Our oldest son’s family has recently purchased a new home. Well, it is a home that is new to them. It is a foreclosed home that needs extensive remodeling. It needs a new well, septic system, furnace, and many other features. But so did the first house they purchased since they moved to Michigan. With three children, they are looking forward to enjoying having more than the 700 square feet that comprises their current home. And they feel that the improvements they have made on their current house will yield the financial benefits of realizing sufficient profit so that they will continue to own their own home without a mortgage.
As my wife and I toured their recently purchased home, my son pointed out which interior walls were going to be removed so that the floor plan would be more conducive to the kind of home-making that they envision for their family. He has considered which walls are load-bearing and which ones are not.
I’ve thought of that image — the difference between a load-bearing wall and one that is more cosmetic and helpful, but not crucial to the integrity of the structure. I believe, when it comes to the composition of the church, that faithful people do not always agree on whether a particular practice is a load-bearing wall. Carried to the extreme, I think some see the “traditionalists” as considering every wall as being vital and crucial to the integrity of the building. Carried to the extreme on the other side, I think some see the “innovators” as believing that every wall can be changed, rearranged, or removed.
Since the church is built by Christ (…no other foundation can be laid… — 1 Corinthians 3:11) we are not the master builders. In this metaphor we do not have the blueprints to verify which walls are absolutely crucial to the integrity of the building and which ones are optional. The traditionalists understand faithfulness to mean maintaining the integrity of the building as supremely important. They sometimes see the innovators as unconcerned about whether or not the building remains standing. The innovators understand faithfulness as making the building as hospitable for abundant living, even if it means rearranging some of the walls so that life can happen more effectively, so that new opportunities for hospitality and hosting may occur. They sometimes see the traditionalists as obstructing making the church a dwelling place that is inviting to newcomers.
In order to have the most effective home for all God’s people, we need the talents and perspectives of both the traditionalists and the innovators. We need those who give careful attention to which walls are load-bearing, so that the structure’s integrity is maintained. And we need those who can envision new ways of arranging the interior so that abundant life can be more fully experienced, even if it means some remodeling.
There was a reason why the original building which my son’s family has purchased was laid out the way it currently exists. Might it be important to understand that and ask whether or not that is still valid? At the same time it is important to ask, “What is the main purpose of the building now? Does this configuration still contribute to that purpose, or does it hinder the fulfillment of that purpose?” Both questions are valid and important, needing consideration.
And so it may be for the church to keep these questions before us as we seek to continue the journey of faithfulness that we have inherited from our forebears and are stewards of as we prepare to pass it on to our successors. May God’s holy wisdom be with us as we ask and answer these questions!