June 23, 2013
Recently, I’ve heard Leonard Sweet ask two different groups, “In 2017, should we celebrate the birth of Protestantism or its death?”
Here are my thoughts after a lengthy tour of colleges in Cambridge which were founded by Christians advocating learning and scholarship. A good bit also comes from conversations with Len as well as our group advances.
It all boils down to this: If Protestantism is to live, it must move away from the idea the church is still protesting something and move into a place where it affirms the many things we can celebrate in the various flavors of Christianity. I propose calling it Celebrationism.
So, let me tell you a story…
When I first stood before a District Committee on Ministry in the United Methodist Church, they asked me what I enjoyed about my journey through a number of denominations. This question took me by surprise because, in times past, church leaders generally wanted to know what I disliked about the various places I’d been. So, with a little thought, I believe I said something like this, “The Baptist Church taught me a love for the Scriptures and made sure I fell in love with the Bible. They also introduced me to Jesus as the source of all forgiveness. The Pentecostal churches taught me the joy of experiencing the Spirit of God and how essential this is for the Christian life. While attending my wife’s Presbyterian church, I learned the creeds of the church and the importance of their place in tradition.”
Later, I also mentioned I enjoyed the UMC because it allowed me to be who I am in Jesus and took it at face value. It has been the place of healing my family needed at the time and has granted me a number of friends. It has also taught me that competition among various Christian tribes is just plain stupid as well as, ultimately, self-defeating. Since then, I’ve come to also enjoy other flavors of the faith. I’ve worshiped with Episcopalians in the US and, recently, Anglicans in the UK. I’ve found joy in both those settings because of the forms and ritual which guide one into a participatory worship experience.
So, I’d like to illustrate this with a simple metaphor.
Some churches are like a good Godiva chocolate. Sweet, delicate, and intoxicating. Others are like the ultimate surf and turf. A superbly cooked juicy steak and a large, buttered lobster. However, it’s a not a great night on the town if unless you have both. So, let’s combine them both and have a great banquet. Who knows, maybe you will even share your dessert with a friend. Some of us may want to top it off with a nice glass of fine wine or elegant coffee while others will want a good beer or a glass of the best sweet tea. Either one is fine…we will all still be eating at the same Table.
Thanks, Len, for helping me flesh out this illustration. I’m stoked about finding new things to celebrate.
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