Last Fathers day my wife got me a copy of Garden and Gun. It’s a magazine about all things Southern. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it and have learned a lot. Turns out I didn’t even know some of the basics of Southern culture. I didn’t even know the states that actually make up the South.
I always thought of the South as the Southeast and I guess I subconsciously removed Florida from the equation altogether. I never realized that the south extends all the way from Maryland to Texas.
Actually, Maryland has caused some debate in the magazine recently. A reader wrote in saying they were disappointed the magazine included Maryland as a Southern state. The next month, someone from Maryland wrote in arguing that they are indeed Southern as their northern border is the Mason-Dixon line and therefore they live below it.
Maybe the first reader simply didn’t think Maryland folk were Southern “enough.” After all, if you live in deep Alabama your traditions and lifestyle are likely much different than someone from Maryland. Their solution is simply to keep the folks from Maryland out of the South.
In a revitalizing church that is attempting to reach the neighborhood, eventually a similar back and forth will happen. New people are going to come to your church and even claim your church as their own, but live and act very differently than some of the life-long members. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a different way. They may serve differently, speak differently, dress differently, and suggest doing things differently.
The people who've been coming to your church for years and years may actually start to go through a season of revitalization regret, and simply wish the neighborhood would stay outside the church walls.
Like we've said before, change is not the goal in revitalization. New energy is the goal. But at the end of the day, new energy will lead to certain changes. When those changes start to rear their head, some of your most dedicated church members will come to you with their fears.
This is where the leaders of a revitalizing church must fight for both love and unity, which will open the door for anyone to participate in worship whether they just showed up or have been in the church half their lives.
There are two kinds of issues in the church: open-handed and closed-handed.
There are simply some things scripture has left open to personal conviction. We read the Bible, pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance, and then decide what we think is best.
What we think is best may look different from what a fellow believer thinks is best. We will come to some church subjects and simply disagree. The revitalizing church must see that this is actually a good thing. These differences on open-handed issues are what enable us to truly love one another.
Many seek a church where the majority holds their exact convictions on open-handed issues thinking that it would be a place of love. It may be a place of comfort but not one of love. Well, it’s not a place of godly love.
Remember a few key things Jesus said about love. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus taught us that we are no different than non-Christians if we only love those who think exactly like us. Jesus said to love your enemies so certainly this would extend to people with which we hold disagreements. He also said that our love is what will confirm to outsiders that we are his.
In other words, if we’re not in disagreement on some things within our churches, we never get a chance to show Christ-like love as a testimony to the world. Therefore, we should embrace open-handed issues and give people space to come to their own convictions and ideas.
If we're dedicated to love above all else, then we'll experience joy above all else. We'll actually be inviting to the neighborhood, and its much better to be reaching people who are different than us than to have our church die as we do the same thing week in and week out.
There are some things that are concrete for the church. Like the Mason Dixion line, some things are a definite border. A standard. A marker that can’t be moved. These things are closed-handed issues. We never let them go.
This means we still love those who don't believe them but rather than agreeing to disagree, we disagree and lovingly call them to accept these truths.
These are issues of doctrine. These issues cannot change no matter who comes through the door.
Finer points may vary among believers to a degree, particularly on what is emphasized or how something is worded, but the major points all remain the same.
At Griggs, we know this border of closed-handed issues to be made up of nine different items: The holy scriptures, the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, sin, salvation, the calling of the local church, eternity, and the second coming of Christ.
These nine issues are presented to us in the scripture as issues of utmost importance. They are presented in the Bible as clear, definite truths on which we must rely. They are the very beliefs that make us Christian. They make us the church.
Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. If we’re going to follow Jesus and storm the gates of hell we’re going to have to stick together. To charge the gates of hell we all have to be unified. The only thing that is strong enough to glue us together in the midst of all our differences is our doctrine. Doctrine is what defines our unity and nothing else.
Like two pedals on a bike, the revitalizing church needs love and unity. This is only made possible by opening our hands on our preferences and closing our hands around our doctrine. When we do this, the neighborhood can feel right at home in our church, and our church will start to feel right at home in the neighborhood.
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