- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Evolving houses of worship

As I read Monday’s Page One article “Churches get thumbs-up at theaters,” my mind wondered back to 1955. That was the year Robert Schuller, newly ordained in the Reformed Church, went to Garden Grove, Calif., to make history. With his wife Arvella as organist and $500 in his pocket, he rented the Orange Drive-in theater and conducted Sunday services from the roof of the snack bar.

It reasonably could be argued that Mr. Schuller’s vision was the beginning of the “contemporary church movement,” with the National Community Church folks among his recent spiritual grandchildren.

Without a doubt, many creative and successful (although in some cases just plain wacky) contemporary models have been developed since then. The decline of the old mainline churches over the past 35 years surely has been part of the equation.

Yet I think we need to remember a few things as we ponder the future of the church. First, the Gospel record seems to reveal that Jesus was both “traditional” and “contemporary.”



He was an open-air evangelist and part of a house-church movement that was contemporary for His day, but He also was a good liturgical Jew who continued to frequent the synagogue and temple.

Apparently He also commended the same to those who followed Him. Were He around in the flesh today, He no doubt would frequent the theaters and other unconventional places where worshippers are showing up these days. However, He also would join the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Lutherans, etc., at least from time to time.

Don’t forget, Mr. Schuller traded his theater for a Crystal Cathedral some years ago. I bet Jesus would go there once in a while, too.

The fact is that as contemporary models for worship and service continue to be created, there is every reason to believe that portions of the old mainline are being reborn at the same time. Granted, this new life seems to be springing forth from more conservative, evangelical contexts.

However, a three-year study of 40 growing mainline Protestant congregations — titled “The Project on Congregations of Intentional Practice” — that’s scheduled to end next year suggests that a new kind of mainline church is developing in the United States that’s more moderate theologically, takes Christian practice seriously and creatively, and is experiencing virtually unnoticed vitality.

These congregations are not the most famous in the country. Most of them are midsize, they don’t have well-known pastors; they’re not mega-churches. What they do possess, however, is intentional hospitality, spirituality, vision, focus and out-of-the-box planning.

This all comes in a more traditional package that, believe it or not, is making them attractive and relevant to young and old alike. Perhaps these communities are fulfilling in part Jesus’ words in Matthew 13, in which He said to His disciples, “every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.”

So-called contemporary expressions of the Christian faith will continue to come forth in the years ahead, and I say more power to all the Bob Schullers of the future.

But we may be surprised to see increasing numbers of intentional traditional models recapturing the cultural imagination and making a mark on religion in the United States in the early decades of the 21st century.

REV. DAVID ROBERT GREEN

Rector

Christ Church Parish

Kent Island, Md.

Not jamming with Live 8

Congratulations to The Washington Times. Columnist Suzanne Fields’ condemnation of Live 8 (“Snapping a finger at African aid,” Op-Ed, Monday) was a rare case of reasoned analysis that criticized feel-good politics.

The road to you know where is indeed paved with good intentions. Nothing illustrates this better than Western aid to African countries. Celebrities such as Will Smith and Sting advocate massive spending of taxpayers’ money to fund aid programs that are supposed to fight poverty and disease. The aid, however, “weakens local markets, destroys incentives and fosters corruption and complacency.”

Live 8 has a goal of persuading leaders of the Group of Eight nations to double foreign aid to African countries. The constitution does not give the president or Congress authority to engage in charity. If we really want to feel good about helping Africa, we should consider intelligent free-market solutions and be wary of emotional appeals to increase harmful government handouts.

JACOB KERR

Baton Rouge, La.

These liberal entertainers don’t get it. They are offering their services for “free” (yeah, like in free advertising for themselves), getting you, the poor consumer, to see them perform and then donating money, which in turn supposedly is going to eradicate hunger in Africa? Nice try.

Collectively, these leftist celebrities are worth billions of dollars. You would think that if they are so passionate and morally driven to help the poor and starving in Africa, they would lead by example and give up their rich and famous lifestyles and use their own money to feed the African poor.

Liberals have it all wrong, again. They think the governments of rich nations should be feeding the African people. To them, government is the answer to everything.

Haven’t they heard of giving in the name of charity, which is what thousands of nonprofits and churches already are doing? There is no law preventing them from giving their own money to feed Africa’s poor and starving.

No, they would rather force their agenda down every taxpayer’s throat, using government force to make you behave the way they think you should behave. These politically correct people do not believe in freedom, personal responsibility or personal charity.

Shame on them.

MARY BETTINSON

Palm Desert, Calif.

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