Three years ago, Bryan Wallace, pastor of the recently renamed Revisioning Community Church of Baltimore, Maryland, felt led to take his congregation in a new direction. Feeling that the church had reached a plateau in its ministry, and believing that they needed a fresh vision, he proposed that the church go through a discernment process to determine what their future ministry should look like. He challenged the church: “We need to find out what God is doing in the world, and then get on board.”
The most challenging part of the process was actually finding out what it is that God is doing in the world. But Wallace, in a recent interview with one of our reporters, related how the church finally made its discovery. They came to the realization that the work of God can be discerned in culture. This is the age of the Spirit, and the wind of the Spirit is blowing in cultural processes and movements. To “discern the times” is the way to discern what God is doing in the world. And to keep in step with the Spirit, the church must get on board with these various cultural movements.
So, over the last few months, the church has vigorously pursued getting on board with God by getting on board with the surrounding culture. Wallace listed some of the things the church has been doing:
Participating in radical practices of inclusion, being not only welcoming but completely affirming
Carrying out radical programs of investment and disinvestment, and making public announcements, in particular, about the disinvestments
Both initiating and taking part in various boycotts, marches, and demonstrations with regard to a number of social issues, and attempting to properly locate themselves on the right side of history
Becoming more politically involved, contributing to PACs, and working with lobbying groups
Engaging in a more generously ecumenical dialogue, with a corresponding de-emphasis on correctness of belief and doctrine
Emphasizing a more wholistic understanding of the gospel, while pulling back on a word-centered articulation of the gospel in terms of sin, atonement, justification, and sanctification
Our reporter asked Pastor Wallace if there had been any opposition in the congregation to the church’s new direction. The pastor related that there was indeed a minority group in the church, somewhat factious and schismatic, which had a different opinion as to how what God was doing in the world could be discerned. They argued that a passage in the Bible, in the Gospel of John, chapter 16, indicates that the Spirit’s work in the world is actually to demonstrate that the world is “wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” They argued that this is an accurate description of what God is doing today. But Wallace pointed out to the church leadership that a document two thousand years old could hardly be expected to serve as a reliable guide for discerning what God is doing in the world today in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, that group ultimately felt that it had to leave the church. But Pastor Wallace noted that losing these few families was a small price to pay in order for the church to move progressively forward and get on board with God.
September 24, 2016