You are a living stone, not a house, and as a living stone be yourself built into a spiritual house. That’s a rough paraphrase from a portion of 1 Peter 2 that goes on to call followers of Jesus into a royal priesthood, a holy nation. “Once,” he wrote, “you were no people but now you are God’s people…” Peter offers no hint of the possibility of being a solitary Christian in a world of solitary Christians. A stone is not a house. However holy and precious in God’s sight, it remains just a stone until, because it is a living stone, it permits itself to be built into a spiritual house. Stone upon stone, course upon course, extending outward and upward from the well laid cornerstone that is Christ, the spiritual house, the Church of living stones, is built. To become a royal priesthood, a holy nation of God’s people is collaborative, disciplined work in community. That’s what Peter thinks.
Peter appears to be little more than an unsophisticated dreamer. Clearly neither he nor God has any idea how dated, unrealistic and contrary to the ideal of individualism all of that is.
We live in a time when the dominant religious theme is not only to claim spirituality without religion, but to enshrine that mantra as the new orthodoxy. Dozens of books and articles proclaim that the Church will have to adapt to a population that has no interest in denomination, the church as institution, hierarchy, educated theologians as clerics, dogma or doctrine. To be spiritual but without religious affiliation of any kind is not only acceptable but preferred. Affiliation, if any, might be considered as a participant, but not member, of small spontaneous gatherings of like minded people eschewing any formal leadership, and indifferent to being led from spiritual milk to solid food by qualified teachers .
I’d like to suggest that Peter was not so far off the mark after all. We are called to be a people of God, not a collection of persons of God, the god of our choice. We are called to be a part of the community of a royal priesthood. Peter suggests that we can only do that by casting off all malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander. Admittedly that takes a lot of the fun out of life. It’s not easy to love others as Christ has loved us if we hang onto those favored pastimes, but that is what we are called to do. Tradition, reason, experience, dogma, doctrine, structure and standards of excellence in learning are essential tools to help us along the way.
What I hear from too many of my clergy colleagues is fear: fear that the Church will have to adapt or go out of business. There is nothing wrong with adaptation as such. It’s what we mean by a reformed church always reforming. We are always in a state of adaptation, but not for the purpose of being conformed to this world. I have no fear that the Church will die out or be subsumed by something else. It is, after all, God’s Church, not ours. We are not to be measured by size or market penetration, but by obedience. Moreover, a revitalization of a spirit of obedience does not go in the direction of a Calvin, Luther, Aquinas or Augustine, but in the direction of Christ and the abundance of the generosity of God’s grace promiscuously poured out in love for all of creation.