I have a deep love and commitment for the denomination of churches in which I've grown up, the Christian & Missionary Alliance. But I have a growing burden for it as well, because I truly think that in one regard at least our denomination is in pretty bad place right now. I have a lot of hope in Jesus Christ, and thus have hope for his church. But as for my denomination, I don't know.
What hope is there for a denomination whose main strategies for dealing with controversial issues or hard-sell proposals are evasion and propaganda? What hope is there for a denomination who spends countless hours and dollars trying to figure out how to reach their culture with the gospel while simultaneously pushing away the very people in their midst who could save them a buck or two and just tell them?
Worse yet, what hope is there for a denomination which, instead of looking intently to the Word of God to speak relevantly to each time and culture through the interpretive community as they wrestle with contemporary questions (and with each other), settles for the polar strategies of avoidance and advertising?
I think we show a real lack of faith in Christ as our unifier when we depend on conflict avoidance and motivational media to keep us unified. What would be really promising would be if we trusted our unity in Christ to keep us together while we contended with one another around the Word of God and sought for the Spirit to guide us into truth.
An organization that fails to do this may continue to survive, and if it continues to take all its cues from the corporate world which is so adept at feeding consumers and gaining numbers it may even appear to thrive. But a denomination that claims to be Christian and yet forsakes this fundamental role and identity-marker at this crucial point might be dying inside at precisely the moment when it appears most "successful".
I quite honestly believe that is the crisis my denomination faces today. I respect many of my leaders and colleagues and I believe that they love and wish to serve Jesus Christ with all their hearts. And therein lies my hope. In fact, at our recent district conference our leaders gave us more "open mic" for discussion than I've seen in a long time.
But I think many still are digging for answers in all the wrong places. Hopefully in the years ahead we will have the guts to fight some stuff out (such as ordination, women in leadership, and our over-arching evangelical theology), but I don't think it will happen in the next few years. For now we seem poised for more conflict avoidance and for spending more thousands of dollars and man-hours on our (largely unneeded) self-motivation. Maybe by General Assembly 2012 we'll be ready to deal with some stuff. I sure hope so.
And maybe that's fine. Maybe this stuff has to be allowed to run its course so everyone can wrestle through it. I'm not interested in a dictatorship of new ideas any more than I am interested in the dictatorship of old ones. But that shouldn't prevent us from speaking up, even now. I think we see God more as we enter the process rather than sit back and pine and whine about the end goal. We need to lovingly and honestly fight against the false peace of evasion and the false hope of propaganda or we are going to die.
GK Chesterton adeptly addressed these twin problems in a 1908 essay entitled "On Bluff," addressing the editorialists of his time:
"The idea of fighting, of answering the argument by a suitable counter-argument, even if it be a sophistry, has evidently vanished from the editorial mind. Evasion and violence are the only expedients. . . . But both of these things are equally remote from the fighting spirit, which involves an interest in the enemy's movement in order to parry them. The good controversialist is a good listener . . . .
Most current attempts at [debate] are full of timidity or of bullying; and these two are in truth the same ... habit of admiring Power rather than Valour. That word Valour, by the way, is in itself a stirring sermon. It means putting one's full value into the struggle or sentiment; the almost exact translation of valour is 'being in it for all you are worth.'"
I confess that I struggle (as I'm sure we all do) with when to speak, when to listen, and how to do each lovingly and honestly. But evasive maneuvers and manipulative words are unbecoming a people who are rallied around the One who taught us self-giving communion and speaking the truth in love.
I do think Christ would lead me, and us, through this better than anyone or anything. I do think we have it at center if we'll reach back and grab it. We've quite literally just got to put the Christian and the Alliance back in C&MA. Then we'll really have something worth being Missionary about.