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Friday, August 21, 2015

A Tale Of Two Conservative Church Types

Writing for the Reformed African American Network, Dylan Justus (no bio available) writes a short piece designed to identify and then unite two kinds of conservative churches: Fundamental and Missional (click here for the article). We should immediately note that a Fundamental church is not a Fundamentalist church. While the former church is defined by how it relates to the world, the latter concerns itself with basic tenets of the Christian faith.

A Fundamental church is one that waits for the world to come to it for it to share the Gospel. In contrast to that, a Missional church goes out to meet sinners where they are. The crux of the difference, Justus correctly asserts is not in the content of what they preach, but in how each church believes one should interact with culture while sharing the Gospel with others. While a Fundamental church believes in as much separation as possible from the current culture in order to be pure by being as different from it as possible, a Missional church seeks to use culture to bring the Gospel to people. 

Justus' concern is to show that both kinds of churches preach the same gospel and he does an adequate job at doing that. However, Justus stops there and that is like having the stereotypical experience of eating a Chinese meal: one is hungry an hour later.

Being a Missional person who worships in a Fundamental church, I would like to complete one side of the comparison between these church types. And the focus of my comments will be on both structural in nature and how the risk each kind of church faces is addressed by Jesus' parables.

We will start with the Fundamental churches. Here we should note that Fundamental churches , in order to avoid being contaminated by the surrounding culture, wait for sinners to come to them. And in waiting for sinners to come to them, the memberships of these churches tend to be socially and politically homogeneous and thus the growth of these churches will be limited not by any offense found in the Gospel, but by demographics and the social and political standards held by the established members of the church. Such churches not only becomes places of worship, they become social and political club for its members as they provide a safe place to meet. 

But the above is not the biggest threat that Fundamental churches face. By waiting for people in society to come to the church, these churches, in essence, turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to many in society who are either crying out for help and/or being oppressed. In particular, these churches ignore those who are victims of groups and systems. At this point, the parable of the Good Samaritan should come to mind (click here for the parable). Why? It is because they have, unlike the Good Samaritan himself, ignored those individuals or groups who are left robbed and beaten by groups and the systems that maintain the status quo. And Fundamental churches do this by refusing to interact with society's structures. Here we should note that is not that  Fundmental churches never teach the Good Samaritan parable. It is that their applications of the parable are always based on the individual who has been hurt by other individuals, it never applies to those hurt by groups or systems.

The unwillingness of some conservative churches to speak out against slavery and Jim Crow in the past shows how Fundamental churches can act as the priest or the Levite did from the parable. Each had religious reasons for not helping the man beaten and robbed. Likewise, members of Fundamental churches have their religious reasons for why they do not help those who have been beaten and robbed because of the status quo. These religious reasons include not finding specific commands or examples in the New Testament telling us to help such victims and because needs caused by such suffering are physical needs, not spiritual/salvation ones. Because they fail to ask Martin Luther King's question of what will happen to the individuals or groups of people who have been beaten and robbed by the rulers of society and its systems if the Church does not help them, they fail to be the neighbor to these people and thus fail to love their neighbor as they should.

Though the days slavery and Jim Crow are over, racism still rears its ugly head especially amongst the ranks of some law enforcement officers. Have the Fundamental churches spoken out against the continued racism? In addition, we have abuses committed by the the upper economic classes on the rest of society as partially documented by Occupy Wall Street's Declaration Of The Occupation Of New York City (click here for the declaration). Have the Fundamental churches both spoken out against those abuses and ministered to the victims? See, by limiting the implementation of the Good Samaritan parable to individuals helping individuals, these churches, as corporate bodies, have told their members to do something they are unwilling to do themselves: that is help those they find by the wayside who have been victimized. Rather than helping, the Fundamental churches are waiting for such victims to attend church services with hopes that these attendees will join. Such is a very serious indictment on the Fundamental churches. It is serious because such can cause the religiosity of Fundamental churches to be similar to that of the scribes and pharisees of Jesus' day. And just like those scribes and pharisees, they have religious excuses for withdrawing from society. They don't wish to be corrupted by helping those in need.

On the other hand, the Missional churches sometimes live out the fears that the Fundamental churches harbor. That is, Missional churches can be so involved putting out society's fires that instead of using firefighting as a way of introducing and living the Gospel, they replace the preaching of the Gospel with putting out of these fires. The parable of the four soils illustrates this problem (click here for the parable). In particular, Missional churches run the risk of becoming the seeds that fall among the thorns (vs 14). For the people these seeds represent lose faith because of their concerns with their earthly lives.

I've seen more than one follower of Christ fall to the structural risk faced by the Missional churches. And what is most tragic is that the actual physical good these former believers do blinds them from the dangers of self-righteousness and the belief that they no longer need to believe in Christ for salvation.

So what we have in the end is something we can add to what Justus saw should unify the Fundamental and Missional churches. For not only are they united by the Gospel they preach, they are united by their need for one another. For as the Fundamental churches can remind the Missional churches not to lose its focus on faith in Christ for for the forgiveness of sins, the Missional churches can help the Fundamental churches to better fulfill the command to love their neighbors in society and thus avoid settling for the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees.





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