A few months back, the Pastors Today blog with Thom Rainer had a post about risks pastors can and should take. It encouraged leaders to "play it safe" theologically because that is a risky thing to do these days. You can find the post by Eric McKiddie here. In it, he claims something that I've heard and felt before, that having conservative theology is the key to having a healthy growing church. Here's what Eric says:
We don’t need to guess whether maintaining a conservative theological position is best long term. Church history has played this saga out for us already, and has proven that the riskiest theological path is the one that veers left. One century later, look at the mainline denominations. One decade later, look at the emerging church. They took the risk that budging on the authority of God’s word would keep them relevant in our culture. They lost.
The argument is pretty convincing, and has been around for quite some time. It basically says, God blesses a church with numerical growth when they get their theology right. I'll be honest, I've gone along with that because it makes some sense. However, as I've continued to develop my thinking, I'm not sure it is totally correct. (What seems to be the key to church growth is an outward-focus toward the community, rather than an inward-focus.)
In fact, the way Mr. McKiddie has phrased things here is really offensive. I know of a number of churches that are growing that probably espouse a non-"conservative theological position." Honestly, the "safest" theological position to have is an "historically orthodox" position. It is left of conservative, but still not ultra-progressive. But that's not my point here.
The point is this, where is the ecumenical spirit? Where is the love of Christ? Aren't we one body of believers? Baptized in one spirit? One Lord? To say that some are winners and some are losers because of theological ideas is just ridiculous. What does the Lord require of us? To do justice and love mercy. It will take ALL of us to do and be that for a broken world. We need to quit saying "I'm better than you because my interpretation of the Bible is clearly better than yours." We need to come together working to show God's love in our communities.
Basically Eric, I see two things that you need to work on here. You needn't call out Mainliners and the Emerging Church as losers because of their theological stance. In fact, most of the mainliners and emerging church leaders I know are not trying to be "relevant in our culture," instead they are trying to be authentically faithful to their core convictions and values. Things that they think the Bible clearly teaches, just like you, Mr. McKiddie, stick to what you think the Bible clearly teaches. See, there's something in common with your "loser" brothers and sisters in Christ.
The other thing to work on is how we talk about the Bible, and what it clearly teaches. We all have different interpretations, and in its history, the Church has always had these discussions. That's a big reason why we had the Protestant Reformation. It's not going to be resolved any time soon. A good rule of thumb that was passed on to me from the Wesleyan tradition is: "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." Now, we will probably argue over what is essential and what isn't. But in all of that we must have charity--Love. In fact, this is what scripture teaches us in 1 Corinthians. Paul responds to "divisions" in the church, and says "I will show you a more excellent way...LOVE." It's easy to say, harder to do. We need to quit fighting over the Bible and demonstrate the Love that it teaches.
Eric McKiddie, I don't know you, but I love you. Because you're my brother in Christ. And, overall, your article about pastors taking risk is pretty spot on. Risk is an important part of faith. Without risk, there is no faith. We must lead our churches to take risk. And I like to lead by example. I think the greatest risk we can take is to live the radical love of Jesus Christ in real ways in our communities. Fighting over biblical interpretation isn't going to help grow the church. Showing how much we love one another will.
I am a Software Developer, a career shift made in 2018. So far, I have experience with C# .Net and Angular. I continue to let curiosity lead me into learning new technologies. I plan to share what I learn along the way about technology and personal/career life. Previously, my vocation was United Methodist pastor. So in addition to coding, I'll share about theology, the Church and The Bible. I also enjoy running, music, and I'm a deeply committed father and husband. Maybe my experiences will help you. I know it helps me to share.