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.

    Is there hope for Christian unity?

    This cartoon reflects the current condition of the Church. I hope things can change in the future.

    When there’s a lack of communication because of theological-intellectual-spiritual pride or lack of humility, a huge divide becomes even deeper.  We need to suck in our pride and talk to one another as equals and try to become friends with one another.

    Cartoon is by my favorite cartoonist, Jon Birch, at asbo jesus.

    Denominations and bible translations

    The universal church is divided between denominational lines. A sign of this division is that we differ in the translation we prefer to read in our pews and pulpit. For example, in evangelical churches, the NIV generally reigns supreme. In “Word of Life-type” of pentecostal-charismatic churches, the NKJV is widely used in study. In mainline churches, e.g., Episcopal/Anglican, Presbyterian-USA, ELCA-Lutheran, the weekly staple of lectionary readings are usually taken from the NRSV/RSV. In the Roman Catholic Church, the NAB is the officially approved translation. In conservative evangelical churches where the bible is studied in-depth, the NASB is king. In ultra conservative churches, the KJV is considered the only “true” word of God. Forgive me for making these broad generalizations but my purpose behind making these generalizations is to show that there is a relationship between denominations and bible translations. No matter how hard we may try to deny this, there is, at least, an ounce of truth in this.

    This was first made most plain and visible to me when I first began to attend seminary. In my seminary, a Lutheran seminary, the NRSV was the only translation I had ever heard read from during chapel services. Believe it or not, the NIV is almost seen as a foreign translation, even a despised one by some Lutherans with liberal tendencies. This was rather disappointing for me when I started seminary. However, I am sure that this same bias also exists in conservative evangelical seminaries. I am almost certain that the NRSV or NAB would never be read in a conservative evangelical or pentecostal seminary/bible college. Many evangelicals have never even heard of the NRSV. The NAB and Jerusalem Bible are also rarely or never read from in evangelical or mainline churches. In conservative evangelical churches, where I have attended most of my life as a young person, the NIV, NLT, NASB, and NKJV were usually the translation of choice. I had never heard of the NRSV or NAB until I started to cross over the great denominational divide to visit some of my mainline and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. You could imagine the cataclysmic shock I experienced when this naive conservative-charismatic evangelical attended a Lutheran seminary.

    So what am I saying? Is there a point to all this? I’m not sure, but one thing I do know is that we, as Christians, are divided along denominational lines and it tends to affect the bible translation we prefer to read from. Our personal theologies and worldviews determine how we translate our bibles, which in turn, also affects the translation we prefer. No matter how hard we may try to deny this, it is true. If we do not see this, we really have our heads stuck in the sand. Our preference in bible translation is proof that we are divided and separated by our personal theologies and worldviews. No, I am not an ecumenist who thinks that we should all be the same and believe in the exact same ideology and theology. And no, I am definitely not an advocate of a one-world church. I admit that I also have a preference of translation, ideology and theology. But what I do advocate is that we ought to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ from different denominations. Behind the different theologies and worldviews, the true universal church may be bigger than what we first thought it was. (logos: Lutheran, Alliance, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Mennonite)