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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What makes a church unique? (part I: the problem of uniqueness)

A friend of mine here in Cayman recently received an email from a co-worker entitled: "Only the King James Version is the real Bible." The introduction to the email claimed that any person or church using a translation other than the NIV was denigrating the deity of Christ and the existence of His Kingdom. That's meshugenah!. Beyond the facts that there are good reasons to be both thankful for the KJV translation (see 17th-19th centuries + only English translation) yet also move on to other more reliable translations (see here for more), the larger question this email brought to our minds as my friend and I discussed it was:
Why are many churches so aggressive about making a little thing into their ultimate thing? 
Our conclusion was ultimately that churches often feel the need to set themselves apart. In a consumer market in which all churches find themselves and each must decide to what extent they are going to play that game, many churches feel like they need to not just make Jesus their thing (every church gets to claim Jesus) but Jesus + something else.  This something else makes us unique.

Enter the church of which I'm blessed to be a part - Sunrise Community Church. Since we are non-denominational, pretty new to the scene (ie. new to being a church), non-sectarian in our doctrine/beliefs, thankfully our people are pretty much immune to the pressure of distinguishing our church according to "+ something else." Right? Mmmm...not so much. 

This became clear to me during our search for an associate pastor. Not only did the other elders and myself find ourselves describing & distinguishing our church in ways that weren't just about Jesus, a truly cautionary tale made it clear to me that even churches trying to keep the Big things Big and the small things small can get caught up in this. One of our pastoral candidates mentioned, off-hand, that should he come to visit & preach, he would wear a tie. I cautioned against this primarily because I've never seen anyone in our church wear a tie and people feel weird when I wear dress shoes twice a year (cuff links three times - but that's only because a dress shirt I got from a TJ Maxx Clearance Bin that lacked sleeve buttons...Get it together Van Heusen!!). This caution crystallized how many of us promote our church according to the following terms - we are casual, welcoming, wear whatever you want, & 'not legalistic.' And in promoting it we might become just as rigid as KJV-mania in keeping to it -  how accepting would we really be toward someone who regularly donned a formal, full-length dress or a coat and tie (especially if he was one of the pastors!!)?? At the very least, there would be looks and whispers.

What about your church? How do you describe/promote it to others so as to make it sound unique, different, distinguished? 

So what does God's Word say should make unique the gathering of God's people? That's the subject of my next post: What makes a church unique? The glory of uniqueness. 

As I discovered this week, the whole Bible (yes, including the Old Testament) echoes a consistent theme.


  1. I think in addition to a desire for being set apart, another factor behind the KJV-only crowd is a desire for certainty. They don't like it that modern Bible translations are eclectic, meaning they compare different manuscripts in order to find the most likely reading. Instead, they say that the Textus Receptus, which the KJV is based on, was divinely preserved through time so that it is the most authentic.

    Going with the theme of your post, I think a lot of churches add other things to Jesus because Jesus alone is too unpredictable. We add other things to make us feel like we are standing on solid ground.

  2. Elliot, thanks for bringing the knowledge, my man. That's a salient point - one (the KJV) that of course isn't necessarily experienced from the layperson or, in many/most cases, even from the average 'country parson' (myself included). Don't you think? That begs the question, then, how is such a desire for exclusivity for KJV passed down to church leaders in a way that reflects a belief that the Textus Receptus is the divinely preserved version? Or is that how it's done?

    Agreed on second point. It would force us pastors/leaders to never truly 'settle' but always be open to being faithful to Jesus and open to varying expressions of faithfulness to him depending on the time, season, and context. Whereas if we found our extra thing, we could just settle in and stay the course.