Who Makes The Call?
Jonathan Swift is best known for Gulliver's Travels but the old English satirist had another masterpiece which is all but unknown today (outside of English departments where dead European white guys are still studied) entitled "A Tale of a Tub." It is a difficult work with many layers addressing many of Swift's concerns about religion and society. Allow me to take just a part of it to illustrate a point begun in the last post.
In "Tale", a man leaves his each of his sons a coat. It is a perfectly serviceable coat and will not wear out. They also have a considerable fortune but it is tied to the coat: they are never, ever to make even the slightest alteration in the coat or they forfeit their inheritance. The sons agree, the father dies, and all goes well until the coats go out of fashion. In the process of their gaining upper class wives, moving upward in society, etc. they make numerous alterations to the coat... but not without a lot of agonizing over it first. For example, when shoulder pads are popular they hunt their father's will until they find a series of statements each of which begins with the letters S-H-O-U-L-D-E-R. They decide that means that their father really meant that they could add the pads. Ratiocination like this takes place repeatedly until their coats are anything and everything they want them to be and they have satisfied their minds that that is what their father really wanted after all.
Swift was criticizing the church and his tale is still an accurate picture of what we do with Scripture. If God condemns something that we want to accept, we try to find a way to bend the scripture to let us do what we want to do or we find a way to cast doubt on the authenticity of the passage so that we can remove its power over us. Doing this, some churches have removed sin and hell from their teaching, turning the church into a social club with psychological and metaphysical health benefits. Others try to out-Christian Christ by accepting those He told us to correct and call to repentance. They say something like "Jesus loves everybody!" and therefore avoid the question of whether love is the same as acceptance (and whether acceptance of a person is the same as approval of their actions).
The very exclusive nature of the church disturbs and offends many within it. When Jesus said he was THE way, THE truth, and THE life he did not mean perhaps, in some circumstances, he wasn't. He was exclusive. When God gave leadership to Moses He did not set up alternative leaders for those who found Moses irrascible and unpleasant.
Our identity must be limited and formed by the boundaries drawn by God. And to be in God's will means that it is possible to be out of it. To be saved means that it is possible to be lost. If you play for the Red Sox you do NOT play for the Yankees. For us to be us, we must also be "not them."
It's offensive to many, but that doesn't make it untrue. When we examine the scriptures to see how we can bend them to 2006, or to America, or to whatever makes us feel better about ourselves we have altered our coats (in the Swiftian sense). We might be able to convince ourselves that we have pleased our Father by ignoring His will... but can we convince Him of that?
It is hard -- and often terrifying -- to learn the lesson of Jesus' words in the Garden. "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done."