Please note: this is from the 2003 8 Points version not our current 2011 version.
We will be updating this study guide soon!
By calling ourselves progressive,we mean that we are Christians who invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):
- believers and agnostics,
- conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
- women and men,
- those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
- those of all races and cultures,
- those of all classes and abilities,
- those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope;
- without imposing on them the necessity of becoming like us.
The text for this point might seem obvious or even redundant after our discussion on the last point. But the 4th Point is designed to encourage us to look a little closer at the divisions that tend to separate God’s children and neighbors from each other. Most of us would probably find it in our hearts “to allow” those who we might consider “heathens,” “sinners,” and “misfits” to come to the communion table. We might not only find it acceptable to invite them to join us at the “open” table, but we might also invite them to participate in activities of the church. We might do these things and more while we wait for “them” to change. The 4th Point requires another step for us. Here we are inviting all sorts of different people to join us as “full partners” in the common life of our churches, without imposing on them that they become like us or even try and act like us. In a sense we are being called to “affirm those who might be different from ourselves, just the way they are.”
Many Christians today are amused by stories about 19th century missionaries who insisted that their converts around the Pacific Rim dress in the European fashion and sing western tunes accompanied by portable organs. Yet some of those same Christians, who claim to welcome all people, expect their new members eventually to look and think like themselves. They assume that doubters and skeptics will become believers, that gays and lesbians will become straight or at the least celibate, that everyone will appear to be cheerful, and that people in the church will adopt the same manners and develop similar tastes. Progressive Christians take a different approach. From our reading of the gospels, we have come to the conclusion that the followers of Jesus are to welcome all people without imposing on them the necessity of changing their attitudes, their culture, their understanding of the faith, or their sexual orientation. To take this position a step farther, we would also say that the established members of a church should always be alert to the possibility that they are the ones who must do the changing. They always must be ready to adapt themselves to the people they hope to welcome.
Most church groups that have wrestled with this point have assumed in the beginning that the real bone of contention would be the issue of welcoming the homosexual. Certainly there is good reason for this. Numerous religious journals and national periodicals have focused a great deal of attention on the homosexual issue, some calling it the most important issue of the decade. Nearly every major denomination has been embroiled in some divisive action over this issue in the last few decades. Most of them are still unresolved. According to reports that we have had from church groups that have discussed this issue, however, it has not been homosexuality that has generated the most discussion. (If you would like to educate yourself on this important issue, TCPC can provide a bibliography of books, tapes and articles upon request).
The truth is that nearly every congregation has had homosexuals attending their services on a regular basis throughout the centuries. In most cases the homosexuals remained silent about their orientation and simply blended in. However, according to several national studies race, ethnic persuasion, class and age still divide our churches into rather homogeneous and exclusive groups. There are a variety of reasons for this manifestation, some of them quite complex. The most common one is the physical location of the church and the demographics of the area. Also, some churches have intentionally focused their ministry on an ethnic minority group because of language or cultural differences or to provide a safe place for those who might not be welcomed in other churches.
Aside from the obvious, these studies indicate that there are often more subtle forces and biases at work that keep our churches more homogenous and often unintentionally more exclusive than we claim that we want. Sometimes it is the style of worship, the type of music or the length of the sermon. Other times it may be the nature of the welcome a church extends. Sometimes it is just a poorly thought out assimilation process. It may be that greatest influence on the homogeneity is the subtle or not so subtle force that attempts to mold the stranger into our mold. It is one thing to welcome a visitor into our place of worship. It is quite another to create a place that welcomes the stranger into “full partnership,” where we are willing to share ideas, decision-making, risks and adapt to the needs and tastes of others in our common life. And yet this seems to be what the Jesus of the gospels is encouraging us to do if we want to discover and experience the “Realm of God.”
2. What would you be willing to change in your church if it meant making more people feel welcomed or comfortable? Music? Order of worship? Style or time of worship? Number of services?
3. What would you be unwilling to change?
4. How long do you think people should attend your church before they can hold positions of responsibility?