I have a strange online habit that I like feeding: I love looking at church websites. Websites, if done poorly, reveal a bit about where the church is at. If done well, a good church website gives great depth about the life and vitality of the church. And when I look, I check out everything. I look at job vacancies, because there we can get a glimpse about how the church views ministry, how it is handling the shift from institutional to missional, and whether or not they have realistic expectations for their staff (and you’d be surprised at how many churches are totally clueless).
I also look at service times and structures, visitor information, community involvement, prayer requests, and anything else that they might feel like posting (pictures, blog posts, etc…).
But there is one page above all that is my favorite: the “About Us” page.
Many churches write this out of fear, past bad experiences, or to draw a line in the sand about church x down the street that is up to no good.
It’s common to start with something like, “1st Street Church is a Bible believing church that…..” (as if other churches aren’t?)
I’ve noticed this sort of statement doing two primary things:
It’s a common critique I’ve heard as I travel and talk with others: we make distinctions based on whether a tradition is ‘man-made’ or ‘God-made’. We’ve heard that before right? “Here at 1st Street church we don’t follow man-made traditions, only God-made ones….“.
And I think that that’s a dangerous line to be drawing, because we all end up on the wrong side of the line, and even worse we exclude people that Jesus wouldn’t.
I’ve got my disagreements with certain portions of the American Christian theological culture, but I try hard to distinguish between differences and errors. And the more I examine, the more I see differences and not errors.
Look, every church claims to be Bible believing, and I think that we need to use that as a greater source of unity rather than a rod to beat dissenters with. The theological breadth and depth of the Christian tradition shows the multi-faceted way in which God is actively working to redeem all things. And it’s bothersome because it’s rarely an issue of sin.
I had a conversation with someone awhile back when they asked about baptism. They wanted to know if we practiced ‘biblical’ baptism (which turns out is full immersion). Boy was I relieved to find out that we were in fact a biblical church!
But I also quickly realized that I have many friends who aren’t biblical, and that I have in fact done not biblical baptisms (here’s looking at you MCUSA!).
See how quickly it hurts and divides? I baptized several youth as a pastor in an MCUSA church by means of pouring. Calls for that ‘man-made’ tradition to stop only isolate and divide us further. It separates and divides where Christ has called for love and unity.
As we continue to dialogue and process together about the place of the church in a postmodern and post-Christian society, let us be slow to call other’s traditions sinful. Often what we label as ‘God-made’ traditions are the things that we want to be doing anyway.
By way of full disclosure, here is the ‘About Me’ page for my church: What can we tell you about us? We are people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses who choose to ignore those distinctions for the sake of Jesus and wanting more people to know him better. (I know, it’s awesome isn’t it?)
What do you think? How have you seen this play out? How do you think we could move forward?