As the sole pastor in a small congregation, I’m a GP. That is, I’m not a children’s pastor, a women’s pastor, a preaching pastor, or any other specialist. Instead, I’m a general practitioner. So when I think about church, of course I think about adults, but I also think about children. I think about autistic people, and people with disabilities, and people who are non-readers.
Too, I think about people who have experienced great trauma. I think about artists and storytellers; I think about people whose experience of the world is primarily through touch or instinct or emotion. I think about doubters, and questioners, and newcomers to faith; and I think about people who have been dominated, suffocated, persecuted, and even rejected by the traditional church. All of these people are represented at Sanctuary: and they are typically ill-served by the church at large.
Why is this? I think it’s that the majority church continues to present ‘faith’ as a matter of correct thinking and codified behaviour. The word ‘orthodoxy’ is understood as ‘right belief’, and belief is primarily understood as intellectual agreement with something; while faithfulness is understood as following the rules set down by right-thinking leaders.
However, I would argue that this approach is fundamentally unbiblical. It leads to justification by works, a stagnant faith, and immature believers who don’t have the confidence or skills to adapt to new information, new experiences, or changing culture. Worse, this approach preferences certain people and cultures and ways of knowing over others. It prioritises typically adult male power; it idolizes rational argument; it elevates Western modes of thought; it maintains damaging hierarchies. It creates systems of fear and reward; and it sidelines and silences a vast number of people.
But there is another way. ‘Orthodoxy’ can be translated not as ‘right belief’, but as ‘believing in the right way’. This approach is not about having all the answers, nor is it about fear or control. Instead, believing in the right way is about living and loving like Jesus, who grew in wisdom and stature; who rarely gave a straight answer to anything; and whose presence is marked by blessing and healing, humility and gentleness, joy and peace and, above all, love.
Believing in the right way means, like Jesus, setting aside power and privilege, and aligning ourselves and our churches with the most vulnerable: with children, with autistic people, with traumatised people, with gay folk, and with all the rest of God’s children who are typically marginalised by religious institutions. It means joining together and seeking God’s presence in scripture, in silence, in neighbour, and in the earth. It means approaching life with a stance of openness, curiosity, vulnerability and wonder.
Believing in the right way means telling stories like Jesus, and wrestling with them, and trusting them to reveal new depths over time. It means listening for insights from children, and from vulnerable folk, and from atheists and others outside the church. And it means trusting that, through attending to biblical texts shared in the presence of Christ, the Holy Spirit will speak to us, dwell in us, and guide and shape us all.
So what I’m trying to do is curate spaces for people to believe in these right ways. To savour the questions, and to resist cheap, dominating, easy answers. To grow in wisdom and stature together. It’s to seek God’s presence in all things. To bring curiosity and wonder to all that we do. And it’s to do these things as a gathered community, for it is only when we’re with others that we form the messy loving ever-changing and wounded body of Christ, given for the life of the world.
Emailed to Sanctuary 27 July 2022 © Sanctuary, 2022. Photo by Edi Libedinsky on Unsplash. Sanctuary is based on Peek Wurrung country. Acknowledgement of country here.
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