The Never Ending Work of Church Reformation

This piece was originally posted on David Hayward’s blog. You can learn more about our discussion of the Reformation tradition, and the Church’s ongoing reformation here.

In the church of San Damiano near Assisi, Saint Francis heard the call of Jesus: “Francis, go rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins.”

“Yes!” said Francis. “This is what I want, this is what I long for with all my heart.”

That was around 1205 AD. Not much has changed.

Whether we believe in divine beings or destiny or heavenly callings or not, I believe the church began as a model of what healthy community could be. It was to be a microcosm of the macrocosm. A unified collective challenging the divisive dispersion of its surrounding culture. I believe it lost this essential ethos. It’s not too late to restore it.

However, it will be impossible unless we reject a ghettoized, insular, provincial, and alienating view of citizenship in this world. It will be impossible unless we realize it is not compatibility that binds us, but open-mindedness, compassion, and tolerance. Our theology, whether it is literal or metaphorical, can fuel our passion for healthy community in constructive ways.

I strongly believe that we can create small communities that speak hope to the world… that unity in diversity is a reality that can be made manifest locally and everywhere. We need communities that prove, “This is possible globally!” This is one of my most important projects.

This, I suggest, is at the heart, or should be at the heart, of church reformation. Church reformation is not about drawing lines of exclusion, but erasing lines for inclusion. Unless the church has the whole world compassionately and inclusively in its vision, then it has become church deformation, not reformation.

This is not only a theological problem, but a practical one. Love looks like love. Our theology needs to sound like love. And our churches need to look like it. Only in this way can it be a symbol to the world that this is what the world can be like.

Some might ask, “So why did you leave the ministry? Why did you quit the church? And why do you keep talking about it like you care?” Well, because I do care. I felt my deep interest in community was limited by my career as a pastor and the local church. I believe the call for unity in diversity is a universal, global calling and project not limited to the organized institution we call church. The world is my parish. Because I believe the kind of community I’ve tasted in the past and enjoy now is possible in this life and in this world.

As I’ve written before when I did a review of Richard Miller’s book

“The humanistic implication (of Miller’s thesis) is that these Gospel stories are not the “sacrosanct possession of a major religious tradition”, but of all humankind. It belongs in the annals of our story. “To know human nature most deeply, one must become a student of the sacred.” Do these early texts, and does Christianity as a religion, contain an appreciation for humankind’s highest virtues and most noble ideals?”

Whether supernatural or human, the germ idea of the church, I claim, is that global unity and community is not only possible but necessary.

(*** Edit: I want to be clear about the cartoon’s message. I wanted to portray Jesus’ body as unhealthy, so I drew it how I feel my body looks when I’ve let it go and have let it become unhealthy. It isn’t intended to shame size. Thanks!)


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