BY REV. ROBERT WOLFE |
I grew up in the Moravian Church from the time I was 3 years old. There were things that I liked about our church and things I wished we did a bit differently, but being a Moravian became part of my identity. The Moravian Church is very important to me. This is the church where I received my call to ordained ministry. Going to seminary and becoming more familiar with our own history, there were many parts of our history that spoke to me.
We are not a denomination defined by our unique creeds and doctrinal statements; we are a biblical community of faith historically focused on a heartfelt experience of faith rather than a clearly-defined statement of what that has to look like. We accept the historical creeds of Christianity and use several of them in our liturgies. And we also have the Moravian Covenant for Christian Living and other Moravian writings. But we are better characterized by our belief in relationships with each other as we seek to follow as Christ calls us to discipleship and a relationship with him, and to live that out. And that has been true since the earliest days of our history as a denomination.
I don’t need dogma, I need to experience Christ. Somewhere along the way, I decided that I was glad I became a Moravian as a child because if that hadn’t happened then I would have had to find the Moravian Church on my own. It has been a good place for me to be. I did develop a bit of a smug satisfaction about my own faith and worship. It was a kind of idolatry rooted in the belief that I knew what God wanted from us as worship. Then I went into prison ministry and volunteers from different denominations took part in worship every week. On more than one occasion I would leave a service and think that the preacher had totally missed the mark. Then I would talk to some of the inmates and they would tell me that they heard a powerful message during the service and wanted to talk about their faith and what it meant to follow Christ.
I realized that my way, my middle class, white, American Moravian way — the way that I had become used to and accepted without even thinking about it — wasn’t the only or right way. Worship comes in a lot of different styles, just like people do. The body of believers is amazingly diverse. Unfortunately, this diversity has led to divisions in the church as demonstrated by all the denominations that we need. Our Christian witness is compromised as we separate ourselves from other people who also love Jesus. Many churches have lost ground in the past several decades. There are many reasons, of course, but one is that we Christians have distanced ourselves from other Christians who don’t agree with us.
I think about some of the conflicts within the church just during my lifetime. One of those was the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Clergy and other church people showed up at the marches for and against civil rights for our black brothers and sisters. Vietnam heated up, and the church was divided over that too. Christians who protested the war would sit on the opposite end of the pew from Christians whose son or daughter was serving in Vietnam. Then we had controversy over the ordination of women, and if you have occasion to talk with ordained women within our own denomination, it is still a struggle. And more recently every mainline church has struggled with same sex marriage and ordination of men and women with same sex orientation. It isn’t just Southern Province Moravians and Resolution 14. (If you want to divide any Moravian congregation today, all you have to do is ask if the second verse of the Moravian blessing is supposed to be “bless our loved ones” or “bless our dear ones.”) Each conflict leaves us weakened because we too often seek solace in distance rather than trying to find common ground with other Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with us over a specific issue.
The internet, Facebook, social media in whatever form you prefer, allows us to surround ourselves with others who will agree with us. Instead of continuing to talk and working through some of the issues that weaken our witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ, which is our reason for being, we prefer to choose sides. It is often more important that we validate our own views than to risk learning something from someone else. It has gotten ugly. Why would someone who didn’t grow up in the church want to be part of this?
The church has been struggling to find its way through the issues it has faced for generations. I don’t think that there has been a century in which the church has not been confronted with some sort of issue that threatens to split the church. When we’re in the middle of one, which we usually are, it helps to keep that in mind. That doesn’t mean that we cannot hold strong opinions––or that we shouldn’t advocate for them. But we should also be about discerning together where God is leading us rather than convincing ourselves that we already have all the answers.
Christ calls for each of us to have charity for our brothers and sisters. He calls us to love one another. We are called to oppose sin and error, but, at the same time, we are called to love one another. The writer of I John put it this way:
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars;
for those who do not love a brother or sister
whom they have seen,
cannot love God whom they have not seen.
The commandment we have from him is this:
those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.-1 John 4:20-21
John, who had previously been a real complainer, finally “got it”––that, by the grace of God, he became more like Jesus and less like John. Jesus helped him to grow to the point that he was able to stop complaining and start loving as Jesus did.
I believe that this was Jesus’ way of telling him, and us, to lighten up
- to be charitable toward Christian brothers and sisters with whom we disagree
- to be less trigger-happy
- to be less inclined to dismiss other people
- to not be so quick to move away from people we don’t always agree with
Let us go and do likewise.
About the Author
Robert Wolfe grew up in Mount Airy as a member of Grace Moravian Church. He left there at the age of 35 to attend the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, PA. Following graduation from seminary, he served for five years as an Assistant Pastor at Friedberg Moravian Church. In 1995 he accepted a call to serve as a jail and prison chaplain with the Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries. After 23 years he retired from that position on September 1, 2018 and currently lives in Mount Airy with his wife, Sandy.
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