“Because they can no longer consider themselves wise, Christians will also have a modest opinion of their own plans and intentions. They will know that it is good for their own will be to broken in their encounter with their neighbor. They will be ready to consider their neighbor’s will more important and urgent than their own. What does it matter if our own plans are thwarted? Is it not better to serve our neighbor than to get our own way?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 73.
There would be far fewer church splits if we lived according to the above; far fewer broken relationships in the Kingdom of God. What is it that drives us to want our own way? Pride? Ego? Self-justification? If others will submit to my agenda then they are acknowledging me, they are affirming me, they are justifying my thoughts and words and actions. When others acquiesce to my desires the spotlight is on me and I receive validation and honor and glory. There are few arenas that can match the religious arena for the building up of ego and pride – perhaps the political and entertainment arenas are on the same level.
In the political arena we receive glory via votes. In the world of entertainment we receive glory through appearances, applause, and money. The business world and academia have their glories, as do sports, the arts, and virtually all other vocational pursuits. Whenever two or three are gathered there is the temptation to seek one’s own glory, there is the temptation for self-justification.
However, in no arena is the temptation to self-glory as strong or as dangerous as the ideological arena – in this arena the stakes are the highest for they involve the entire subjugation of others – not just the actions of others but the thoughts and beliefs of others. Religion is included in the ideological realm, and self-justification in religion can be found in small house churches to mega churches to traditional denominations, churches, and movements. Whenever two or three are gathered there is the temptation to justify ourselves.
Can the Eucharist be properly celebrated apart from the washing of feet? I don’t think so. I don’t mean that we need to physically wash one another’s feet as we gather around the Lord’s Table (though we ought to do so periodically), but I do mean that we cannot partake of the bread and wine without partaking of both our Lord Jesus Christ and of one another in Him; and to partake of one another means receiving one another – I cannot receive my brother and exalt myself above my brother at the same time – the two actions are antithetical.
Paul teaches us that we are to use our liberty to serve one another in love. Our freedom in Christ is an invitation to serve others – since we are free…how many ways can we find to serve others? How creative can we be in discovering new dimensions and avenues of service? Will we learn to surrender our desires for the benefit and building up of others?
John the Baptist spoke regarding Jesus, “He must increase but I must decrease.” Can we say this of our brothers and sisters?
I cannot count the times I should have preferred my brother above myself but insisted on my own way. I am not talking about matters of sound doctrine; I am speaking of ways of doing things, of preferences, of red sauce and white sauce. How many times have I confused matters of preference with matters of eternal consequence? How many times have I cloaked matters of preference in the guise of doctrine of eternal consequence in order to justify myself? This is why religion can be so dangerous, we can take the mundane and elevate it to the status of the dogmatic when it has no business being there; then we take the dogmatic and use it to justify ourselves.
Dogma is important; there is beauty in the dogma of the Gospel – doctrine matters for doctrine shapes the soul; it leads us to Christ and it then forms us in Christ. But my will should never be dogma, and my agenda should never be doctrine, and I should never clothe my desires with religious garb lest I confuse my will with our Father’s, and lest I forget that I am to be the servant of all and wash the feet of all.
We are safe when we know and confess that our justification is in Jesus Christ alone. Our souls are safe and can live in peace, and others around us are safe from us and with us. When we are justified in Christ alone we are free to be broken bread and poured out wine for others – we, the people of God, are called to be “the safest place on earth”.
If I meet someone today who is looking for a safe place, may I give them your name?