Through The Narrow Gate
Here I’m opening a can of worms, and I know I can’t address all the worms coming out. It may take a long time to do that.
I’ve been thinking hard about the one and only real Church, grand and global, secret, public, and organized. I’ve been thinking about how rudely the church acts toward itself here online. I’ve been thinking about unity. Part of it is that I’m at a turning point. Either I leave, or I beg for a way to love the whole body, not just the parts that agree with me. I have dearest friends who believe so hardcore differently from other friends and from me, and what I see is that their beliefs are all founded in scripture. I used to believe that one side held scripture more dear than the other, but I’m learning that this isn’t true at all. It makes me laugh at myself, the old corner I had on the gospel.
Before I begin, know that I know what I believe. I have my stance on hot-button issues such as roles of women in the church, homosexuality, atonement, and the free will of man. Honestly there has been a bit of ebb and flow from to day to day on some of this. But I’m not very bendy at all about grace, victory, and Jesus: forgiveness, restoration, and transformation. If you want my theology in black and white print, you won’t be finding it here, though you’ll often find me writing in the Spirit.
What I’m learning is that there are people right now singing in thousands of tongues, different lyrics, all to the Father of lights in the name of Jesus. The metaphors are boundless, and people understand things differently because the metaphors are boundless. Take stars, bread, water, blood, pasture, seeds, bones, breath. The metaphor’s end is only GOD, HIMSELF, hence my love for poetry.
The context through which Christ’s gangly body reads the words of scripture is different from land to land. Story to story, we are different yet still working together, a reflection of the trinity even. There are people literally right now walking miles to get to the bread and the wine. After they eat, they will dance, and they would not be called appropriate by most of us. Some of us sit solemnly in pews and bow in prewritten prayer. Some of us read that the bread is the actual flesh of Christ, and when they eat of Him, they are in His presence. They are of Him. The Bible literally says that this is the case. Some women won’t cut their hair, and they cover their heads and submit to their husbands in utmost regard for Christ. Some women among us are pastoring their people and they take their examples straight from the B-I-B-L-E. Some reformers pour and pour into the words, and then they live L O V E; they aren’t merely heady, numb lovers of argument. Some believe that God is love, and He is everywhere, and so all people are in Him. All people. Some handle snakes as acts of faith. Some go to jail or to their own crosses the very minute they believe. Some leave it all for Him, and others wouldn’t step foot in a foreign land because it would be leaving their family, the family He gave for them to love. Some call the people under the bridge their church, and those people can be nut jobs and scoundrels. I know one who makes church with prostitutes.
When Seth visits Ethiopia and introduces himself, he always gets a little smirk and giggle. Seth (set) in amharic means “woman.” “Hi, my name is woman.” That’s what they hear. It was explained to him that some in Ethiopia believe that Adam and Eve’s third child was a woman. Different cultures read their own context into scripture, and that changes the meaning significantly.
My ears have been opened. Everywhere I turn, people are offering a neat, black and white description of the Narrow Way, and that description is different from person to person, according to who you’re talking to. Often the argument is that unity will only ever be found if we can agree on what the narrow way is.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
“And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.” Isaiah 35:8
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Luke 13:24
What I’m writing here today, friends, is to suggest that maybe we do agree after all. Maybe there’s more unity than we would like to think, no matter how meanly we like to treat one another. The narrow way isn’t straight, referring to sexual preference. It isn’t male. It isn’t egalitarian. It isn’t American. The way isn’t narrow because only people who attend this church or that can go through. The way isn’t narrow because people who don’t drink caffeine or alcohol can enter. Will I not enter because I have cut my hair? Will all the good men with ponytails be cast out? Couldn’t Jesus have had a ponytail?
The way is narrow, because the way is Christ, and the way is for all who follow Him in Spirit and Truth. Jesus is the Way, the truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him, and not Him plus anything else. We wouldn’t want this any other way. Take a look at Him. He is light and life. Take a long look and hear what He says. The narrow path is where we eat of Him; He is our very water, our shepherd, the branch. Jesus woos us into completeness in Himself. If we believe that we are being saved into the church, then we are off base, trying to walk in the wrong doorway. We are complete in Him, and when we are in Him, we are the church and we are One.
What I’m saying is that the Spirit is at work among His people. Listen. The morning I first believed, my head was swimming. I was still drunk from the alcohol I had consumed the night before. I was bleeding from an abortion. In the moment I didn’t think of it, but it was very much a “Just as I am” situation. He came to me, and He has lead the way from there. I have gone off course, but He always brings me back.
This is to say that we cannot walk in the the fullness of unity if are constantly drawing lines in the sand. We have to start from the place that calls the sister a sister. It’s old news to talk in the church about Behavior Change + Jesus = The Way. The New Covenant, the Good News is that the Narrow Way is Only Jesus: What He has done, is doing, and will do in and through us by the Spirit.
Too many have been told that they don’t have a place in the kingdom as long as they’re acting this way or that. Too many have stopped believing they can hear His voice. How were hearts ever to change by our black and white codes, no matter how good they be? Isn’t that why Christ came? Isn’t transformation in Him alone?
Let the people back in who want in. So many outsiders desperately want to walk with God. There’s room to walk together. Let’s drop our arrows and go for nonviolent faith, believing that the Spirit will lead His people into life. The Shepherd speaks. I believe this is the Age of the Spirit. Let’s get out of the way.
Church, there is only one truth, yes. His name is Jesus. One name. One gate. But His mercy is East-to-West Wide. Camels do indeed make it into the eye of the needle. Mustard seeds do indeed grow into great reaching trees.
All you so broken-hearted about “those on the other side,” take it from Jesus. More than once I was thrown naked at His feet and He pardoned me. No rule can be written on that. He did draw in the sand that day, but it was aimed at my accusers. There is no “Go and sin no more” without Jesus. Sisters, if we want to shine here in unity, then let’s link arms and calm down. He was always calling both of our names. Give me room to hear.
Is this to excuse sin? No, but rather it’s to make room for the Trinity, for the Holy Spirit to speak to hearts of stone. Is this a pendulum swing? Maybe, but I trust the Lord to land us all where He pleases, not that the church would be a big fan of me, but rather that the world would come to know Him as good and holy and wholly able to keep all that He has planned in and through us all. He’s big enough for us to be different, God of abundance that He is.
“We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it. But we know it now. Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus. This is the Message I’ve been set apart to proclaim as preacher, emissary, and teacher. It’s also the cause of all this trouble I’m in. But I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground—the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end. So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you. It’s as sound as the day you first heard it from me. Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us” (The Message, 2 Timothy 8b-14).