Let me go back to Friedman (and to the early explorers) again. He said that when those explorers headed south to try to fine a new way to China, they hit the end of the world. Not the actual end of the earth, but as far as they were concerned, it might have well as been. Once they dipped below the Equator, the lost the North Star. They lost the one fixed point in the stars that could always tell them where they were.
Once they crossed that line, they hit the part of the map that said, “Beware. Here Be Dragons.” They were sailing blind now. Not only did they not have the advantage of maps, and the tales of people who went before them, they had no real way to navigate with certainty.
Sailing into uncertain waters was dangerous, and not everyone who set out came back. Mutinies were not unusual, and interactions with the locals was sometimes fatal. But the worst part was moving ahead, and not really knowing where you were going.
Of course the people who came behind them had the advantages their predecessors left them. If nothing else, at least they knew they would not fall off the edge of the world.
What is it like to sail blind? Terrifying! Churches today have a simple choice. They can stay where they are. For some churches that means a certain death. For others, it means holding their own, and having their glory days behind them.
They can follow other ships. This is where the metaphor breaks down. If I want to go to China and don’t know how to get there, I would be wise to follow someone who did. However, in the world of the church, that is usually not an option. I used to go to conferences run by successful churches, and I thought that if I took what they did in their congregations back to my congregation, I could recreate what they did. It never worked. It was like studying gardening techniques in Southern California, and bringing them to Alaska. “How can I plant the tomatoes in April when there is still six feet of snow on the ground?”
Or we learn to blaze new trails for ourselves. This is more dangerous than sailing beyond the Equator, for most church members, and most pastors are not by nature explorers. They like their comfortable homes. They like their comfortable pulpits. Oh, no one can complain like a disgruntled pastor. But it’s not like they really want to do anything about their complaints.
I am currently in a Facebook discussion with two Christian, both devoted to their faith, and both of whom I consider friends, about the inclusion of LGBT peoples in the church. I can almost see their worlds turning upside down if we move into that kind of uncertainty. Both said, in various ways, we just need to rely on the Bible, and we will be a faithful people, and by that they mean their traditional way of interpreting the Bible. That is their North Star. And it is a good one. But is this particular way of reading the Bible keeping us from moving the Kingdom forward? Granted, crossing the Equator, in this sense giving up a more literal reading of the Bible, takes the certainty out of our faith.
But then, is not “certain faith” an oxymoron? Is having faith in the Bible the same as having faith in God? Is the Bible that imaginary line that we dare not cross, because then we are sailing blind?
But what are the consequences of staying at home?
Of course those who do want to sail on have no idea where to go. Oh, let me rephrase that. I have no idea where to go, if I want to move ahead. I know where I have been, but I am not sure where to go.
It is one thing to point a ship south and sail on. It is quite another to plan for the future as a congregation when you do not know what the future has in store. It is tempting to grab onto what you did before, or what that highly successful church across the way is doing. And it is infinitely easier to remain safe at home, where you know there are no dragons.