Anyone that knows me, knows I'm a fairly ecumenical guy. That's not in the sense of "I've got friends who worship differently than I do." That's in the sense of "I've done everything I can to enter into the traditions and communion of friends who are not from the congregations and traditions that I've been formed by." This week, I've had the opportunity to retreat at a Roman Catholic abbey that houses Trappist monks following the Rule of St. Benedict. The solitude and silence and prayer in the midst of a community was rich, restful, and the Lord began some new works in powerful ways while I was with them.
I left there and within 24 hours, I was worshipping at a Pentecostal gathering for Christians of many congregations to have serious conversation about race and gender and the Church's witness in these things in our cultural climate. This was rich, encouraging, and the Lord began some new works in powerful ways while I was with them.
But then I went elsewhere and was listening to an itinerant preacher/evangelist of an independent charismatic bent. His enthusiasm was evident. His ability to connect with his audience was a sight to behold. I talked to a few people who came from a ways away to hear him tonight. As for me? I couldn't get through it. His preaching was disguised in the language of grace, but the demands he was making of our lives were immense. It was overwhelming. It was isolating. Many others around me were laughing, saying their amens, raising their hands, and shouting "come on!" As a priest in the Church, it was everything in me not to stand and seek to bring correction (but this was not an event I had the proper authority to do so, so I did not).
As a Christian, I found myself in need of hearing that ancient rhythm I've come to love--sin, grace, and faith. The pattern of Law and Gospel. The message that, yes, we are in fact living quite apart from the design and intentions of God, but that in Jesus, I find that the absolution and work I need has already been done. That the true self made in the Image of God has been restored. That God has created within me a wilderness through which his voice cries out repentance for me, and answers with a majestic grace. That whether in solitude and silence, or in the midst of Pentecost's re-enactment, God is lovingly present with me. And He has said it is finished. No ifs, ands, or buts. Hallelujah.
So, whether you dress it up in a black scapular or an electric guitar, every Christian really needs the same thing: the enactment of God's law, the announcement of God's absolution, and the triumph of God's grace through faith. If you're not getting that, I plead with you by the mercy of Christ, let's get you somewhere that you can hear that message. All of us preachers and pastors ultimately fail, but the Word of Christ is not bound by our failures and that grace will come through.