law is now written o hearts of flesh, not on stone. If we desire to love one another then we need to get to know one another, both blemishes and gifts.
- If there are to be some joint services in this process, give them a language of repentance, vulnerability and sacrificial love rather than a celebration of a unity that is based on mental ascent. If we can’t share the Eucharistic table because of different believes or lack of love, this should be acknowledged rather than ignored as to not grieve the Spirit of Truth. In pretending that we offer our all, celebrating “unity” we (albeit maybe not intending to) commit the same sin as Annanias and Saphira, the sin of pretense, perpetuating the brokenness by never addressing the underlying issues. On the other hand, if we in joint service can be vulnerable and acknowledge the sins of the past that we have committed towards one another then the Spirit of Truth is at work and can begin His work of healing.
- Don’t do anything together until we know who we are together. If we are going to function as a unified body we need to know what the different parts of the body are good at, what their identity and function is. For this to happen we need working relationships. Can we find a way to gather all (Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, Protestant, Baptist etc) Christian leadership to pray together at least once a year?
- List of things that we need to repent from: I won’t point fingers but will trust that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us what we need to repent from. If you feel bold enough I encourage you to write down what you believe you need to repent from in the comments below, maybe that can give us some clues about what the body of Christ is suffering from and then we can ask for His healing.
“One of the first lessons we learn about discernment – from Jesus anyway – is that it will always tend toward concrete expressions of love with real people rather than theoretical conversations about theology and philosophy. Such conversations are valuable only if they eventually lead us to a more concrete expression of love for the real people who are in need around us. If such conversations don’t move us toward concrete action in the world, we become the proverbial noisy gong and clashing symbol. The disciples blindness to the work of God in their midst is sobering because it demonstrates that even those who are the closest to Jesus and on a serious spiritual journey can still miss things – especially if we are living and breathing the same cultural influences together.” Excerpt from “Pursuing Gods will together” by Ruth Haley Burton
It would have been easier not to write anything at all and just go about life as usual, life is fine. But, we are made for more than just “fine,” we are made in and for greatness. It is for this reason I have penned this text. It is for Jerusalem’s sake (i.e. the Church – the foundation of peace) I can’t keep silent. The Conductor is urging me to pay attention to Him and play my instrument together with you. In the end it is not enough to talk about Christ, we must be a part of Christ. I say that I love Saskatoon. Blessed is the one who does not have to use words to convince his listeners… Lord, have mercy. Holy Spirit, come with Your cleansing fire.