Lillian Lewis has worked for the Roman Catholic Church in Three Oaks, Michigan for more than two decades. Convinced that “ministry is my true calling,” she now plans to be ordained. According to her bishop, “if this invalid ‘ordination’ takes place then the woman attempting ordination incurs an automatic excommunication.” Nor should others attend the ceremony, he warns.
Despite official church teaching on the subject, 70 percent of Catholics believe women should be eligible for the priesthood. Does the Church’s position seem like legalism to you? Is it another example of institutionalistic, hierarchical religion? I’m interested in this issue today, not because I want to debate the merits of women in ministry, but because it serves as a parable for how so many view the Christian faith.
Consider an article on the Relevant website that has received more than 40,000 comments so far: “5 lies I used to believe about being a Christian.” Here they are:
- Your behavior affects God’s love for you.
- Church is a weekly event and just a building.
- You shouldn’t express your struggles or doubts.
- Church leadership is only for the super-spiritual.
- The Bible is mostly about rules.
When I first read the list, I confess to being a little surprised. These facts seem elementary: God’s love is unconditional; church is a community and movement; the Lord welcomes our questions and doubts (cf. Isaiah 1:18); he has a calling for everyone; and his word is about a transformational relationship with himself. Why would a person believe lies to the contrary?
Upon further reflection, however, I realized that the author’s “5 lies” are precisely how I would have described the Christian faith before meeting Jesus, and even for years after. The reason is simple: nothing else in life is like biblical Christianity. Every other relationship we experience is based, at least in part, on our behavior. Every other organization is defined by its events and buildings. Every other ideology rewards loyalty and discourages challenges. Every other institution elevates only those who satisfy its requirements. And every other organization and religion is based on rules.
Your job and mine as followers of Jesus is to expose these lies and offer the truth of grace: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Not “join the church” or “try harder to do better.” “Be reconciled” is in the passive—something we cannot cause but can only receive. Our work is to offer this gift to all and trust the Spirit to use our ministry as an instrument of his transformation. Have you asked God to use your life in this life-giving way today?
It’s been noted that your ministry will never be larger than your vision of Jesus. Is he your Taskmaster or your Savior, your Manager or your Friend?