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.



At 1:34 AM, Blogger Maris Mols said...

Thanks for the article. I guess I can agree that it is almost impossible to find the 'right' church and that the emphasis should be on relationships and fruit of the Spirit.

Concerning importance of the doctrine - I think there is a link between what I believe and what sort of person I am. If I believe in penal substitution that basically means that my God is legalist. He can't just forgive my sins because he loves me, someone has to pay, some rules have to be obeyed, love is not enough. If I believe in such God, I think there is a great chance that I will become legalist myself. Belief in legalistic God leads to legalism in my own life. So I think doctrine about who God is (what his character is like) - is very important.

At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Yes I agree that our view of God will affect how we live. With that in mind, I wanted to comment on something you said. You write that you don't like the idea that God "can't just forgive my sins because he loves me... love is not enough." Here you are juxtaposing punishment and forgiveness. What if however our problem was not a legal one where God could either choose to punish or acquit? What if sin were more of a sickness that God needed to heal? That would mean that God needed to act, not to punish Jesus instead of us, but rather through the cross and resurrection Jesus effects a change in the world and a change in us so that we are healed, made new, transformed, cleansed. That means the cross was necessary, but it was not about punishment. It was about a God who already loved us acting to help us, rather than God just "getting over" his anger. There sin is a real problem that has a real solution in Christ, (so it takes sin more seriously than penal substitution does), and mercy is not a non-action (not punishing) but a positive action where God acts to heal and restore us.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Maris Mols said...

Yes I completely agree with you on this.

I think the most important reason for Jesus death was to reveal Gods character. According to my understanding the core problem of sin is our separation from God which is caused by mistrust. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they basically declared that they don't trust God. They accepted the view of God that snake offered. That is - God is forbidding, controlling, selfish. So since God can't be trusted, I will not go and ask for his help.

So for me Jesus revealed that God is ready to do anything to help me and to be with me. This is the basis why I can fully trust him. And once I do, God will come to my rescue.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Highanddry said...

Hi Derek,

I thank you for this post. It is too tempting to be self-seeking when we look for a 'church that fits'. By emphasizing the centrality of grace, you are extending the prerequisite beyond simply your experience to embrace the movement of God towards all.

I work in and for the Uniting Church in Australia (union in the 70's between the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches) and it is very difficult to recommend a Uniting Church to anyone on spec. Unless I know the leadership and the community with some degree of intimacy, how can I discern how effectively they witness to the love and truth? The simple fact they are Uniting is not enough. Conversely, who's to say that the local Catholic, Anglican, SDA, Pentecostal, etc. church down the road isn't precisely the loving, fruitful body of Christ in the world?

I will say however, I'm not a fan of the 'Post-denominational' movement as it seems to be code for merely a different kind of Christian ("Bible-Believing") homogeneity. The alternative is not inter-denominationalism, but Ecumenism which seeks unity but not necessarily homogeneity. Ecumenism is difficult because it seeks to find unity in the major while allowing for the minor differences.

I look forward to extending my ecumenical mission toward the local Orthodox churches having been quite inspired by your blog.


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