I read a profile recently of a newly formed non-denominational church in the upper Midwest. It was described as a “progressive” Christian church. For the most part the church seems to fit the “emergent” church profile: mission-minded in relating to the local community, welcoming and affirming to all life-styles, flexible and eclectic in worship forms and emphasizing the individual spiritual journey over corporate body life.
Churches of this model are currently growing while traditional congregations and denominations who are struggling are beginning to look at them to learn how to become relevant to our modern culture.
The missional mindset is one I have been attracted to for many years. Our churches must make an impact in our own communities by matching the needs around us to the gifts already within the congregation. I believe that God puts his people where he wants them to serve, and he provides the resources, if we are willing to look for them.
Being welcoming to all fellow sinners, whatever their particular temptations and struggles, is basic to the Christ-centered fellowship, as is affirming that God’s love extends to us all. I can deplore the sin, my own included, while extending love to the sinner.
Although church splits have happened over differences in worship style and form, most of us realize that they were a triumph of the trivial over the meaningful and of ego over fellowship. It benefits us all when we can be flexible enough to incorporate each other’s tastes in music and ritual. One person may be brought closer to God through the traditions of years spent in the sanctuary while another finds solace in the styles of their own background. The collision of styles is a test of our adherence to 1 John 4:7-8, but should not threaten our basic Christian beliefs.
The Christian faith is based upon a personal relationship with Christ, so emphasizing our responsibility to progress in our spiritual journey throughout our lives is fundamental to a healthy church.
However, and you knew there must be a “however”, the pastor of the congregation in the profile summed up in just a few words the problem I have with many emergent congregations when she said, “We take the Bible seriously, but we don’t take it literally.”
When I start to pick and chose which parts of the Bible I accept as the literal word of God for me and which parts were meant for another time, another place, another circumstance or someone other than myself I am on slippery ice on an ever-steepening slope.
All scripture is God-breathed and meant for us all. While there are parts which are obviously allegory, parables, or dreams, and are identified as such, and other parts which can only be understood when we know the circumstances of the times, there is always a message for us if we are willing to look for it. It may not be a comfortable message, or it may even be a challenging one. If I am allowed to believe that those passages I don’t like were just some man’s ideas that slipped in by mistake, then I won’t accept them as words for my life and I will ignore them. That certainly won’t help my spiritual journey toward maturity in the faith.
While it is true that many of our shrinking congregations are focusing over much on traditions and worship style, and many have forgotten how to relate to their communities, we must be very careful before interpreting another congregation’s numerical growth as a sign to adopt all of that congregation’s ways.
Being in the world but not of the world isn’t easy. We can’t be in the world by keeping cloistered in the sanctuary on Sunday and sending money to missionaries. Worship on Sunday, support foreign missionaries, and get out into your community and make a difference for Christ the rest of the week.
What makes us different, and not “of the world” is our belief in and adherence to God’s word. We take it seriously, all of it, and we take it literally, too.