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REMISSION OF SIN

Perhaps it is a very good thing that the Northern Michigan matter is gaining some traction during Holy Week. I want to concentrate on two issues which center around just how the Church with a capital “C” has regarded just what happened on that “green hill far way.” Or rather I want to focus on two misunderstandings surrounding our doctrine of the Cross.

I was informed the other day that a parishioner, or parishioners were troubled that my preaching of late has been “negative”. No I do not ever preach about the conflicts in TEC. I’ve been concentrating on just what was happening as God acted in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, a natural Lenten theme.

American folk religion is wonderfully sentimental. I judge that this sentimentality has two causes. It is a reaction to fundamentalism. It wants to embrace everyone. Neither motive is unholy. There’s a “racism” deep in the psyche of popular fundamentalism. By “racism” I mean a desire to identify people who are “not as I am.” It feels good to discover that one is on the Lord’s side if there are a host of people, from whom I may separate myself, and judge as being hell-bent. There’s a perversion of the Gospel which wants to say that God in Christ only loves the saved and that the “saved” have no need to love “sinners”.  This religion wants to teach that God the Father broke up the Trinity for a moment, as he condemned his Son to a frightful death in order to pluck a few from the jaws of hell.

Those who have escaped from such a religion turn this perversion of the Gospel on its head and adopt a version of Calvary which concentrates on Jesus the good man, showing an example of self-sacrificing love, demonstrating the errors of “fundamentalist” religion and raw political power, to enable us all to follow that example and claim the love of God for everyone.

And if Jesus is supremely a Good Man, adopted, as it were by God, then surely God has acted through other good people, and that therefore one should not make any particular claims for Christ. He is surely reflected in the lives of those revered in all religions and in none?  After all do not particular claims for the uniqueness of Christ lead to to bigotry and the use of religion to justify intolerance:intolerance against other religions and intolerance towards people whose lifestyles or beliefs challenge our own?

No the delicate possibility in all this is that the motive may be good, and the reflections about just how people may use faith as a blugeon to bash other people to the ground is also true.

Reactive faith, or reactive unbelief, does not contribute to a rational faith and Christianity is utterly rational. The Church has never defined what actually Jesus was doing on the Cross. There has never been an official doctrine of the Atonement. It is irrational to define what cannot be defined.Rather like the adoption of exclusive definitions about just how Jesus is present in the Sacrament of the Altar, exclusive speculation leads to error and not to truth.

My guess is that the Bishop-elect of Northern Michigan and his supporters are reacting against hostile religion, but in reacting against the perversions of the Gospel, they react against the Gospel itself.

In the mystery of redemption, Christ died for our sins and the sins of the whole world. The Church offers Christ’s sacrifice to draw all from the bondage of sin and death into new life, a new life which heralds the coming of God’s Kingdom and works in Christ for that Kingdom’s effect here and now. It is a Gospel of personal and corporate redemption and restoration. “He died that we may be forgiven: he died to make us good.”  The “we” is not merely a personal transaction, but a cosmic redemption.

Take away this Gospel, offer another Gospel, and the Church is left with nothing to say except “do as you would be done by”. Any self-reflective person knows that is sooner said than done. The reactive Gospel proposed by the Bishop-elect, in its own way is as exclusive as that offered by those who propose a God of vengeance offering his son, as Abraham sought to offer Isaac to appease a blood-thirsty deity. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. If the Church forgets this, it forgets its doctrine and its mission.

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