The following reflections come from my Lectio Divina meditations on Phil 2:5 and are solely my ideas. I am only a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit, not a theologian, spiritual director for anyone, nor an expert in anything. I wondered what it would be like to construct my own church in these days of promiscuousness of ideas about right and wrong and the proliferation of values that only admits that each person has the right to believe what they want and that what they believe is right. What follows are five reflections on how I would construct a Church in which I could function as a Lay Cistercian.
One of the unintended consequences of the reform movement in the 15th Century is that there was a subtle switch to the individual alone as the source of all things spiritual. In effect, everyone is their own church,
THE REFORMS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
The challenge of the Apostles and new Testament communities was taking what was essential about Jewish thought and adapting it to a universal system of beliefs all centered around Christ. In the beginning, believers did not know what that was. The introduction of Christ to the non-Jews was a hot topic in the days after the Ascension of Christ. So many people believed in their own teachings about Christ that the emerging Church universal had to adopt a Creed (Apostles Creed) to keep both Jews and Gentiles on the same page. One thing is for sure, the struggle for Truth was not without its difficulties and even caused factions that played the fame, “My Jesus can beat your Jesus.” Yet, the transition from Old Testament was accomplished without destroying the teachings of the Prophets and customs, in reality, the New Testament was built upon them, merely enhanced and fulfilled.
TWO WAYS OF CHURCH BUILDING
I count two ways to build a church and one of them has five steps.
WAY ONE: Jesus founds the church on Peter and trusts the instincts of this sinful man who betrayed him to use the Holy Spirit wisely.
This passage was added to Matthew for a reason. Matthew’s Gospel is all about authority, beginning with the chronology of Jesus, the authority of Jesus to be God, the authority of the church to be the Body of Christ.
This type of building Church becomes a community of communities who move forward in time, stepping in it from time to time, recommitting over and over to loving Christ, and carrying the baggage of centuries on their collective shoulders. What is core never changes although the message takes on different nuances with each century. The teachings of this Church, the Body of Christ, His flock, are added to, not subtracted from the core message, as it plods on through centuries of growth and mis- steps, always backing up to embrace what is the authentic life and the true way through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
WAY TWO: The second way to form Church comes from sheep who are not of His flock, but who sincerely believe they are doing what God wants.
Any of these other sheep can, and have, formed church based on what they experience today. I can form my unique church just by picking up a Bible and saying:
STEP ONE: I am the center of all reality. What sounds like a good idea, and one espoused by many free-thinkers today is, fraught with consequences that do not lend themselves to stability and unity. If everyone is their own church, the possibility that everyone is there own god is also real. If you are the center of the spiritual universe, you can make a church in your own image. If you don’t like this or that idea, you should be free to disagree with it and change it, if it does not suit your pleasure. If you are going to begin your own church, it all begins with you believing that you are the center of all reality. Of course, you will disagree with that, but you can’t build a new church without destroying that which went before. And here is a thought about the need for reform. Not all reforms are destructive. Making all things new in your life and in the collective life of the Body of Christ is not only needed to move from self to God. Then, what kind of change are you talking about?
Think about this idea. Genesis 3, tells an archetypal story of Adam and Eve (the two are one) committing the original sin (breaking a trusting relationship with God). They made themselves God, or so they hoped. It was after many years of Israel wandering the desert of ignorance to purge the collective guilt of a people that Christ, from the root of Jesse, became human to repair this relationship between God and man (Philippians 2_5-12). He redeemed us through the voluntary sacrifice of his life on the cross, shedding his blood for all of us for all time, fulfilling the sacrifice of Abraham with his son, making reparation to the Father for the original sin of disobedience and pride, restoring all things as One by giving glory to the Father, in, with and through Himself.
There can be only one Center of all reality for believers, that of Christ (Phil. 2:5-12). When creating your own church, you assume that you have the right and obligation to reform (that is, you have insights that no one else has had, or that the Holy Spirit has given to you). Anyone can be their own church, just as anyone can be their own god. After all, you are the center of the universe and all reality must be as you say.
2. STEP TWO: I am the rock of my church. No one can challenge me. After all, I broke away from something to found something that I thought was better. There is no one to take my place. I have ultimate say over what I teach and how it is taught.
3. STEP THREE: I control history from now to the Apostolic times. I don’t care what went before me. I can pick and choose from all the religious cafeteria selections of the past and make up my own plate of goodies. After all, I am the church. I don’t need to be in touch with history as it comes forward through time, some of it being good, some of it being discarded. I simply read the Bible and take what I like about it and discard other parts. I don’t care if they contradict history or the heritage as it comes forward through time.
4. STEP FOUR: My opinion beats your opinion. My Jesus can beat your Jesus because your belief is false and mine is not. I had a retired Protestant minister tell me that the Catholic Church began with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. I asked him what went before and he said the Apostolic Church. I told him he needs to read more. He did not like that statement, but it is true. A careful reading of the Apostolic Fathers in the first three centuries would open your eyes to the context in which the not yet assembled Scriptures were forged in the fires of controversy.
5. STEP FIVE: I am the descendent of Adam and Eve No one, not even God, can tell me not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I am a victim of Original Sin, and prone to be my own god, if not careful. I proclaim that my god is on my side, avoiding the saying by Abraham Lincoln, that he would rather be on God’s side rather than God be on his side. Hell is full of Adam wanna be’s, false prophets, all sincere, all shocked that they do not have legitimacy and authority, all protesting that god is their god.
False Prophets and Their Punishment
2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers[a] the way of truth will be maligned. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, pronounced against them long ago, has not been idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2 Peter 2 (NRSVCE)
Having said all of this, as a Lay Cistercian, committed to following a particular way of life that leads to preferring nothing to the love of Christ (St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 4), anyone who glorifies God or says Jesus is Lord cannot be totally evil. They are just not of Christ’s flock. God is the just judge of all human hearts. Don’t judge others, let God judge those outside the Church and you don’t judge those inside the Church.
Praise be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. —Cistercian Doxology