The Narrow Way
“…the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who take it.” (Matthew 7.14)
On Wednesday nights in October adults and children are gathering for Eucharist, Supper, and classes. The children are exploring the “Mysteries of the Bible”, looking at concepts like the Trinity, Faith, and the Resurrection, and stories like the Good Samaritan and the Road to Emmaus. Adults are pursuing the subject of “Being an Episcopalian in the South.” Those classes go through October 23 so jump in.
There are many advantages to the approach taken by the Episcopal Church as compared with that of other denominations in the South. More than a few in our culture get wounded by the rigidity of some expressions of Christianity. Many who flee the fear-based teachings of other churches find the more grace-based teaching of the Episcopal Church a relief. We’ve got good news to share and that is the love of Christ for each and every human being. While there isn’t a definite stance on many specific issues, we do get pretty definite about the love of God and our need to receive it. When we do receive it, our lives are radically transformed and we begin to look at ourselves, the world, and other people in brand new ways. We live much differently with the realization that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is an expression of God’s love for us.
I think it’s also true that the Episcopal Church asks us to work a little harder in faith matters. The Church doesn’t do our thinking for us. As we enter worship, we’re asked to bring our minds into the event instead of checking them at the door. In our bible reading, we are invited to bring critical thought and our imagination into our study. We take the bible seriously but not literally all the time. Instead of worshipping the bible, we seek to worship God through the bible. We’re not encouraged to think that God created the world in six days as we understand them, or that Adam and Eve were historical figures. If the strict dietary rules or gender roles don’t make sense to you, we don’t ask you go elsewhere. If you don’t believe the various miracles happened just like the bible reports, then you still have a home in the Episcopal Church. We are asked to look beyond the details of scriptural events to the deeper truth proclaimed. For many, that softer approach to scripture and faith, is very appealing. We emphasize the journey God puts us on and allow for varying paths to bring us to an understanding of Christ’s love.
But that approach is more difficult. Sometimes it’s easier just to be told how we are supposed to think, and precisely what we have to believe or do, in order to be a member of the Church or the Kingdom of God. The Episcopal Church tends to assume our membership in the kingdom already and the challenges that brings. We aren’t told we’re going to hell if we don’t do certain things which is blessed relief. But we are daily reminded that being in the kingdom requires soul searching, a loving heart, and acts of justice. We don’t have to change to be loved by God but the love of God requires change.
The Episcopal Church invites us to change. And people are basically change-resistant. The gospel of Christ is quite challenging. And people basically want to be comforted. Those two things – comfort and challenge – are what the Episcopal Church offers us week in and week out. God loves each of us exactly as we are. And, no matter where we are in life, God asks us to change and grow. If we are a little too certain of our position, the gospel rattles us and tells us we might be wrong. When we’ve determined that we’re absolutely right and others are absolutely wrong, that’s where we get into the most trouble.
In the Episcopal Church, our questions are encouraged. Most every year I get a phone call from a parent of a teenager who says their child has begun to express doubts about God or something they have heard about Christianity. I always get excited when I get a call like that because I know that young person is beginning to think for themselves.
But let’s face it, questions about God and faith are hard. The more we learn of who God is and how we experience God in our lives, the more we realize there is to know. The mysteries of the faith aren’t all soothing. To consider how large God is, is to be reminded of how very small we are. It’s easier to turn faith matters into a formula to control our outcomes.
If you’re looking for easy answers, or simplistic rules to follow, the Episcopal Church might not be for you. But if you’re willing to live into the mysteries of the faith and put in some hard work, you’ve found your spiritual home.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.