It has now been a year since we re-formed outside of the WCG. First came the sadness because the organization we had all been a part of for so long did not want to be seen with us any more. Then came the realization that we were now free of restrictions placed on us for so long.
We saw it coming a long time ago. The clues were there early on: Scare-mongering about the possible death of our church if we didn’t change radically. The marginalization began long before the Saturday service became the minority in the congregation. First it was supposedly about making the church friendly toward new people. Then it was about getting rid of “Old Testament legalism.” Then it was about “removing Old Testament festivals from the ‘storefront’.” It was blatantly obvious that “finding our level” in that organization meant having no level at all.
Yet along the way, we also experienced the same changes as WCG did. We shared many experiences, both positive and negative. We are continuing to learn from these experiences, too.
We are learning that God works in our individual lives. Because of this, we need to be open to one another’s calling and gifts. He works in mysterious, diverse and wondrous ways in every person He has called. We need to hear each other, especially when we don’t want to. The lone dissenting voice might be the one that prevents us from doing stupid things in God’s name. We are (we hope) learning to promote each one’s work without judging each other.
We are learning that God works in our community life. We have a common bond of memories and a community life that evolved together over time. Our community works hard to come to operate on a consensus basis on principles, practices and activities. It is less difficult than one might think.
We are also learning that the work and gifts of individuals must be balanced by the needs and work of the church, and vice versa. There is just as much harm if the fellowship ignores the individual as there is if the individual ignores the needs of the fellowship. It is one thing to voluntarily offer one’s work and will for the good of the group, and another thing entirely for a group to enforce submission. Encouraging the group to work in certain ways is also very different from demanding compliance by the group to an individual’s whims.
Our new beginning allows us to take our time growing into what God would have us be. We can reject a current management approach would have us attempt to “get the wrong people off the bus and get the right ones on it.” In the church, there are no “wrong” people – just redeemed people.
We don’t know yet what role God will have for us in the future. Many different kinds of gathering can be formed by our Creator. God even sometimes lets His people wander in the wilderness for a while. We count on Him to be our cloud of protection by day and fire of warmth and light by night. Jesus’ original disciples were gathered together on that fateful Pentecost day, yet the tongues of fire danced on them individually. We therefore count on His “individual, yet together” guidance as we learn to be what Jesus would have us be through His Spirit. We travel, as Evelyn’s mother taught her, “backwards never, forwards ever.” This does not mean that we must forget (or worse, try to hide) what we have been. You cannot learn from mistakes you wilfully forget.
In some ways, it seems easy to follow a pattern someone else has made. Many churches want to be cookie-cutter copies of certain popular mega-churches, for instance. Almost all of them fail. They try too hard to be what they are not. We are thankful that WCG helped us break out of patterns of a dying church – both by its former persuasive Old Testament law-keeping and its worldview-jarring subsequent embracing of grace over law. Both have helped us see the negative consequences of black-and-white thinking and cookie-cutter Christianity.
It takes an Artist to form new patterns that nobody else has made. We will trust the Artist who made the heavens and the earth to form us into a new pattern, whether it be a tapestry, a sculpture or a landscape. We can take the joy that God has given us in patterns He has already created, such as biblical festivals, and forge new celebrations of Jesus and His salvation around them.
We can also reject the need to try to force the way we express our joy on those who do not see what we see in those ancient patterns. (To the legalist, all things that are “not required” are are a burden. To the free, all things “not required” may be freely chosen. For instance, Christmas and Easter are no more “required for salvation” than Passover and the Festival of Tabernacles, yet almost no Christians seem to have a problem with the former two observances. Why should it be any different for the latter two?)
We think there are many ways to be Christian that can add depth and diversity to the church overall. If God clothes the grass of the field with a bewildering array of coloured flowers, why should we accept a bland, one-size-fits-all format of Christian personal and community life?
[Note: We are not talking here about condoning behaviour identified as sin by Jesus Christ. We are talking about human rules that attempt to give us control over other Christians.]
This year has been a good trip. There are many good things to remember from both our distant and recent past to forge/weave/mix together into what we will become as Jesus works in and through us.