I’ve spent the last 19 months serving a church that is much more conservative than I am. To be fair, in many cases we agree in principle, but not in practice. When I arrived, I found many of the particular patterns/traditions/ideologies surprizing- but after spending two years with these intensely devout families, I have to honestly say they’ve changed my mind in a few areas. And when I spend time with my progressive/bohemian evangelical friends, I notice the absence of these practices/values/concerns.
1) the centrality of scripture. Our society AND our churches are Biblically Illiterate. While I’m a card-carrying progressive when it comes to finding God’s Truth in secular culture, I think the conservatives are right in their emphasis on this one. The Bible, Early and Often. Quoting scripture to each other in social contexts- “you know, paul says in Ephesians that… ” Using real references in bible studies-not just our recollections. There is a shameful tendency in progressive christianity to lean on a “we all know what we mean” kind of answer for interpretation. Over time, I get the sense that that will lead to a Christian-ish social circle; not a church. In my mind, that’s a temptation from Satan- and continual returning to scripture is a necessary part of confronting it.
My former boss says it likes this: “when it comes to conservative versus progressive Christianity, History is on the side of the Conservatives. And the reason history is on their side is because they disciple their children.” They get that the goal of a church is to make people like Jesus. Are you living more like Jesus now than you were when you joined your church? They want their kids and their friends to live like Jesus, and they are willing to make real sacrifices to enable that to happen. Again, there is a continual use of scripture in the process.
3) Gospel over Goodwill.
Because they’re conservative evangelicals, they place a primacy on the “Jesus died for you so that you can live for him” kind of evangelism. They have no interest in building wells in Sudan unless the wells somehow tell people about Jesus. Now, I wouldn’t take it to that extreme, (and maybe they wouldn’t either) but by making the clear choice, they leave the teeth in Gospel. If we aren’t careful, we will find ourselves serving the poor because we feel sorry for them– “gosh, it sucks you don’t have what I do…” instead of Loving them with the Love of Christ because it’s a part of who we are- and in that love serving them by alleviating their physical suffering. God’s healing and Restoration is not just food, water and shelter.. it’s restoring their Birthright as Children of God.
Yes, God built use to do life in community. Yes, the 21st century West lives individualistic, self-indulgent lives. But the de-marker between a pagan and a christian is not JUST that we have a community that shares life and resources. It’s that OUR community collectively becomes the Body of Christ- increasing in holiness, faithfulness, fruitfulness, and acting as God’s agents here on earth. Again, the point of church is to Live Like Jesus, not just to “do life together.”