WHERE AM I GOING? WHERE IS THIS CHURCH GOING?
By Joseph S. Beach
“Where is this church going?” All pastors are familiar with this question. Sometimes it comes in the form of a statement: “I don’t like the direction this church is taking.” In the case of Amazing Grace Church, the pastors heard this question in the early 60’s as the church began to experience rapid growth amidst massive cultural upheaval. The pastors heard it again (often) in the 70’s when the church was infiltrated by drums, guitars, long hair, short skirts, coffee houses, and rock music. Each decade since then, the pastors have been confronted with the same question, over and over: “Where is this church going?”
As one of the pastors of Amazing Grace Church, here’s my best attempt at an answer. First, and most importantly, “I’m not going anywhere.”Neither I, nor anyone else, get to make up the Christian Faith. The faith is something we inherit. It’s something that was passed on to us. As Jude urges us, we are to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s Holy People” (Jude 3). So, in that sense, the “faith” doesn’t change. The Gospel doesn’t change. The basic story of Scripture doesn’t change. The story of Christ doesn’t change. It’s fixed in stone. It’s been entrusted to us “once and for all.” Our message, our story, and our announcement of good news does not, and can not, ever change. Amazing Grace Church and its pastors have always been (and remain) 100% committed to the historical, orthodox, apostolic, traditional Christian faith as it has been passed down to us. This faith is specifically articulated in the great ancient creeds of the faith. I wholeheartedly, without reservation, believe and confess these creeds – as do the other pastors. To put it simply, we are not going anywhere. When it comes to our rock solid commitment to God’s inspired Scripture and the core doctrines that comprise and surround the gospel, we are not going anywhere.
In another important sense, though, we are going somewhere – we are going forward. But we are going forward by going back. More than ever before, we are committed to the Holy Scriptures and the historical gospel. What some people may perceive as a “new thing” is actually part of a “back to the Bible” movement that is happening around the world. The Holy Spirit is calling the church back to the basics: to the actual biblical gospel, to the Word of God, to prayer, to fellowship, to witness, and to worship. This may seem “new” because it is different from what we hear within the popular culture around us (including much of the evangelical sub-culture) – but it’s actually a return to the ancient Christian faith.
Finally, if you’re talking about our particular style or flavor – I’m not sure. The Christian life, for an individual or for a church, is about followingour Master Jesus. It’s about a Holy Spirit “wind” that blows wherever it wants. In other words, I am not in charge of every detail of the church.
Another thing that I want to make clear is that I have no hidden agenda to make the church into something it isn’t. We are a protestant church within the evangelical tradition. That is who we are. I have benefited from, and participated in, various denominations and movements. But I have no agenda whatsoever to make myself or the church fit into any of these systems, camps, movements, denominations, or flavors. I simply want us to be who God is creating us to be - within the boundaries laid down in Holy Scripture.
Having said all that, our own unique “flavor” or particular makeup will inevitably change as all of us change. What are the implications of this for Amazing Grace Church? Nobody knows, of course. As I hinted earlier, Amazing Grace has always been in a state of transition. It has been “changing” ever since Pastor Kindschy came in 1955. The 1960’s brought radical change. The Jesus Movement and the charismatic renewal of the 1970’s brought a bunch of young people into the church. They brought their music, dress, and lifestyles into the church. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the church continued to change and adjust to new dynamics both inside and outside the church. Now, in the 21st Century, another generation is coming along and adding their flavor to the church. Our current pastors and young leaders are adding their own preferences and styles to our church. One of the best sources for optimism is this current generation’s deep respect for the older generations – and vice versa. We truly have become a multi-generational family of God – for which we can be immensely grateful. To the extent that we remain respectful of one another and patient with one another, we can face the future with confidence.
Now days, American society is in the middle of a bitter culture war. This war is sometimes brought into the church and the pastors are often expected to choose up sides. Many people, on the left and the right, assume that if the pastor doesn’t join their “team” (and use the right catch phrases or terms) then, obviously, the pastor is on “the other team” and is, therefore, heading in the wrong direction. Often, these expectations are unfair and are based on misunderstandings. For instance, just to mention two of the current hot button issues, all of the pastors are deeply committed to the sanctity of human life and to the biblical definition of Christian marriage between one man and one woman, for life. The pastors and leaders of Amazing Grace Church stand squarely within the great Judeo-Christian tradition when it comes to basic morality and social ethics. (For specific statements on where we stand on issues - just ask us).
Having said all that, the question remains, “where am I going?” My personal preferences and convictions are well known. I remain passionately committed to a very high “ecclesiology” of the local church. I believe that the church of Jesus Christ – which manifests itself in local churches – deserves our highest allegiance and, therefore, takes precedence over our own wants and needs and all of our secondary allegiances. I believe that the church remains the focal point of God’s mission in the world. I’m deeply committed to the regular, ordinary local church.
Where am I going? There is a sense in which I am (hopefully) going where the Holy Spirit leads me. I’m listening to my fellow elders. I’m attempting to obey the Holy Scriptures. I’m paying attention to where God is leading this congregation. I’m paying attention to what kind of congregation God is forming us to be. I’m trying to keep in step with the Spirit. One place where I’m not going: I refuse to preach the politically correct party line of the secular pop culture (right or left wing). Neither do I feel compelled to preach the politically correct party line of the evangelical sub-culture (right or left wing). To do so would be the easiest thing in the world. It would be popular, and would take no courage at all. That kind of preaching, though, is not faithful to the gospel. I think, instead, it is the kind of preaching that any Pharisee would love. I think that the true gospel proclaims Jesus as Savior and Lord of the world – another King of another Kingdom – and focuses on our own lives, our own devotion, and our own sins.
Where am I going? As I said, in one sense, I am not going anywhere and neither is the church. We are as grounded in the gospel as we’ve ever been. In another sense, as far as our “flavor,” time will tell where I’m going or where the church is going. Eternity will tell. I can say, though, that I have a deeper passion for Jesus Christ and his kingdom than I have ever known. I have never been more committed to God and to obeying his Holy Word. I’ve never been more excited about God’s Word and its truthfulness, beauty, and power to save. I continue to grow and heal and hear the call of God on my life as never before. I also am thrilled with what God is doing in and through the local church called Amazing Grace Church. It is a beautiful miracle of God – a multi-generational family of God on a mission. It remains Christ-centered, committed to hearing and obeying God’s word, and committed to loving God, loving each other, and loving our neighbors.
Where am I going? Where is the church going? Regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nowhere. Regarding, our unique style or flavor, I don’t know… but I trust the Holy Spirit enough to find out.
Grace & Peace.