Last month, I presented an overview of a different path of belonging within the church. Over the next several months, I’ll go deeper into the implications of this path and explore the stops along the way.
When I attended seminary, my best friend dropped out after a year. He would’ve been an amazing pastor, and wherever he’s attending today, I’m sure he’s a great blessing to his congregation. But no matter how hard he worked at it, he couldn’t get the hang of the Greek language, and since all of the New Testament classes require it, he packed up his family and went back to his home state and his previous career.
As a Lutheran congregation, our spiritual methods revolve around learning the truth of God’s Word, including study, memorization, and associated vocabulary and rituals. Those are good. But if we see those practices as the end, not the means, not only do we turn the blessings of God into prideful and inaccurate measures of faith, but we also place a barrier for entry to anyone who doesn’t experience God’s love that way. Those are not the only ways to learn God’s love! Jesus pointed to young illiterate children, not the scribes, as the epitome of the kingdom of God. The goal of the church is to make disciples, not scholars. Scholarship, though valuable, is only one of many expressions of discipleship.
The church is grounded in God, Who is Love. Jesus Christ, love incarnate, is the cornerstone of God’s people. And love is unconditional. It has no barriers, no requirements, and no expectations. True love simply loves. Thus belonging in God’s church does not depend on extensive knowledge, but on the ability to receive love. Every human can do that, thus every human belongs in God’s church. We all struggle, question, and doubt. We all also grow, mature, rejoice, and find comfort in being loved. Some will come and enjoy being loved but take years to realize that Jesus is the source of that love. Some may never realize it. But those of us who know the Source have the opportunity to welcome those who don’t and celebrate the miracle of that opportunity. And when they do come to faith, we celebrate, because we know they’ll experience God’s love in ways they never imagined before. And while we strive to learn more about God’s love through His Word, we can only learn so much in a classroom setting — love must be practiced to be fully experienced.
So we continue to seek to know God’s love more each day and give thanks that God brings many people into our lives to love. We look for opportunities to show what unconditional love truly means and grow in faith and love through those opportunities. And when the opportunity comes to sacrifice our time, comfort, and resources to love others, we humbly accept the honor God has given us to represent Him and echo the words of Isaiah: “Here I am! Send me!”