Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Safe Place

I was talking with my son, Seth, the other day and, however we got there, we were talking about safe places. A safe place is a group of people where you can air out your questions and doubts, looking for some answers, without fear that someone is going to verbally slap you. We need churches like that, churches that are safe places.

One tendency among some Christians is to so desire that everyone gets a hold of the truth that any deviation (which is what some questions and doubts are viewed as) is unacceptable. This is not a safe place. People in these churches learn not to voice their real thoughts. Who wants to get slapped?

There is the opposite problem in other churches. Because of the desire to be a safe place, questions and doubts are so encouraged that no one knows what Jesus really means for us to be and do. In both places, the advance of the Kingdom of God is hindered.

What is needed are churches where people with questions and doubts are welcomed and well received. But how do we avoid the problem of having lots of questions but not a lot of clear answers? I think that one key has to do with the leadership of the church. The leaders need to have clear answers. And what helps a great deal with establishing those answers is a summary statement of what that church understands the Bible to teach on various important subjects. To use an old fashioned word, the church needs a creed. This creed is not what everyone in the church has to believe. It is what the leaders believe when it comes to the Bible. This way the teaching of the church is consistent when it offers answers to those questions and responds to those doubts. Having three different answers to the same question from three of the teachers of the church doesn't help the person with the question trying to find an answer. Establishing a creed for a church also helps the leadership decide what it believes.

In suggesting this I am not saying that the leaders of the church cram the church's creed down anyone's throat. For one thing, there will be lots of things that the creed will not speak about. Not everything is of primary importance. Only first tier things must be in the creed. Some things are always first tier. But what's going on in the culture around that church also affects what's first tier. If the battle is raging on your left flank, you need to do something about it. If the culture is attacking the truth of the Bible in some particular area you need to say something about it. Not to do that is to concede that battle. So, there really should be a creed that deals with the important issues without being exhaustive.

The importance of all of this becomes clear when you remember what the church is to be doing. The goal of any church is to make disciples. That's what Jesus said at the end of Matthew's Gospel. She is to do this by being a warm and welcoming place, a safe place for everyone. She is to do this also by teaching the truth of the Bible as best she understands it, gently and consistently. In this way, little step by little step, people become faithful disciples who advance the Kingdom.