Rethinking Church

By | December 12, 2008

(Note: I have written the following post in response to comments shared on this post.)

I once heard it said that every generation needs their own reformation. The idea is that we never quite get it all right, so we need to keep improving rather than thinking we’ve got it made. You are correct in seeing a thread of changes through time, and yes, where I am in my thinking and belief has developed out of a specific background (mine is reformation->restoration). I think however there isn’t only one thread anymore. The reformation birthed several threads, as did the Second Great Awakening. I just read that George Barna is going to be releasing a book this spring on seven major groups of Christianity.

It’s obviously true that many calls for change in the past have lead to more division as one group of people separates from another to do things the way they think they ought to be done. I come from a Christian church background, which comes out of the Restoration movement. One of the values of that movement was to get away from division and denominations. However what has happened is that it’s essentially become a non-denominational denomination (no hierarchy, but a clear sense of which churches are in and out). So I’m quite aware of this difficulty. That is a problem with past revolutions: one or more threads would shoot off in new directions, but the old would also continue on it’s course.

The basis of what I and others are suggesting isn’t a focus on action, it’s more of a shifting the whole paradigm of thinking about what the church is. We currently have paradigms about what church is that lead to there being division, but the new paradigm allows for unity. If a group focuses on action, that could easily become divisive if it heads down a legalistic path (that is, if people attempt to spell out rules of right and wrong in black and white). I do think knowledge is important, but I think the knowledge that is most important is about how to live, and that needs to be practiced in order to have any real value. The action which God requires of us is love. I think that is pretty simple (and I think few Christians would disagree), but the difficulty is in putting that into action. That’s why we need practice, encouragement and help from others in the community of the church.

As an illustration, not long ago I attended a training class which met once a week for over a dozen weeks. While they would teach some principles, the communicating of ideas wasn’t the focus. Each week they had us try to put a principle into action, and then we’d discuss what happened and receive feedback the following week. The idea is that these principles weren’t meant to be just known, but practiced. Many times, they didn’t sink in or become real to a person until they tried it and saw the results.

I am suggesting that I think Christianity is like that. The important point isn’t what you believe, but it’s how you live (that’s not to say that actions save you). The parable of the sheep and goats should cause us to consider this. In that parable, there are many people who think that they are “in” with God, but it turns out that they are not. I think that the bottom line of the Christian life is to love. I think that is simple and basic enough that most people should be able to agree with it. But those who don’t will still be loved by those who do, with the result that there is a minimum of division.

On another note, what I and other are talking about isn’t “Let’s start another church that does things ‘better’ and then try to convince everyone they should join us.” That does cause division. What we are saying is that we recognize that the Church is the group of people worldwide who have put their faith in and are following Christ. They can be found in all different denominations, types and groups of christians. So this is less divisive. There isn’t any specific statement of faith or doctrine that you have to agree with to be a part of the Church. We believe that there is a specific way to live out the Christian life, but again the idea is not to condemn or separate from those who believe differently, but to lead and let those who will come along.

I hope this makes some sense. I have it pretty well worked out in my head, but fear that I am not able to communicate it very well.

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