FBCX's Finest Hours--Guest Blogger, Walter B. Shurden
What Jon Meacham said about the nation in The Soul of America is what I say about our church. Our finest hours have been when we have opened our arms rather than clenched our fists, looked outward rather than turned inward, accepted rather than rejected, included rather than excluded.
Peter learned, according to Acts 10:34, the painfully difficult lesson “that God shows no partiality.” Only five chapters later, in Acts 15, Luke describes one of the most critical and compelling events in the entire Bible. It was a hinge moment in Christian history. Early Christians threw the doors of the churches open to Gentiles, people such as you and I. Aren’t you glad?
Over the last half century FBCX has flung open its doors to African Americans, ordained women to the diaconate and gospel ministry, and affirmed same-sex marriage. Experts say that a church needs to be “branded.” Our church is now thoroughly branded. For some people throughout Middle Georgia FBCX is branded for good, for ill by others. Personally, I believe it is absolutely impossible to calculate the enormous good that African-Americans, women, (I have no idea what we would have done without the leadership of the women!), and LGBTQ people have done for our church.
But we must not fool ourselves at FBCX. Open arms, the look outward, acceptance rather than rejection---none of those solve all of our problems. Indeed, new and maybe different problems come from open doors and open arms.
One of those problems is the demon of self-righteousness, the tendency to elevate self and to look down on another who has not arrived at the airy achievements of our ethical standards. Listen to Paul. He warned us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Rather, think soberly, he urged (Romans 12:3). When I think soberly, I easily remember the bugs in my own soul, the twistedness of my spirit, even the meanness at times that rides sidesaddle with doing what is right.
A second problem is that openness brings into the community new problems that we might never have imagined. All who come because the doors are wide open may find that we are not all that we are advertised to be, just as they are not always all that we would hope they might be. As people who fall woefully short of God’s mark, we have to learn to live with our disappointments with each other, as well as ourselves.
A third problem: We dwell on our progress so much that our past accomplishments become our future death. Past progress can become a future death. SAY IT WITH ME MEMBERS OF FBCX: “Past progress can become a future death.”
FBCX is not perfect. We are not even perfectible. We can continue, however, the life-long and agonizing struggle of growing into the likeness of Christ. But we will have to avoid self-righteousness, accept each other as we are, and refuse to look in the rearview mirror.