Thursday, September 9, 2010

Forum on Church Inclusiveness Clarifies Several Points

(From the September 9, 2010 Grand Haven Tribune)

The community forum sponsored by the Tribune last month to discuss changes at C3 Exchange, formerly Christ Community Church, in Spring Lake could be deemed a success. It was very well attended, panelists were open and thoughtful with their responses, the audience was patient and attentive, and even though disagreement remains, there is more understanding and clarity about the beliefs of C3 Exchange as well as traditional churches in the community.

As moderator of the forum, I tried to offer opportunity for all panelists to answer questions and clearly express their point of view. I think they did marvelously, with clarity, good humor and mutual respect. Credit goes to Ian Lawton of C3 Exchange, Rev. Dennis Snyder of Nortonville Gospel Chapel, and David Wisen of Harvest Bible Chapel Spring Lake for their participation in the forum.

As a community member and a columnist, I also want to share what I took away from the event. I list here several thoughts I had as a result of the forum.

  1. C3 Exchange has a right to do what it wants. There is no doubt that some people, including perhaps former members of Christ Community Church, are upset at the new focus and the removal of the cross at C3 Exchange. But not all agree with everything other churches do either, and in our free democracy it is always prudent to respect the constitutional freedom of religion and expression for others so that you can continue to enjoy it for yourself.
  1. C3 Exchange is not a threat. Again, while the change at C3 Exchange might offend the sense of what some people have of what a church should be, they are not forcing their alternative view on anyone. Ian Lawton repeatedly said people are free to choose traditional churches if that is what they want, or become part of C3 Exchange if they agree with the alternative.
  1. C3 Exchange is no more or less inclusive than other churches. People with like-minded beliefs congregate, others don’t. If, as Lawton said, C3 “takes the Bible seriously but not literally,” they exclude people who do take the Bible literally.
  1. Sometimes traditional churches can be exclusive for the wrong reasons. Rather than focusing on the worship of Jesus Christ, some imperfect mortals in my own experience seem to be fixated on petty irrelevant things such as how people dress or other human cultural differences rather than the unity of faith.
  1. The Bible is not “just a book” of theological opinion. It is a compendium of 66 books, with multiple authors, divinely inspired, offering historical accounts. Using it as proof text against itself is not spurious science, as alleged at the forum, but rigorous, convincing and quite common among historians. Validity and reliability are found in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy as well as the letters in the New Testament that bear witness to events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Numerous external sources corroborate the historical claims of the Bible.
  1. C3 Exchange’s changes are not really new. In fact they are as old as Christianity itself. In the 17th chapter of the Book of Acts, which is an account of the work of the apostles shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven, the Apostle Paul goes to Athens where men have statues to every god, including an unknown god. He spoke to Greek leaders in the famed Aereopagus about Jesus; some sneered, others believed. Today the idea that the divine is in everyone is the same as secular humanism. The assertion that no one has a hold on absolute truth is postmodernism. But that’s old too; even Pontius Pilate, as recorded in the 18th chapter of the Gospel of John, asked Jesus “what is truth?” just before his crucifixion. Since the time of Christ many people have believed Jesus was the Son of God and the only way of salvation, and others have not. In our community we see evidence of that ancient debate continuing.
  1. Churches are not inclusive or exclusive, people are. The Christian Gospel is an invitation. It says all are sinners, but also that God loved us all and sent his son Jesus to pay for our sins, all we have to do is believe that to gain eternal life, and then we should live our lives in gratitude for that wonderful gift. It is not about whether there is a cross on a building, but who is in your heart. Only you can accept or reject the invitation.

In the end, it is up to each individual to consider what they believe and the basis of those beliefs. Then each person may include themselves with people who believe likewise, and act according to those beliefs.