Teaching Progressive Christianity Using the 8 Points, A Guide

By Louise Mahood

 

I understand Progressive Christianity is for individuals who find Jesus intriguing but suspicious of institutional church. Like minimalist interior decorating that remove tchotchkes within a space, the Progressive Christian movement strips out the tchotchkes of church and tradition. The tchotchkes of ideas and practices out of date or uphold orthodoxy and exclusion. I offer to my congregation of about 120 people a 4 week plunge into the American Eight Points material honed by Fred Plumer and others.  I manage to engage those who would never sign up for Bible study in a church! This article explains the outline I use, bearing in mind several factors:

 

  1. Edgy marketing
  2. Denominational variations: making the learning in your context
  3. Are hymns sung for the tunes or for the theology?
  4. What about the Sacraments?
  5. Curriculum Outline

 

Edgy Marketing

I can only grab people for 4 weeks at a time and give them homework between sessions. Homework inspires conversation with others, over the family meals, with friends and at work. This is a typical promotion piece I used:

 

A growing movement within Christianity is called ‘Progressive’.

Want to know more???

Consider attending this short course…..

A 4 week program of exploring on ……….

 

State specific dates and times…

-A working knowledge of Christian scriptures and tradition might help but is not  required either.

-In fact, there is no such thing as a stupid question in this kind of course.

-It does not ask you to ‘buy into anything’, but you will go deeply into your roots of belief about God, Jesus, and God’s Spirit.

 

Game?  Sign up then.

 

I want commitment for two reasons. The lay leadership overseeing programming, and the HR volunteers who evaluate my efforts, mutually agreed that I am expensive and a course for 2 people was poor stewardship of money and time. I aim for a firm sell. The other major point in the promotion is to tell people this is a safe place to explore issues, and there is no pressure to ‘buy into anything’. It works because in a few months I drew 4 groups from this congregation and some local neighbors curious about this topic.

 

Denominational Variations: Making the Learning in Your Context

Any course will need to include your local resources for worship and witness. The United Church of Canada has its own creed, the Nicene and Apostle Creeds in our hymn book, Voices United [©1996]. Fortunately our hymns are inclusive. Our sacraments are Baptism and Communion and our members vary from lifelong to many from mainline Christian heritages. We do not market to Evangelical and Pentecostals.  

 

To make the most impact I combine reading a point and then let the learners answer the questions in the study book. The course conversation really opens when we take time to examine our creeds, hymns, worship styles and ministry. In other words, instruction blends pedagogy with praxis. I engage individuals as we blend the Eight points with Sunday morning worship and wow the conversation becomes lively indeed.

 

Are Hymns Sung for the Tunes or for the Theology?

Worship leaders and music leaders know too well, we struggle to express our faith in song. How do we bridge the old and new metaphors and mythology when so many know the familiar tunes and want to belt them out on Sunday morning? I chose to compare the ‘goldie oldies’ with hymns written after the mid 1960’s. These late 20th Century hymns speak of God and Jesus in metaphor over history, God within us, and little about God over us and judgmental. Brows frequently furrow as participants examine the hymns often proclaiming “love the tune, hate the theology!” By far our language in hymns will stimulate conversation and keep people talking.

 

What about the Sacraments?  

The UnitedChurch celebrates two sacraments, baptism and communion. All ages access these sacraments. As for communion, it is now common to celebrate communion monthly, using classic high church liturgy. The sacraments evoke as many issues about our theology and our ministry to the world, as do singing of hymns. I again engage participants with comparing our style with Candace Beyei’s progressive baptism liturgy written for the Evangelical United Church of Christ. Likewise, I set communion liturgies, traditional with progressive side by side. Placing these progressive liturgies together opens the conversation about living our ministry for today’s participant in regular worship, the novice and the culture Christians alike. The lay leaders advocated and we now use the progressive communion for special occasions like Christmas Eve and Palm Sunday.

 

Curriculum Outline

Each week we review the homework then proceed with turbo speed through 2 points and questions to the points. Folks came back for more!

 

Week 1 homework compares the Apostle’s Creed and the United Church Creed in addition to two ‘Christ the King’ hymns. Week 2 includes two communion liturgies and homework is comparing two Christmas hymns. Point 4 invited a good conversation about our inclusiveness. I really push the comfort levels in worship asking for honest answers as I list types of people. My types include a convicted criminal, someone with a weapon, someone who stares at you, a woman breastfeeding, or even unruly children. I indicate it is okay to be uncomfortable – just know why! Week 3 includes the two baptism liturgies and homework includes comparing two baptism hymns. Week 4 was exploring two Easter hymns before we fully depart.

 

I ‘finally struck gold’ combining the written resources, within our living reality. The permission giving model helps individuals speak, and creates safety to speak about why we do what we do, and how we might express ourselves as Christians in our current context.


Sources:

Eight Points http://www.tcpc.org/about/8points.cfm

The United Church of Canada Creed http://www.united-church.ca/beliefs/creed

Baptism: http://www.tcpc.org/library/article.cfm?library_id=333

Communion: http://www.tcpc.org/library/article.cfm?library_id=53

 

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