I hope the posts this past week did not give you the impression that I think all churches are alike. They’re not all the same. Some churches are better than others. Some churches are more biblical than others, some are more orthodox than others, some are more healthy, some are more lively, some are more on point with God’s mission — some churches are better than others.
But nobody can make those judgments by looking at the name on the sign.
Now, I’m biased, but I think Central Church of Christ is a pretty great church. We mostly support Church of Christ understandings and traditions. We uphold baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins, we practice a weekly Lord’s Supper, and we enjoy our acappella singing. We’ve got a vision for Christian formation and a mission to serve our city and the world that I believe comes straight from God’s Holy Spirit. This is a great church!
But some of the best ways we’re formed and some of the more significant ways we minister are in partnership with Christians from other denominations. Our “4 Amarillo” worship services and our “4 Amarillo” week of Bible block parties and outreach projects are so important. What an undeniable testimony to the saving and uniting power of God in Christ!
Two weeks ago our elders and ministers went over to Polk Street United Methodist Church to pray with their leadership. Their Senior Pastor, Burt Palmer, is moving to Houston and that church is in an anxious time of transition. So we showed up at their leadership meeting two weeks ago to put our arms around our brothers and sisters in Christ and to put our hands on them and ask our God to bless them during this transition and to bless their congregation.
When people at Polk Street want to be immersed instead of sprinkled, Burt uses our baptisty at Central. This coming Friday, one of Burt’s last acts of ministry in this city is going to be in baptizing two Methodist teenagers in our holy hot tub!
Our unity with all Christians from all stripes and traditions allows us to see and experience just how big God’s Church really is. It drives us to our knees in gratitude to God for the greatness of his salvation activity throughout our city in hundreds of different ways. Central is just one small way God is drawing people to himself. The Churches of Christ are just a tiny part of God’s enormous salvation plans.
Yes, some churches are better than others. But all churches are better when we’re together.
Ok, you are baiting me so I will bite. Why is it important to be better? I not asking why it is important to be biblical, or orthodox, or healthy or lively or on point with God’s mission. But what is added by being better?
If one of the important goals of a Christian is to be transformed into the image of Jesus and to serve others with his love and grace, I believe that goal can be more fully attained in a biblical, orthodox, healthy, lively church. There are exceptions, of course. But that goal will be more difficult to realize at a church that is less biblical, less orthodox, less healthy and lively. In this case, more is better and less is worse.
I failed to make my question clear. I accept the importance of a biblical, orthodox, healthy, lively church. When these terms are used they tell us something about the church. What I am questioning is the additional use of the term better. Better tells us nothing more about the church than we already know (biblical, orthodox, healthy, lively). Why is it important to have a “better” church? What information does better give me about the church?
It’s a comparative word. Some churches are more desirable, more advisable, more acceptable, more preferable than others. The word “better” helps me communicate differences between two things.
I’m still struggling with what it is that I want to say about this, so bear with me. I’m still trying to clarify what it is that you are saying. Let’s throw out better for a minute and just deal with “more.” My question remains as to why “more” is important.
For instance, let’s stipulate that Central is lively. In fact, to avoid confusion let’s stipulate that Central is as lively as a church can possibly be. So if we say, “Central is lively,” we both know what we mean by this and agree that Central is lively. But when one says “Central is more lively” one must be attempting to say something beyond the fact that Central is lively. I think we agree that this something additional is that Central is more lively than other churches.
My point (I think) is that saying Central is lively is not synonymous with saying Central is more lively. Central can be lively without being more lively. For instance, one can imagine a world where all churches are equally lively. In that case, Central is still lively, but not more lively.
Here is my question in that context, “Why is it important to say that Central is more lively, when saying Central is lively tells us all me can know about Central and liveliness?” Why isn’t the only important thing Central’s liveliness? What is the point of comparing Central’s liveliness with others? In other words, “Central is lively” is all about Central and tells us something significant about Central. “Central is more lively” is really about the other churches and tells us something about how we value Central vs others. Why is that part of your message?
One may not know what one wants / needs until he becomes aware of other options. One may be content in the bliss of not knowing something better or different even exists. That may be one reason for using comparative language, to communicate that not all churches are the same.
