Yesterday we visited an American Baptist/United Church of Christ/Alliance of Baptists/Emergent church that’s meeting in a Presbyterian church building in North Oak Cliff. It’s obviously quite a diverse community of faith.
I really enjoyed the service. It’s hard to describe it—kind of a contemporary-high church hybrid. In the pastor’s words, the church has one foot in Mainline Protestant churches (high church) and one foot in Emergent churches (contemporary). We listened to a jazz solo, sang an a cappella African song and followed a liturgy. The sermon was an actual conversation between the pastor and church members. Claudia Porche guessed that it might have been the most significant church experience we’ve had yet in our eight weeks of participant-observation.
At the heart of this experience’s significance for me was dealing with the tension of acceptance and transformation. This little eclectic church majored in the gospel value of acceptance. Everyone is welcomed and embraced, regardless of background, race, or even sexual orientation. We experienced this welcome and acceptance ourselves from church members after the service.
The church’s stance on sexual orientation got us talking at brunch afterwards. Though we hold different theological convictions on the subject of sexual orientation, we found ourselves drawn to the culture of acceptance there. We found ourselves asking: How do foster a culture of acceptance and at the same time value life transformation that results when the gospel is appropriated? How can we avoid judging people without loosening our grip on our theological convictions?
It’s a delicate balance. I recently read a book by John Burke addressing these questions called No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come as You Are Culture in the Church. Burke said a couple things that stuck out to me. First, unbelievers can’t be expected to fall in line with the transformative values of the gospel until they make a commitment to Jesus. Second, unbelievers don’t make a commitment to Jesus and experience life change without the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives. Ministers can’t engineer conviction and transformation.
On a practical level I think Burke’s observations mean that we love people unconditionally and leave conversion and life change to the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the only one, after all, who can convict the human heart and bring about transformation. Unbelievers see the values of the gospel as they are lived out in the Christian community and the Holy Spirit uses that modeling as fodder for change.
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I’m curious for your feedback on this matter.
How do you / your church community live in the tension between acceptance and transformation?