Sunday, July 06, 2008

On Freedom

I apologize if this is a topic that I've written on before, but it is a topic that I continually think about, wrestle with, and grow in terms of my understanding of this topic within myself. It is a topic that I've been thinking hard on for over a year: the idea of MY religious freedom. I thought this a good time to talk about this topic being that we have been celebrating our country's freedom this weekend.

Ever since over a year ago when I was kicked out of a church for doing what I felt called to do (love & befriend everyone regardless of their sexual orientation), I have been wrestling with my own understanding of what it means to be "Freed into bondage of Christ". The passage that most are familiar with in the Bible comes from 1 Cor. 7:21-22. Verse 22 says (in the NRSV) "For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ."

To be fair to context, Paul (the author) is speaking to the church in Corinth about the life that the Lord has assigned, both to individuals and to the church/Church. In other words, he is talking about the life a person is to CALLED to live once he is freed into following God. I am freed, but freed FROM what and INTO what?

Well, I am freed FROM a life that is unproductive, that is against God and his calling. I am freed INTO a "better way of living (Rob Bell)"; a way that includes God/Christ and his influence/teachings in my life. I am freed into servant-hood of Christ. As Paul says I am "bought with a price, I'm not my own" (1 Cor. 6: 19-20), and my responsibility is to follow Christ wherever HE leads.

But the irony is that I have found myself in more bondage within churches that I have outside of them. I feel as if I am freed by Christ, yet bound by the Church!!! That statement brings tears to my eyes because of my love for the Church. Yet this in this key theme in the Bible (esp. in the epistles of the NT), I am free from living a life that is following my own destructive habits, into a living the life of calling. What I've realized in the past year is how counter-church this idea seems to be in today's reality. I know this isn't a standard in all churches, yet in my experience, there are A LOT (many/most) in which this is at least mostly true.

Churches, in my experience, have done a TERRIBLE job educating people about what it means to live a life of calling. I never have heard it taught in the many churches I have been a part of over the years, how one is to listen for God's individual calling in your life. Instead, churches TELL other people what they are called to do!! I know I'm not the only one who has experienced this, but I have met many a youth ministers that push their youth into becoming a youth minister themselves simply because they expressed that they "felt called into ministry". As if there are not other forms of ministry for youth to think about than that of becoming a youth minister (usually on the way to becoming a pastor--the ultimate goal?!). Yet God calls EVERYONE into bondage to him. This means he has a calling for everyone, and not everyone can (or should) be a paid minister. Sometimes I think the higher calling is to learn to be a "minister" whatever job you feel called to do because it is easier (sometimes) to be a Christian if your work environment is a church than it is if you were in a more "secular" job.

Yet, as a paid staff member, I felt that I was not able to pursue where my master was leading me because the churches wanted to define that calling/leading for me. There was little-to-no space for me to bring my own individual calling to the table. I think that, spiritually speaking, this is a crime. We are freed from the bondage of the templates of life that society, parents, schools, and media place on us...because we have a "higher calling". Yet at the same time, the Church wants to squeeze those that choose to follow Christ into their own ideological template. Rather than ENCOURAGING, EDUCATING, and SUPPORTING each person's individual calling.... instead of EMBRACING the individual calling that each minister can bring to the table, they force us into their template... their framework. If we don't fit, we are then neglected or forced out.

So what does it mean to be "freed into bondage in Christ"? Perhaps TODAY, it means being freed FROM the distortion that many churches teach about the "Christian life". Perhaps it means being freed INTO a place where it is ok to act outside of the church's legalism and pressure of conformity!! However, I do think it means following where it is that Christ/God is leading you. I think that there NEEDS to be both support and accountability. That's where the importance of a community of believers (i.e. what Church is supposed to be) accomplish both of these things. Yet there doesn't need to be a set of expectations...a template that one is forced to fit within in order for their calling to be "validated". Churches need to be doing a check-up and asking "what are we doing to encourage others to find and follow their own personal calling?". Asking, "are we trying to help people find God's will for their lives, or forcing them into OUR will for their lives?". I think these are important questions...ones that will open the doors for churches to become exactly what Paul was trying to teach the Churches in Corinth. Perhaps then we can be back on our way of figuring our what it means to be the Church of Christ.

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