13. Being vs. doing?

Ted Grimsrud—Purpose vol. 44, no. 9 (September 2011), p. 28.

Back in the 1970s, I gained my first preaching experience in a small house church. This was when I first got deeply interested in peace theology and activism. Not everyone in the congregation shared these interests.

When I took to the pulpit I put great effort into focusing on the biblical text and speaking in ways that would minister to as many people in the group as possible. I still have the written texts from those sermons, and I am impressed at how well I managed not to obsess on peace and justice issues.

However, even as I sought to keep my messages free from my partisan passions, I still found myself accused of doing precisely that. One person said, “All Ted talks about is pacifism; he doesn’t talk about the Bible or the life of faith.”

At the time I was offended, and retorted that I had the texts of my sermons and could prove that I wasn’t doing the narrow propagandizing I was charged with. As I look back now, I imagine that the accuser simply heard me say in my sermons the kinds of things I said in other church settings.

In the years since, I have often been in conversations and debates where a basic tension has been discussed between Christians who focus more on devotional, worship, vertical elements of faith and those who are action, social issues, horizontally focused.

I tend toward an action-oriented approach to faith. Yet, I do try to respect more “being-focused” people of faith. And, I also try to recognize the importance of the vertical dimensions for action-oriented people.

I have a chapter in my book, Theology As If Jesus Matters, where I talk about worship and church rituals (especially communion). I try to develop a case for their profound importance for people of faith.

However, I also still want to say that the Bible is more horizontally oriented than vertically oriented, more about action as faith’s locus than contemplation. I state this, though, intending to stimulate conversation, not simply stake out an absolute position.

I think our emphases are related to personality styles as well as different situations. I believe, though, that the vertical dimension of faith should serve the horizontal not be an end in itself.

We worship and pray in order that we might love our neighbors more consistently and fruitfully. Maybe this statement could serve as a discussion starter?

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