Can the Church Be Practical and Still Be the Church?

I feel like lately I’ve been engaged in many conversations that have to do with belief and its practices, specifically in regards to Christianity.  I confess that I tend to be quite the pragmatist.  Pragmatists look at a goal or an intended outcome and devise a strategic and efficient plan to accomplish those goals.  For example, the call commonly known as The Great Commission calls believers to “go and make disciples.”  How does one do that?  There are many methods of expressing faith, old and new, and many ways people attempt to achieve outcomes in regards to their faith.  Is there one right way?  Is there one road map to achieving faith goals, such as making disciples?  Or do our methods depend solely on what is contextually practical in the moment?

Let’s take worship for example.  The knock on traditional worship is that it generally reflects cultural expressions of a different age, such as organ music, symbolic icons, or even hard, wooden pews (yes, traditional worship is culture driven too, just maybe not modern culture).  Now, I would argue that (when done well) traditional worship can provide a depth that is hard to repeat in other expressions, but practicality is not a driving force.  Contemporary worship, on the other hand, uses music and other expressions that are typically more reflective of modern culture in order to more practically convey messages of faith expression.  I understand that comes with a new set of problems such as a lack of depth and a consumer-based approach to worship, and it’s not my intention to make this post about worship.  My point is this: if the Church adopts methodologies purely based on their practicality then an age-old faith will simply blow with the changing winds of culture and run the risk of morphing into something that can’t be recognized as the movement started by Jesus Christ.  Contrarily, if we stake our flag into faith practice that reflects an ancient culture that is not able to communicate to the people of this modern world, then are efforts are in vain.

I think a compromise should be reached.

In my view, the goal of modern Christians is to attempt to effectively communicate the Gospel in full integrity.  This can be achieved in both contemporary and traditional practices, but not without the watchful eye of the pitfalls that are attached.  Traditional people, be ready to explain symbols and give historical context.  Contemporary people, resist becoming consumer-driven.

In the United Methodist Church, bishops and others are proposing a “Call to Action” that has stirred many.  It is a pragmatic look at changes within our denomination, and has tinkered with some old methodologies and structures that were deemed unable to meet our faith goals.  Now, people can argue that some of these methods still have their place, but I fear that many are resisting these changes simply because they are changes to what has become familiar and comfortable.  So, I would like to pose some basic, guiding questions: How long do we hold on to something that has depleted its usefulness simply because it’s old?  What is the point at which something transforms from tool to relic?  Is it possible to sustain vitality without practicality?  Are we still honoring tradition when we hold onto traditional methods at the expense of traditional outcomes?  And most importantly, what is the best way to keep the integrity of the faith, through our methods or through our meaning?

It seems to me that we MUST be practical in our approach IN ORDER to still be the church -to strive towards our calls, and to reach the goals set forth by Christ and our elders.  If our methods lead us towards something other than what is shown in Christ and his early followers, then it is our methods that must change NOT our drive for practicality.  The means serve the ends, not the other way around -a hard lesson for traditional and contemporary people alike.

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