375. salvation as flavor and illumination
The following post is from a short paper I had to write for a Disciples of Christ History and Polity course. The task was basically to talk about my understanding of salvation.
Being a paper for a history and polity class, I did have to throw in a bit about the denomination at the end. If I had more time I would reformulate that paragraph to make it more applicable to this blog but I’m back in the swing of school and am already behind in readings for class, so you’ll just have to read it as is (and really, if you don’t know about the Disciples, you really should check them out – they’re a quirky, fascinating little denomination).
We live in a world that, for both better and worse, is controlled by two dominant power structures – the commercial and the political. If we were fishes, commerce and politics would be like the hydrogen and oxygen of the waters we swim in. Every system of power operates within a set of rules or principles and whether people are aware of it or not, they participate in these systems. Some benignly, transparently move with the flow of these systems while others consciously work for or against them. Regardless, the point is that everyone is immersed in corporate and political forces to some degree or another.
There is, however, a third system in play. This one is far more elusive and mysterious, but it is no less a part of the life of the world than commerce and politics. Christ spoke of this third system as the kingdom of God (or heaven). To return to the fish and water analogy, the Kingdom of God can be likened to the mineral component of water. No natural body of water is purely H2O – there are always other chemical/mineral components that give water a certain flavor (the saltiness of salt water, for example). In fact, it’s this third component of water that gives it its life-giving properties (freshwater fish cannot survive in pure, distilled water).
But what does any of this have to do with the question of salvation – what does is it mean to be saved? Jesus talked about his followers being salt and light. To participate in the kingdom of God is to live into this third system – to bring life-giving flavor to the world and to illumine the often-toxic nature of the commercial and political systems. Thus, to be saved is to be saved from slavish participation in systems of oppression and greed and to be saved into a new understanding of life – a life based in a kingdom ethic. This is a way of life where enemies are not to be annihilated but loved, where leaders are called to serve, where the scales of justice are themselves weighed against grace, freedom, and forgiveness, where love of God and neighbor is the lens through which all other laws are understood.
Thus far, I have not said anything about how the church fits into this schema. The early Disciples seemed to have done the same. They initially resisted the urge to become a denomination, in part, because they understood that if one is not careful, the church can turn into yet another institution of power and profit – it can return people to the very systems of oppression from which they were saved. Even today, as a denomination, because the DOC have emphasized a congregational polity and a very open doctrinal stance, they are uniquely poised to be salt and light in a world desperately in need of flavor and illumination, and to do so in a way that is relatively (hopefully) free from the corrosive lures of power and profit.