November 4, 2013

Holding Fast to Traditions

            The Christian witness does not always look the same—even in the first century.  In Paul’s early letter to the Thessalonians, he encourages them:
So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
            The Apostle realizes that the Gospel can takes root in different ways within the same community, and wants their focus to be on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Yesterday I launched a series entitled “The Gospel in Seven Words or Less” at Country Club Christian Church, a flagship DOC congregation in Kansas City, Missouri.  Based on an article in Christian Century last year, this exercise seeks to construct a pithy version of the good news.  The editors invited significant Christian leaders to submit their summation.
            A couple of my favorites are “We are who God says we are,” by Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Martin Marty’s submission: “God, through Jesus Christ,” welcomes you anyhow.”  Of course, the first one to attempt this was Will Campbell in Brother to a Dragonfly.
            After working on individual statements and then small group statements, the church as a whole will attempt to state its core conviction in seven words.  I think this will prove to be a taxing, yet clarifying process for the congregation.  This might be a good exercise for other groups of Christian believers.
            I crafted a few tongue in cheek attempts before I came up with my preferred seven words.
1.              Disciples are God’s chosen; hope you’re one.
2.              Christians are the best; the rest aren’t.
3.              Life is but temporal; hell is eternal.
4.              The elect are in; sorry you’re not.
5.              I am really saved; what about you?
6.              God’s last and only hope—Southern Baptists.
            The problem, of course, is that these are hardly good news!  They are exclusive and judgmental, not God’s expansive invitation to broken people.

            Here is what I came up with: “We participate in God’s life as Trinity.” I am persuaded that the doctrine of the Trinity really is the glue for our faith and practice, the key tradition emerging from the early church councils.  Rather than being an esoteric doctrine that only specialists can understand, the Trinity is central to understanding our identity as Christians. Through the Spirit, God draws us into the communion of persons that characterize God’s life in relationship.  Participating in the dynamic of God’s redemptive project grants our lives their greatest dignity.

            Molly T. Marshall

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