Thursday, December 29, 2016

How To Do Church

A while back I wrote about the rift in the church that mirrors the political rift between liberals and conservatives. That rift is even stronger in the protestant world. Over Christmas a bunch of conversations about this with protestant family members got me thinking a bit more. It seems like there is talk of yet another split in the denomination I grew up in. The split was described in an interesting way. There are those who are concerned about doctrine and theology but basically preach to the converted. Then there are those who connect with the culture. They focus on bringing Jesus to the unchurched folk. They like to talk about themselves as having a transformational ministry. That is a reference to Christ as Transformer of Culture in terms of Niebuhr's categories. Yet it seems they are the ones getting transformed. It is easy to see how the world has made them abandon parts of their faith. It is harder to see how they have changed the world in a way that a secular person could not. Still they do connect with people in powerful ways and that is a good thing. 

I have said we should abandon the either/or thing. That Christianity must be understood as a both/and. We connect with our neighbour and we remain obedient to God. If we go to our neighbourhoods and leave out the offensive bits of the gospel then we are not really offering them much more than we would if we were not Christians. In fact, we leave ourselves worse off because we limit God. We don't let Him tell us things that the culture rejects. We always find some way to rationalise caving in to the culture. We are so immersed in worldly thinking that the world's voice is louder than God's voice. 

The other side is that we can't just preach to the converted. There is a real failure on that side as well. Many churches that do things that way are in serious decline. People today are exposed to so many idea through mass media and social media that you can't just teach your theology and expect them to accept it. You need to deal with the realities of the world. 

I am thinking that the either/or thing might be hard to avoid. Some people are just going to much better at connecting people with God who already have a faith commitment to Jesus. Others are going to be better at meeting unchurched people where they are at and proposing Jesus to them. To some extent we can ask people to work on their weak areas but there is a limit to that. What we really need is for these two groups to work together. We need them to respect each other and recognise they need each other.

Now this is quite impossible in the Protestant world because they very quickly disagree on what the gospel is. The relational people are not going to accept that the doctrinal folks have the doctrine right. So the common ground disappears quickly. They find more common ground with other relational people in other protestant traditions. That makes sense because their thinking is formed mostly by the culture and not so much by their faith tradition so differing traditions are not going to matter much.

In the Catholic world there should be substantial agreement on what the gospel is. Often there is still a problem because many Catholics have not embraced the faith fully. So people on both sides of this divide must constantly remind themselves that the Church is the Body of Christ. That liberal and conservative Catholics are supposed to see the other wing of the church as a gift from God. Often there is a danger that we look at ourselves and those like us as being good Catholics and those on the other side as being bad Catholics. 

It is hard because we have the graces required to make this work but we don't always do it. We need to cooperate. We have the faith defined but we are still tempted to ignore the hard stuff. We need to actually take it all with us when we evangelise. I am reminded of a paraphrase someone did of The Great Commission that emphasised the word ALL.  They talked about making disciples and baptising them into ALL of God. That seems like what we need here. We don't decide what parts of God a person is ready for. We give them everything and trust Him. 

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