Monday, June 21, 2010

Guest Blogger Reverend Roger McClellan on the Progressive Christian Alliance

In the spring of 2008, four pastors from Alabama, Florida and Georgia began sharing some of their disillusionment with much traditional church structure and dogma. As the discussions progressed, a vision of a different type of church began to coalesce. All of us were drawn to a progressive Christian ethos, and had learned much from our associations with organizations such as The Center for Progressive Christianity and Network of Spiritual Progressives; but we felt that there was a need to transcend the typical definitions of both "denomination" and "network" and not only try to connect Progressive Christians, but also to organize ministries with similar vision even calling ministers and organizing local communities of progressive faith. As a result of these discussions and the perceived guidance of the Spirit, the Progressive Christian Alliance was born.

From the inception of the Progressive Christian Alliance, we have had a vision for reaching out to “the least, the lost, the left behind, and those for whom religion has become irrelevant." We see this position to be very much in line with the teachings of Jesus, teachings that have sadly fallen into neglect. The Church has often become such an institution that it spends more time and resources maintaining itself than reaching into the world beyond itself. As a result we have seen more and more people pushed to the margins and even outside the doors of the church. Progressive ideals or un-orthodox beliefs are unwelcome, as are different cultures or orientations. What remains are many different church institutions ministering to the core groups within their doors, and paying little mind to those outside the doors; those who differ from what they consider the norm.

So, when we in the PCA were trying to paint a picture of our vision; we settled on the following principles:

1. We consider ourselves Christian. We chose this particular and unusual language out of a recognition that oftentimes the institutional church attempts to set litmus tests of orthodoxy or tradition that define what Christianity is to them. In truth, however, no church institution has the ability or right to judge the soul of a person. That right and responsibility lies solely upon the shoulders of God. Therefore, we seek to avoid the traps of orthodoxy and grant grace to one another by affirming that we seek to serve God, and follow our understandings of the teachings of Jesus, to the best of our ability. We seek to judge no one, lest we be judged by the same unfair and inaccurate standards. We embrace those on the margins or outside the margins of orthodoxy.

2. The Progressive Christian Alliance maintains a focus on Social Justice. We believe that the gospel of Christ calls us to minister to the last, the lost, the least, and the left-behind of society, as well as those for whom church has become irrelevant. Jesus and the latter prophets of Judaism speak extensively about caring for the poor, the hungry and the marginalized in society, recognizing them all as God’s creation. Unfortunately much of this focus has been lost in the institutional church as it has become more and more concerned with maintaining its own identity and growth. As a result, the rights of many of God’s own children are widely ignored by those that profess to worship God. We embrace those on the margins of society, as Christ himself taught.

3. We respect theological diversity. Faith is not about concrete answers, religious absolutes, creeds, or dogma. Faith is about the search for understanding, the raising of important questions, the open honesty of having doubt, and the realization that no one has it all completely right nor does any human hold all the answers. Therefore, we recognize and affirm those whose faith systems fifer from our own; recognizing that many streams flow from the same source. Furthermore, we recognize that truth and understanding often are nurtured by the open exchange of thoughts and ideas from diverse sources. We embrace those around us; those on the margins of tradition or practice.

4. We affirm the dignity of all of God’s children and welcome all to take their rightful place at God’s table. We recognize that in Christ there is no gender, no orientation, no nation or race. We are all heirs to the kingdom. Often, the institutional church has sought to exclude those of different race, gender or orientation from participating fully in the life of the church. We find these practices anathematic to the teachings of Christ, therefore we readily and heartily welcome all to their rightful place at the table that God has prepared. While we applaud the efforts of many denominations to formulate inter-communion agreements with other denominations, we feel that these inter-communion agreements do not adequately recognize the value and beauty of diversity. The PCA, rather, practices an Open Communion, recognizing that the Table of Communion is not ours to govern, but God's.

There are also many churches who seek to fully include those of other races, genders or sexual orientations, and we applaud those efforts; but by writing this inclusivity into our organizational DNA, we hope to avoid the political and dogmatic struggles that accompany such efforts so that we can concentrate more fully on the task at hand.Many have asked, “With all of this inclusion, where then is your identity? Simply: that is our identity. Inclusion. A church for those who don’t like church and a church for those who love church but seek to lovingly correct it. We strive to embrace all and welcome all: those pushed to the margins or outside the margins. In so doing, we have our own identity, a church on the margins for those on the margins.

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