I love the church, I truly do. I am convinced that the church is at the center of God’s cosmic plan. Precisely because I love the church so much, I often blog about the church and point out areas where I think deeper reflection could make the church stronger and more reflective of God’s plan.
Over the years, at one time or another, I’ve probably offended mainline Churches, independent churches, non-denominational churches, charismatic churches, liturgical churches, non-liturgical churches, high churches, low churches, missional churches, emergent churches and mega-churches, among others! So, maybe it’s long overdue for me to say quite plainly that every one of these movements brings gifts to the church.
I’ve really appreciated the Pentecostal and Charismatic emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. I’ll never forget the time that I heard a Pentecostal preacher proclaim from the pulpit, “Jesus is the Great I AM, not the Great I WAS, and the Holy Ghost brings the “was” into the “am!” You don’t hear things like that ringing forth from the typical mainline pulpit! I appreciate the liturgical churches emphasis on the continuity of the church through the ages. Every part of the service cries out, “We are not alone. There are millions of Christians who have lived faithfully and died in faith.” To use some of the very same language that these brothers and sisters from earlier ages used is powerful and is a kind of living testimony to the “communion of the saints.” I also have a deep appreciation for the missional churches, including ones that range from mega-church to the emerging churches. Here you find men and women who deeply care that people are lost and without Jesus Christ.
It is in the contemporary church that you are most likely to find people who understand that we are living in a post-Christendom world. It is in these missional churches that you find a deep passion to connect the gospel to unbelievers. It is in the mainline churches that we remember that the gospel must be good news to the disenfranchised in this world. We cannot follow Christ without following him into the most painful corners of society. I could go on, but I think you get my point. Every movement in the church has insights which, if shared, could strengthen the whole. It is also true that every movement has embarrassing blind spots where greater reflection is needed.
To point out that many mainline churches have sometimes forgotten the gospel and turned it into bland moralizing and mere social action is not to write off the whole movement, but to call it back to its own more nourishing roots. To point out that the mega-church movement has become overly consumeristic and market driven is not to write off the whole movement, but to gently nudge it back to its missional heart which is, fundamentally driven by the imperatives of the gospel, not the entertainment industry. To point out that the liturgical churches have sometimes exalted form over substance is not to write off the whole movement, but to help these movements to remember why they crafted such beautiful prayers in the first place.
John Wesley models for us the power of learning from other Christian movements. He was a great student of the Reformation. He was a student of Puritanism. He was a student of pietism. He was a student of Eastern Orthodoxy. He was a student of the Patristics. Over the course of his writings he criticizes all of these movements, times and writers. But the “people called Methodist” also learned to glean the best from all these movements. The Methodist emphasis on experience (fourth plank of the quadrilateral) is clearly drawn from the German pietists. The Methodist emphasis on prevenient grace is drawn from the early Greek fathers of the church. Wesley’s emphasis on salvation by faith alone resonates fully with the Reformation, even while Wesley embraced so much of the “catholic” tradition. What a great model for us today. We are Christians first before we are Methodists or Baptists or Pentecostals. We must be good students of the whole movement, always learning, always listening and always reflecting.