Wednesday, July 28 2021 - 8:14 AM
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The Invitation: A Way Forward

Once we understand the importance of being connected with a community of like-minded people, it is important to find a way to make it happen. Below are some suggestions for how to find a faith community that we can identify with, and then how to connect with them. But before we go there, consider where we are in the stream of time.

The Tale of Two Churches

There are two forms of Christianity (or two churches) in the world today. One promotes a “power over” agenda that wants to dominate the political world for God’s sake, and the other promotes the establishment of an almost incognito community where individual believers embody the principles of God’s kingdom with transforming power.

The First Church

The goal of the first church is to create a government that enforces God’s values through coercive power. Because they view the church as the final authority and believe that whatever the church mandates should be enforced by civil law, they are focused on gaining political power and dominance. Their goal is to create a theocracy—a church/state entity that puts Christianity in charge of the various branches of government. One obstacle to their success is the longstanding tenet that church and state ought to be kept separate, which they believe misrepresents the intentions of our nation’s founding fathers. This sentiment is embraced by a large segment of Evangelicalism today.

The Second Church

The second church consists of Christians who view God’s kingdom as a universal consortium of people from every tribe and nation who have embraced the Gospel of Christ as the only thing that can save them from themselves. Their view of the kingdom is not temporal or political in any way. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and they accept His words at face value. Their core belief is that God’s love is the only thing that can overcome the power of sin. Politics is a smokescreen and a distraction. Regardless of one’s political or religious views, they believe God’s kingdom is about treating everyone with grace—even if they don’t deserve it. Jesus described this emphasis in Matthew 7:12 where He said kindness is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

Revelation 12-13 predicts that before Jesus returns to rescue those who embrace His ideals, there will be a showdown between these two churches. A showdown between coercion and love.

It’s Your Choice

To be part of the first church, all one needs to do is become political and dogmatic about the role religion should play in culture. This includes voting that Christian prayers be recited in public schools, putting Christian symbols and statutes in public spaces, and requiring all elected officials to embrace the tenets of fundamental Christianity.

The first church puts its emphasis on outward change and conformity, which has very little staying power.

To be a part of the second church, one only needs to spend time with God each day through meditation and prayer, and to live as Jesus lived—which includes loving people unconditionally, regardless of their nationality, gender, or race. The second church doesn’t expect the world to ever accept God’s values—that’s why Christ eventually comes to rescue those who have been changed from the inside out. Legislative enactments and laws are a weak substitute for the change that Christ is able to initiate within people’s hearts.

The second church refuses to accept the idea that political power can be successfully used to advance God’s cause. Historically, when religious people look to political entities to help them advance their cause, it invariably leads to persecution and suffering.

How to Connect With a Community

Look for a faith community or group of people who share your worldview and spiritual orientation. If you resonate with the first church and want to see America embrace a Taliban-like approach to politics and religion, then you won’t feel comfortable in the second church. There are plenty of faith communities out there who want to put “God” in the White House. You shouldn’t have any problem finding one.

Seven suggestions for those wanting to identify with the second church:

1. Look for a faith community that believes in the separation of church and state. Subscribe to journals like Liberty Magazine, and attend presentations that promote religious freedom for all. Look for a church that refuses to be political and take sides. Instead its members are focused on the central work of the gospel—which is loving and caring for people and showing them grace..

2. If you are drawn to a community that cares about the “least of these,” including migrant workers, homeless people, families in poverty, asylum seekers, and those who generally exist on the margins of society, the second church is calling your name.

3. Look for a faith group who resists using the divisive rhetoric of nationalism, hate and populism. Some churches build themselves up by tearing others down. The second church wants none of that.

4. Find a faith community that makes truth-telling and honesty a high priority. There are scores of different denominations and churches all over the world. Many overlap each other with their doctrines and beliefs. But some are wildly different and odd. The key is to focus on understanding the truth about God, His character and life. Religious traditions have their place, but they should never be allowed to take the place of how God asks us to live.

5. A good way to examine a church’s beliefs is to talk with individual members and check out their church website. Also google them to learn what other people are saying. Keep in mind that the “haters” have left bread crumbs all over the place, so be cautious about accepting their comments as the final word.

6. When you’re ready to visit a faith community notice how the people treat each other. Through observation and dialogue try to figure out if they are people-centric or info-centric. While people-centric groups value having correct information, their primary focus is on fulfilling Matthew 7:12—which is to treat others with grace and dignity. You’ll know if they are people-centric by the way they treat you. Info-centric groups tend to put most of their emphasis on having right information. Sometimes these groups neglect to practice the every day common courtesies that are generally expected because they are so focused on finding and sharing accurate information.

The thing to look for is a people-centric faith community that values truth-telling and accurate biblical knowledge.

7. Watch out for toxic faith groups. C.S. Lewis once said, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

If you need to, you can read more about the dangers of religious toxicity in the article Toxic Churches.

Once you find a group you resonate with and who values what is important to you, be friendly, open and engaged. Pray for God to guide your steps and look for opportunities to use your gifts and talents to bring good to life.

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About Rich DuBose

Rich DuBose

is director of Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference.

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