A gracEmail subscriber writes: “I am a pastor attending seminary, currently serving in a United Methodist Church that desperately wants me to stay with them to help revitalize the system. I am honestly worried whether denominations have run their course. I see wonderful nuggets of greatness in most of them. But I’ve been wondering if it would be better to extract the best parts from the various denominations and start over without the worst elements of each. In this day and age should we be trying to renovate or innovate as far as the church is concerned?”
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All denominations are human inventions although the church scattered through them is built by Christ (see Matt. 16:18). The true “nuggets of greatness” found in any group appear whenever God succeeds in working his own agenda through the people who compose that group. The renewal movement Renovare‘, whose goal is “bringing the Church to the churches,” recognizes six such nuggets in the “contemplative (prayer-filled), holiness (virtuous), charismatic (spirit-empowered), social justice (compassionate), evangelical (word-centered) and incarnational (sacramental)” lifestyles exemplified by Jesus and appearing throughout history in the Christian church at large. We can discover “nuggets” in many different streams of that church universal as I have discussed elsewhere.
Should we try to reform existing institutions or start afresh? Those who choose reform point out that while Jesus cleansed the corrupted Temple and criticized the theological elite of his day, he never joined the separatist Essenes at Qumran who walked away from the entire religious mess. Those who choose a new beginning remind us of Jesus’ encouragement not to pour new wine into old wineskins or to sew new patches on old clothes (Matt. 9:16-17). Which is better — to innovate or to renovate? These cross-currents from Jesus’ own life and teaching suggest that there are times for both. Which course we pursue depends on specific past histories, present circumstances and opportunities and, above all, the Spirit’s leading day by day.
Those whom God prompts to work for reform must begin the refining process within themselves, depend solely on God’s grace and avoid self-righteousness at all costs. There will always be weeds among the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30). Those whom God motivates to begin new structures from scratch must recall that old forms also once were new, realize that their own work includes elements both human and divine, and remember that Christ is the head of the church and the Savior of the body (Eph. 5:23). Those called to either endeavor, if truly successful, will draw strength from God’s Spirit and will credit God with the results.