I certainly agree that people are attracted to something better. My point is that they normally do not know what it is that attracts them. If you tell me Central is lively, I know exactly what you mean by that and might and might not be attracted. If you say Central has congregational acapella music, I know what that means and might and might not be attracted. But if you tell me Central is better than other churches, I am probably attracted but am unaware of what is attractive about “better” and, in fact, do not know what better means. That is why I am asking what you mean when you say Central is better than other churches. You must mean something beyond lively or biblical or orthodox or you would not go to the trouble to say it.
I did not say Central is better than other churches. And I think I do mean lively, healthy, biblical, and orthodox, and nothing beyond — nothing more than the ways we might describe what most people are looking for in a church.
You are correct. I misinterpreted “some churches are better than others” to mean Central because you said Central was great. But that is my error.
At the risk of wearing out my welcome (too late?), do you think it would be mentally possible for you to view all churches as having the same value and still recognize, for instance, that Church A is lively and Church B is rather unenthusiastic?
Applying the same question to individuals, I think it is mentally possible to see all individuals as having the same value, yet have different characteristics. In my view, Tom might be more handsome than Bob, but I do not consider Tom to be better than Bob. It seems that if I allowed myself to think people could be of differing values, that I might be tempted to value myself more highly than some others.
It would seem to me that there is nothing about being more handsome that makes a person a better person. Just like I tried to say regarding churches there is not a necessary link between being lively or biblical and being better.
Of course, since I think no such thing as better exists, then certainly nothing links to it.
A church that denies the deity of Jesus would not be the same as a church that upholds the deity of Jesus — the latter church would be better. A church that seeks to serve others outside its own walls and spread the Good News is better than a church that is inwardly focused. It seems pretty clear.
Thanks for stating the issue succinctly. Where we disagree is on whether it is clear that Church A is better than Church B if A affirms Jesus and B denies Jesus. I would say it is clear that Church A affirms Jesus and Church B denies Jesus, but it is not clear and does not follow necessarily that A is better than B.
As a parallel example, say Mary has a higher IQ than Jane. Is it clear that Mary is a better person than Jane? If I assume your answer is no (correct me if my assumption is wrong) then why is it clear that judging is proper in the case of churches A and B and not in the case of Mary and Jane?
Forgive me for butting into a conversation that, so far, consists of only two people, but it seems Allan has left you hanging. I found this page through a piece Allan wrote for the Amarillo Globe News, and well, here I am. As you said in your very first reply, “You are baiting me so I will bite.”
I think Allan would agree that the reason you disagree on whether Church A is clearly better than Church B due to their teaching regarding Jesus is that you disagree on who Jesus is. If you believe it is possible to attain an eternal life of happiness, that Jesus is the only pathway to attain it, and that the alternative is an eternal life of pain and suffering you would agree that the church which teaches that is better than the other church.
Of course, you also stated earlier that you don’t believe there is such a thing as “better”. This is just arguing for sake of arguing, the sake of showing off your intellectual and philosophical superiority. There clearly is such a concept as “better” as proved by what you had for dinner last night. Why did you eat that as opposed to say, a live cricket dipped in peanut butter and sprinkled with fresh toad eyes? I’m sure we can agree that whatever you ate is “better” than that.
Thanks for taking up the discussion. Unless I am mistaken your major point is that since I make choices it proves that I judge one thing as better than another. You have nailed a major point of disagreement. You and I agree that we all have to make choices. But is it necessary to think A is better than B in order to choose A? I can choose grilled salmon over cricket based simply on the belief I have that grilled salmon has proven in the past to reliably please my palate, and I have no experience with cricket. What additional information do I need than that?
If you are looking for a Church that affirms Jesus and you ask me about Churches A and B, I might say, “you should choose Church A because they affirm Jesus. Church B is a bit too wishy-washy for your taste.” Again that is all the information we have on Church A and B and all the information we need. If you then tell me that Church A is better than Church B, what are you telling me in addition to what we already know? I say you are giving me no additional information about the churches.
So this leaves us with the question of why you insist on judging one thing as better than another? It is not necessary for choosing? It gives no information (at all). If you think it gives information, what information does it give.
I say we have another motive for judging things as good/bad, better/worse.