The Church: always forming and reforming

Throughout my seminary career, I’ve heard professors being openly critical of other churches, especially those that practice different methodologies in ministry.  Both mainstream evangelical and confessional mainline churches are continually criticizing one another’s methodologies, and even, critiquing one another’s motives in ministry.   I have had a foot in both camps for a while now so I can totally understand where the two are coming from, and also feel torn between the two.

In our mainline confessional churches (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic), we seek to maintain the confessions of the historic church in order to preserve the truths.  This explains why the growth in or historic confessional churches tend to be stagnant.  However, the upside is that historic positions of the Christian church are maintained and preserved.

In our evangelical churches, we are constantly trying to change in order to be missional.  This explains why our growing evangelical/charismatic churches tend to re-invent ourselves all the time (e.g., new forms of worship).  The upside is that there is growth in evangelical churches (especially worldwide Pentecostalism and charismatic churches).

On the missional church, Craig van Gelder describes the church as: always forming (missional), and always reforming (confessional).

    He says that in this polarity lies a healthy and dynamic tension between change and continuity, and between mission and confession.  This forces us to be challenged by a need to recontexualize a congregation’s ministry while maintaining the truths of the historic Christian faith.

    Can there be a “Third Way”?  I have come to position that in order to survive and even thrive as a Church, the ministry of the Church must begin to practice what I call the “Third Way”.  In my pastoral ministry, I have been trying to implement and meld some of the accepted methodologies of mainstream evangelical and historic confessional churches because that is the only way to be dynamic and growing, while maintaining the established Christian truths.  I believe that we need to be challenged by one another.  Those who do not submit to learning one another’s differences will never understand the advantages of the other methodologies of ministry.  I do hope that we can all, one day, come to a more common understanding of ministry.

    6 thoughts on “The Church: always forming and reforming

    1. TC, the future of all our churches depend on this third way. Too many of our historic churches are going to fall by the wayside and be left behind by closures (as is already happening). I think to have healthy ministry in our churches, we must move into a missional mindset in the future. As you already know, I’ve lost interest in any emergent stuff and feel there’s a need for a new paradigm of ministry.

      Some people even feel missional is on a decline but what other options do we have today?


    2. Kevin,

      This is a great post, and quite timely! Your “third way” proposal seems to be the ability to properly engage and not neglect other Christian traditions and movements, while creating your own to navigate the times. I guess the difference becomes that of focus: are you too confessional, or too missional? How about that healthy balance, since both are needed?


    3. Scott, your reference to the bible verse got me curious because it is so relevant. It got me wondering about what the words “old” and “new” were alluding to. D. Hagner in WBC says: “the relation of the Torah to the genuinely new reality of the kingdom of God.”

      In the church today, there are so many “old” things that are still valid–yet many “new” things that are as true as the “old.” To keep both the old and new within the church is to truly understand what is valuable and makes us wise stewards of the things of God. This will encourage me to try out new things that may be more relevant to younger people.


    4. I’ve also been in some contemporary/evangelical churches that recite the historic Apostles’ Creed

      My friend’s church, with charismatic leanings, does this.

      Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. (Matt 13:52)


    5. Some of the challenging things in our historic confesional churches is learning to be open to change and being missional. I try to teach what being a missional church might look like in my messages. I don’t know what other traditional churches do to promote change and encourage mission. I’ve also been in some contemporary/evangelical churches that recite the historic Apostles’ Creed, which helps to reinforce a sense of history and catholicity of the church. I think this is a good practice.


    6. It is important to remember the tensions that we must grasp as believers:

      – Continuity & discontinuity
      – Old & new
      – Present & future
      – Small & large

      Etc, etc. It’s always healthy to consider balanced ground.


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