I am not usually one for New Year’s Resolutions. To be honest, I have trouble sticking with anything when I am artificially manufacturing dedication to a new pursuit. As such resolutions of this type do not normally appeal to me. However, as I outlined in this space last month, I am struggling with aspects of my spiritual family as we come to the close of a new year and so I am willing to try something new in an effort to start 2018 off on the right foot. So, criticisms of hypocrisy aside, here are the New Year’s Resolutions I would like to see our church as a whole adopt for 2018 –
First, in 2018 I hope my church resolves to truly exist in the world while not being of it. It is the greatest misnomer of liberal of progressive Christians (or Adventists) that they seek to drag the church into the mire of moral relativism or apostasy. Instead there is a desire, at least from my vantage point, for the church to be meaningful to the real lives of not only its members but the communities in which they live. There is a mistaken idea that this can only come through political activity, but I do not believe that to be the case. I long to see churches that meet the needs of their communities, whatever those communities, whatever those needs may be. Are we helping the people closest to us live full lives, regardless of their background? Have we taken the time to research the places where are churches exist, discover what is needed amongst the members of those communities and address those concerns? I’m convinced that there are at least some churches who do this, but I rarely hear of any consistent efforts in this vein.I would love it if this became a thrust of the entire church as opposed to the burden of local congregations - few and far between.
Second, in 2018 I hope my church resolves to not talk about people if they are not talking with them. Over my years of consciousness in Adventism I remain appalled at how often churches talk about people with whom they have little to no contact.I’ve been in Black churches that talked about White Adventists when very few people knew any. I’ve seen White Adventists talk about the Black Adventist Church in town when they had never been to visit. I’ve seen Adventist pastors talk about members of the LGBT community not knowing they had members of that community sitting in the pews. We convene a panel of men to talk about the role of women in the church. There is something important that happens when you meet people and get to know people outside of your theological, moral, and cultural comfort zones. What we often discover is that the people that are the subjects of our prejudices and stereotyping are nothing like our uninformed mental pictures. From there it becomes more difficult to speak of their communities in a disparaging way because we now know someone who will be hurt by our ignorant mischaracterizations. I would love to see our church make a concerted effort in 2018 to cross our theological, cultural, and moral divides to truly get to know people who God loves as much as He loves us.
Third and finally, in 2018 I hope our church resolves to remember that our mission is outward not inward. The goal of our church, according to the Bible is to “make disciples.” Our churches exist historically for that reason. While it is important that we continue to grow as disciples, that is not to be the sole (or even the primary) purpose for our existence. Our primary purpose, in my opinion, is to advertise Jesus to those who do not know Him and find ways to introduce Jesus these people. As such it is important that we present Jesus in a way that encourages others to become disciples. In that vein unfortunately we are climbing uphill, but it is a necessary climb if we are to fulfill the purpose for which Christ established us.
In short, in this coming year I hope my church becomes the picture of Christ. I pray that we become more like him. I yearn for a church that reaches people the way Christ did.“Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’”I wonder how much good we could do in our communities if we spent 2018 doing the same.
It is totally a possibility that the problem is that we don’t toot our own horn enough, but I’ll address why we should as we go on here.
I am a lifelong Adventist so when I speak of “consciousness in Adventism” I mean since the age when I could meaningfully assess and critique my faith community.
I don’t think I need to get into all the ways that Christianity (especially conservative American evangelicalism) has tarnished the reputation of Christianity generally.
Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing. (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905), 143.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/authors/jason-hines.
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