Sunday, February 12, 2012

Abundant Life as a Solitary Construct

This Sunday was the date set aside for our annual parish meeting. Our supply priest, knowing that it could be a long day, gave a reasonably short sermon taking his cues from 1 Corinthians 9:24-27,

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
He was clearly trying to encourage people to stick it out and stay for the meeting, and he also got in some good points about the difficult race we run when we try to keep up with our Bible reading (a few downcast faces there) and prayers.

One point gave me a little trouble was when he talked about the goal of the Christian race we run. As he described, "salvation" has been misinterpreted by other denominations to mean "eternal life" whereas he would prefer to consider it to mean "healing" and "abundant life" to be the goal of the race. Our priest openly wondered why no Episcopal churches were named "Abundant Life" ( I googled that and I think that is correct).

I am sorry, but I think in his haste to dismiss those who might over-emphasize the importance of eternal salvation at the expense of the benefit of living life abundantly, our priest went entirely too far in the opposite direction. Not only did he fail to make a connection between the two, but I feel that he may have severed a connection that should have been a point of emphasis.

His hypothetical Episcopal Church of the Abundant Life sounds a little fishy to me, and I am left with the following questions:
1) Is abundant life the goal?
2) What is the definition of abundant life?
3) Do you need the promise of eternal life as long as you have abundant life?
4) Can you truly live life abundantly if you do not have eternal life?
 Unfortunately, I fear that the answer to #1 is all too often "Yes", and when abundance is the goal in life, we will easily find it in things that please us but might displease God. Life seems even more abundant when we do not have to worry about upsetting God. In our Episcopal church tradition, we have been able to successfully eliminate God's displeasure by writing it out of our language (see the numerous posts here on the missing verses in the Sunday Lectionary) or by re-defining things that once were "considered" sinful to now be "blessed" (abortion as a blessing pronounced by the Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, and same-sex blessings for example).

When asked for a definition of abundant life (#2), I suspect that the leader of the hypothetical Episcopal Church of the Abundant Life would say that abundant life is that which promotes and furthers "justice." Justice has to be defined next as the liberal social cause du jour.

I greatly fear that many in the hypothetical Episcopal Church of the Abundant Life would answer #3, if being intellectually honest, in the negative, and #4 in the affirmative.

I contend that abundant life as a solitary construct, absent of the promise of eternal life, is the way of death.

Maybe it is just as well that we don't have an Episcopal Church of the Abundant Life.

Give me the "Church of Our Saviour" as a name for a church any day rather than that.



2 comments:

  1. The difficulty is viewing Salvation in two contexts. In one, we achieve eternal life with God the Father. In the other, we have an Abundant life by submitting ourselves to Christ and allowing Him, through the Holy Spirit to live through us. Those are different sides to the "Salvation" coin. We must remember that.

    Cheers.

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  2. Randall,

    I agree, the problem we have is when you flip the coin and it keeps turning up with the same side showing.

    Don't accept any two headed nickels!

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