Christopher Columbus Meets the Brave New World
Introduction to Progressive Christianity: How the world and Christianity are changing - this isn't your parent's world or church.
Presented: 09/11/2011
Author: Rev. Steve Kindle
Scripture: Lamentations 5;Acts 17:1-7
Copyright: © 2011 by Rev. Steve Kindle

Please see the sermon manuscript for citations of sources quoted or used.

I have an important decision that I need to make and the answer is not coming to me.

I know what I’ll do:
If someone will give me a chicken, I’ll cut it open and read its entrails
Consult the oracle at Delphi
Cast the bones of animals and read the result

Maybe I just don’t feel good. Perhaps I should go to the barber for some bloodletting. You know, an ocean voyage seems to clear people’s heads, but I’m afraid I’ll fall off the edge of the world. (And there are monsters out there.)

People really believed in these things

It should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the world that things are changing. Indeed, things in both the world and the church are changing at an astonishing speed. Here’s a scary thought: Freshmen entering college this month will be looking for jobs in fields when they graduate that don’t even exist today.

In the last 500 years, our understanding of how the world works has changed so much that we find these formerly tried and true methods, if not laughable, certainly to be avoided. We have progressed and some parts of the church are progressing with it.

In this period of time, we’ve witnessed the end of Roman Catholic dominance of the Christian West with the rise of Protestantism; we know that the earth is no longer the center of the universe, that diseases are caused by microscopic living things (not fluid imbalance or sin), and that the earth is not flat.

And more recently we’ve learned that the universe is 13.75 billion years old (give or take), and that our planet is 4.54 billion years old. Human beings have occupied this earth for roughly 200,000 years.

Einstein taught us that everything is relative and Heisenberg made us aware that nothing is certain. Newton’s physics has been replaced by quantum physics.

Quantum physics is a branch of science that deals with discrete, indivisible units of energy called quanta as described by the Quantum Theory. There are five main ideas represented in Quantum Theory: (Yes, there will be a test.)

  1. Energy is not continuous, but comes in small but discrete units.
  2. The elementary particles behave both like particles and like waves.
  3. The movement of these particles is inherently random. (Lost you yet? Hold on!)
  4. It is physically impossible to know both the position and the momentum of a particle at the same time. The more precisely one is known, the less precise the measurement of the other is.
  5. The atomic world is nothing like the world we live in.

As Niels Bohr said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." I described in very brief terms quantum theory to you because, I suspect that you, as with me, when we hear this, our eyes glaze over. I don’t understand it and I don’t want to understand it, and I DON’T CARE. What does it have to do with ME?

Well, a lot, really. What it all truly has to do with you and me is that this world, which is so different from the one your parents even grew up in, and our children and grandchildren are growing up in, demands that Christianity needs to reassess its message to the world.

People no longer believe that the earth is 6,000 years old.
People no longer believe that the cosmos was created in six literal days.
People no longer believe in a literal first couple, Adam and Eve.
People no longer believe that God is “up there” and hell is “down there.”
People no longer believe that there is only one true religion.
People no longer believe that God would condemn anyone to hell for eternity.

Maybe I should just sum this all up and say merely that people no longer believe the literal approach to biblical understanding.

But this is such good news.

None of these things is necessarily a biblical notion.

None of these things is actually taught in the Bible as literal fact.

These are all interpretations that have come to us from a bygone age, an age that has lost its credibility in our day.

This is such good news because there is a whole world out there who loves the teachings of Jesus but just can’t accept the intellectual straight jacket the church wants them to wear.

But just like the people of Thessalonica in our text today, whose world had been turned upside down, resisted to the point of attacking the messenger, so today we have churches who continue to try to hold the line against this change that is turning our world upside down.

This is not to say that, because the world believes or doesn’t believe in a certain way, that the church needs to follow the world’s lead. Quite to the contrary. In fact, the reason the world doesn’t take the Bible literally anymore is because the church has been teaching this for over 200 years. That is, the part of the church that pays attention to its biblical scholars.

This is Progressive Christianity. Progressive Christians have an intellectual openness to Scripture. Instead of accepting the traditional teaching and doctrines of the church as truths that cannot be questioned, we look at tradition and Scripture with fresh eyes and try to understand how people, far removed from our own in time and geography, saw God as being active in their lives. We reflect on how these stories and traditions reveal the sacred at work in our lives today.Progressive Christians are profoundly multi-cultural: We believe that different cultures have their own wisdom and values. This leads Progressive Christians to seek communities that are inclusive of all people: Orthodox Christians and skeptics, women and men, gays and straights, people of all classes and abilities. Our communities should mirror the diversity of God’s creation. We strive to follow the example of Jesus, who welcomed all people to the table and brought them into community. We recognize other faith traditions as having authentic relationships with the sacred; Christianity has no monopoly on the divine.

So, if you still maintain that the Bible can only be interpreted literally, there are many, many churches for you to choose from.

The last thing our world needs is a brand new old style church. One more like all the rest. Especially now, when people have abandoned the faith in droves because they know what they hear from the churches doesn’t compute with what they know from their own minds.

That’s why I’m excited about Niles Discovery Church, a new church for a new day. Here, we don’t divide the world up into worthy and unworthy and keep out those we deem undesirable, but practice the radical hospitality of Jesus who didn’t establish an “in group,” but a “come on in” group.

Here we don’t make you throw away your science book when you open your Bible. There’s no need to park your brain at our church door.

Here honest doubt is encouraged and not seen as a sign of unfaithfulness. We admit that we don’t have all the answers, or even all the questions. But we do have reliable faith partners who will walk with us in our uncertainties, even through the valley of the shadow of death.

Here love is the ultimate expression of our faith, not a creed. What do you have to believe to become a part of Niles Discovery Church? Simply, that God loves you and you want to love like Jesus loved. If this is your heart’s desire, you will have found a home with us.

Oh, and if you can’t love perfectly, and if you can’t always muster up sufficient faith, or if you find yourself wondering where God could possibly be hanging out in this corrupted world, welcome home. You are among friends.

Many have commented that where we are heading is actually closer to the biblical understanding of faith than we have been since we turned faith into the need to believe certain things. Christianity has been reduced by the literalists to “I am a Christian because I believe the right doctrines.” This is a far cry from a biblical faith which places its emphasis on trusting in God rather than in our ability to figure out this elusive thing called truth, and then make everyone agree with it.

It’s right there in the Bible.

Peter’s “great confession” was found to be wanting; in fact, what Peter believed it meant was so deluded that Jesus said it was a confession of the devil. “Get behind me, Satan!” Yet Jesus did not kick Peter out of the community of disciples as is the practice of many today.

This reminds me of one of my Disciple pastor friends, Heather Hennessey. When she joined a Disciples of Christ congregation, the pastor asked her, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God?” Her response, “I’m working on it.” To the pastor’s credit, he took her hand and said, “Aren’t we all. Welcome to the church.”

"There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come," said Victor Hugo. Niles Discovery Church is born of a whole new vision that recognizes our changed world and how we are changing with it. It is truly a new church for a new day. Welcome aboard.

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