Today we will continue our discussion of how a congregation learns taken from an article in Congregations published by The Alban Institute. The article was written by Tim Shapiro, president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations. As in yesterday's post, I will briefly share Shapiro's thoughts on the subject and then add my own thoughts. The second element that permits a congregation to learn is that Congregations that learn well live within a worldview of theological coherence.
These are congregations that have a clear theological foundation for all they say and do. You will find this theological coherence in their mission statements, their education and discipleship programs, conversations in the hallways and hospital rooms, and even in their business meetings. Members of such congregations have spent time thinking through their theological beliefs and they are not reluctant to share those beliefs with others.
For me, this begins with the view one has of Scripture. Is the Bible the revealed Word of God or is it a book written by men in an attempt to explain their views of God? Is it authoritative or does it merely make suggestions about how one lives his or her life? Do the Scriptures have the last word on any topic that it addresses or can man change what the Bible says to fit present day circumstances? If the Bible is not the revealed Word of God, if it is not authoritative, and if it does not have the last word in any topic it addresses, then it will provide a very shaky foundation for anyone's theological beliefs. It will be shaky because it can be changed at any time by a majority of people advocating a particular stance. We see this happening in recent years as denominations have voted on particular issues that are addressed in Scripture to determine whether or not the majority of people still agree with the interpretations that have stood the test of centuries. What arrogance to believe that man can vote on God's declarations as if they are nothing more than the color of carpet we prefer for our sanctuaries!
I experienced this personally last week when I became involved in a Facebook discussion on an issue that divides Christians. My position was one that can be defended from Scripture; others chose a different position. My view of biblical authority would not allow me to have a different position. I cannot say what their view of biblical authority is because it did not come up in the discussion. I made two mistakes in that discussion. The first was that I should have never entered into it on Facebook because that is hardly the forum for an in depth discussion on any serious topic, and after two or three posts I announced I was done posting on the issue for that reason. The second was that before responding to what was being said I should have questioned where these persons stood on biblical authority (another topic not really suited for Facebook!). If two parties engage in a discussion on theological issues and each of them are coming to that discussion with opposing views on biblical authority, there is really little use in having the discussion. There is not common ground for such a discussion in such circumstances. As it turned out, they gave their talking points, I gave mine, but no learning occurred because we did not have a coherent theological worldview from which we could debate.
Tim Shapiro is absolutely correct when he notes that such coherence is necessary for a congregation to learn. This presents a number of challenges to the pastor who serves a church that lacks theological coherence. One, he or she should expect a higher number of conflicts and disagreements between the membership. The members are operating from different theological perspectives. Two, he or she may need to spend some time teaching the congregation how to think theologically. Three, he or she may need to begin teaching the basics of theological beliefs if it is determined that the church has not been taught these in the past or if they have been taught a theology that does not agree with biblical teaching.
The question then for church leaders who want to introduce new learning into their congregation is how ready theologically is that congregation for such learning? How would you answer that question for your church? Do you think it is even a question that needs to be asked?