All healthy churches have one thing in common. They are able to hold in tension a spectrum of seemingly spiritual opposites without the exclusion or condemnation of one over another. Unhealthy churches do not manage these tensions and criticize those who do. Some of the most common tensions are:
- Traditional vs. Contemporary (worship style, use of media, architecture etc.)
- Spirit vs. the Word (emotional vs. intellectual)
- Freedom vs. Order (spontaneous vs. planned)
- Evangelism vs. Edification (seeker vs. discipleship)
- Large Corporate vs. Small Group (gatherings for spiritual growth)
- Gospel Proclamation vs. Social Action
Every healthy church either intentionally or unintentionally positions itself somewhere in the spectrum between the two opposing opposites of each of these tensions. In fact, this is how churches distinguish themselves – by the way they choose to manage each of the tensions listed above.
Rick Warren has said “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” We can see how true this statement is when we consider millions of Christians distributing themselves in thousands of different churches representing hundreds of doctrinally divergent denominations. It can blow a person’s mind and most certainly does for many unbelieving outsiders looking in.
Healthy churches find a way to handle the tensions without eliminating them. For instance, for one church, the tension on a given issue may slide all the way up to a 90/10 ratio but that can be tolerable if it is held with a right spirit. A right spirit is tolerant and loving toward those who are different than them. A right spirit says that even if another church is 10/90 on that same issue, they may be different, but they are not wrong.
On the contrary, there are two ways healthy churches can cross the line into an unhealthy category. First, it is a sign of spiritual disease when a church becomes critical of other churches that don’t approximate or may actually be opposite of their tension percentage. In other words, when a church that is an 80/20 “freedom” church criticizes a 20/80 “order” church that is a sign of sickness.
Secondly, a church crosses into unhealthy, if not cult-like territory, when it chooses to emphasize only one side of a tension to the exclusion of the other – a 100/0 split. In this setting a 100% “traditional” church ends up criticizing as apostate any “contemporary” church that uses anything but the King James Bible and worships with guitars or drums.
A great and encouraging sign of the unifying work of the Holy Spirit in these days is the way many tensions that once divided the church do so no longer. In the past 15-20 years we have witnessed a remarkable decrease in divisions in the body of Christ over worship styles, the Holy Spirit, liturgy, evangelism and on and on. Let us keep praying and working toward what it means to hold these tensions in a healthy way.
Your thoughts on tension in the church? What has been your experience and/or observations in this regard?
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