Question: How can a church navigate the different views between the more casual members and the more formal members? The more casual people seem to think that the old ways are too stiff and rigid, while the more formal members think the casual people are not respectful of the meaning of church.
Response 1: Judy Wolff
Navigating a church through the waters of conflicting viewpoints can be a rollicking, but ultimately, unifying adventure. Part of the adventure may be discovering what draws us to church. What really attracts people—whether attendees are old or young, liberal or conservative, casual or formal—is Christian Science. "The two largest words in the vocabulary of thought…" as Mary Baker Eddy described them in No and Yes (p. 10). So large are these words that they include everyone and accommodate a rich variety of expression.
"Christian" reminds us of the love of Christ that is so vast it overpowers opinions, divisions, and even people. It’s divine Love experienced here and now— a love that cherishes fellow members regardless of whether they have a more laid back or a more formal sense of church. It's the Christ that gives us both our individuality and our unity.
Then there's the "Science," or laws of God, which operate equally for all members whether they wear jeans or a suit to church, enjoy contemporary or traditional hymns, or study from the King James Version or more modern translations of the Bible. The healing practice of Christian Science is what unites us all on a deeper level, as I personally experienced.
For a few years, another practitioner and I were in different camps at our church—one more progressive and one more traditional. Our church was fractured. Our prayers were answered with a surprising resolution. Someone collapsed at a service and both of us went to aid him. The other practitioner's pure metaphysical treatment was instrumental in the healing that followed, and I told her how much I appreciated it. We began talking with each other about church issues with a renewed mutual respect for each other’s healing practice. Soon we became friends and jointly embraced the whole church, not just those who shared our outlooks.
Our willingness to appreciate the metaphysical depth behind each other’s views helped unify our church—a church alive to all of its members. We found the word “and” enriched our church experience. Jeans and suits. Change and stability.
"Church unity" is not the same thing as "church conformity." Our collective church identity includes the individuality of each member like a song includes every individual note. A relaxed, informal approach and a more proper, formal approach can and should balance and bless each other, and strengthen the church.
Response 2: Mark Swinney
Not only in churches but in most human organizations, some of a group’s toughest tasks can be setting policies and agreeing on organizational directions. As you may have seen or experienced, the process may get emotionally-charged and result in some hurt feelings.
Many factors may contribute to this, but much of the trouble lies in a personal sense of what’s happened, what’s happening, or what could happen. Discussions, instead of being objective, shift toward becoming personal. Instead of an idea being examined and judged simply on the grounds of what it is, the person who presented it may take possession of and personally identify with the idea, and when it’s shot down or altered, feathers begin to ruffle. Or, the other way around, a person might hear of some new proposition, and because it’s seen as a personal threat to the church organization, he or she may want to either fight, or just quit being a member.
Personal sense of this sort often establishes “sides” and divisions that go deep. Ultimately, people with whom you actually have a whole world in common become the very ones you mistrust and even write-off for good! Once that starts happening, the organization is effectively handcuffed and can’t accomplish much. Personal sense is every organization’s enemy.
The best approach I have found toward healing divisions and honoring unity is to stop identifying a threat as a person. Jesus made a significant point in his Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (see Matthew 5:22).
Raca means empty-headed idiot. Constantly to view someone in those terms brings its own hell. Instead, to look at your fellow church member through God’s eyes, so to speak, brings healing, constructive prayer. God-given potential is present in us all, and it’s up to each of us to acknowledge it in each other, and even be grateful for it. That’s church in action. I love where Mary Baker Eddy explained, “Spiritual perception brings out the possibilities of being, destroys reliance on aught but God, and so makes man the image of his Maker in deed and in truth” (Science and Health, p. 203)
And that’s what we’re really interested in doing—relying on nothing but God to guide our church organizations. Emotional, personal sense is not God, and therefore it can’t provide trustworthy guidance. The one Ego, divine Mind, always can. If organizational decisions have been made that seem either constrictive or destructive—if an organization seems just frozen in place or going in directions that’s causing it to lose its original purpose and identity—take heart, and be a witness to God’s gentle, timely correction and guidance. It always comes. Jesus witnessed it, Mrs. Eddy witnessed it, and—joyfully—we can be witnesses to it, too.