What church do you go to?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Every so often I get an email with someone asking what church I go to. That is, they want to know where they can find a church that teaches the kind of stuff I do on this blog so that they can go there. So I thought I'd try and address that.

I'll start with the quick answer: the denomination that I feel most at home in is the Vineyard since it is charismatic like me, but with a real focus on grace and caring for people. If I had to pick one church that really gets grace more than any other, it would be Jay Baker's Revolution NYC. Jay is kind of a hero to me because he is able to be so open, real, and always focused on grace.

Now let me make two points. First, I don't go to either of these churches. I don't go to Revolution NYC because it is on the other side of the country. I don't go to a Vineyard church either because while there a lot of them, there are none in the city I live in. Second, I really don't know if Jay or the Vineyard teach Christus Victor as opposed to Penal Substitution. I'm not sure that's so important. What they do teach is grace, grace, grace. So what I would recommend to folks looking for a church is not to try and find one that teaches all the "right" stuff (isn't that focus part of the problem?) but rather to find a church that knows about grace. That is, a church where you can be real, where you can ask questions, where you can struggle, where they know we are all messed up and all need God's amazing transforming love.

Right now I'm going to a Presbyterian church. The pastor of that church happens to agree with me on being opposed to penal substitution, (which is kind of surprising since Presbyterians are Calvinist!) but that is not really why I go there. I go there because of the focus on grace. There are folks who believe in penal substitutions who are totally focused on grace (John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon come to mind for me), and then there are folks who instead have a gospel of fear, guilt, and legalism. It's the fruits that matter here, not the doctrinal statements. Or perhaps more accurately, its not what you say so much as it is how you walk that out that matters. So that's my advice for people looking for a chruch: find a church where you can be real and honest that is focused on grace. Don't focus so much on the Sunday sermon (not that it doesn't matter!) as you do on having real relationships with people in that church (small groups are often a good way to do that).

Before I started going to my current church we were going to a Baptist church. The pastor there was this wonderful loving guy, but he died sadly, and they brought in a new guy. This new guy believed all the same things, but he was angry, arrogant, uncompassionate, and preached that message of condemnation every week. It was the classic "God hates you and has a wonderful plan for your life" alter call to a religion of fear. Yuck.

Now, there are a lot of things that I did not agree with in that Baptist church with the loving pastor, and there are a lot I don't agree with in the church I go to now. If you can find a church that "gets it all right" that's great, but I never have. What I try to do instead is find a place that has the fruits of grace. A place that is imperfect (like I am!), but where we can all come and be real and show grace and love to each other as we work to grow closer to Jesus and love others like he loves us.

Now I'm sure I'm oversimplifying things somewhat. After all, if doctrine did not matter I guess I would not spend so much time talking about it on this blog. I also don't want to imply that we should just go to churches that are "nice". That's not what grace is about because that's fake. The point I'm trying to make is you really can't judge a church by their denominational badge, or statement of faith, or compelling web page, or innovative worship service. You need to get to know a community of people who, like a family, will be imperfect, but hopefully, like a family, will also really love each other.

I wish I could give a more straightforward answer. Maybe a couple links to some awesome churches right by where you live. But the reality is that I don't have some super fantastic church over here where the grass is greener. I struggle with this just like you do. I'm pretty sure we all do. It's really pretty simple: love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor like you love yourself. But that's so hard to find. It seems that most churches either are good at being compassionate, but leave out the focus on a close relationship with God (most mainline churches); or they are good at that, but then get too legalistic (most Evangelical churches). Can't we do both?

The good news is I do see a real move towards that. Robert Webber has identified this as the Younger Evangelicals, but it is still very grass roots. You need to look between the lines to find it by really getting to know the people in the pews next to you. But we're out there.

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