Last year local Columbus pastor Rich Nathan authored what I thought an outstanding vision for how a Christian communities might transcend the either-or polarities that are tearing our country apart. What he wrote seems to me no less relevant, and perhaps even more, a year later.
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I live in Columbus, the city in which Vineyard Columbus ministers but am not a part of this congregation, the largest congregation in the Vineyard movement and in central Ohio. The work of Vineyard Columbus is regularly featured on our local news outlets, and it is not in images of angry protesters with a hateful message but rather images of people serving throughout our community in the name of Christ. The congregation sponsors a community center providing free medical and legal assistance and other services to local residents and has planted at least 24 churches in central Ohio and around the world.
This book, authored by their senior pastor, Rich Nathan, with the assistance of Insoo Kim, pastor of ministry strategies, helps explain the vision of this church, which so many have found so attractive. In brief, Nathan calls this a “both-and” church in an either-or world tired of the kind of polarization we see in our politics and civic life. Nathan believes that the Christian message holds in a creative tension the polarities that often divide us.
The book is organized around a series of both-and polarities that Vineyard Columbus seeks to hold together and commends to other churches. Nathan describes an identity that is both evangelical and charismatic. He speaks of a community that enjoys unity and a racial diversity that matches the diversity of our city. He articulates the church’s concern and activity around both showing mercy and pursuing justice. The church pursues its mission through both proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. He challenges his congregation to holiness in both its personal and social ethics. He expresses the church’s kingdom vision in terms of both the miraculous works which might already be sought and the final transformation of our lives and world yet to be hoped for. He concludes with calling the church to both relevant practice (orthopraxy) and orthodox doctrine.
Each chapter includes personal stories and illustrations from Vineyard Columbus ministry and the author’s personal life. At the same time, Nathan writes with a lawyerly (he was an attorney and law professor before becoming Vineyard Columbus’s pastor) carefulness on key doctrinal issues of our day. For example, to the contention that opening leadership in the church to women leads to opening leadership to those engaged in same-sex relationships, he observes a key distinction rarely noted in these discussions between roles, which are culturally determined, as in the case of women, and behaviors which carry moral implications that are trans-cultural.
This example also underscores how this will not be a book that those wedded to an either-or view of reality will embrace. Nathan speaks both of the loving acceptance their church shows all who seek services in their community center and all who come to the church and of the church’s uncompromising call to things like sexual integrity and its decision to only appoint leaders and pastors who exemplify that integrity. Similarly, in another place, Nathan both speaks critically of our nation’s militarism and warmly of those who serve in the military.
My sense is that we like to define the world in either-or terms because it makes life seemingly simpler. However, what we miss is that in doing so, it also makes life smaller and leaves no way to include those who think differently. One of the most delightful aspects of this book were the repeated instances where Nathan shows how this “both-and” thinking brings us into a far richer reality than the “either-or”. Here’s one example, from his section on both evangelical and charismatic:
“If we emphasize the Word without the Spirit, we dry up. If we emphasize the Spirit without the Word, we blow up. If we hold the Word and the Spirit together, we grow up….
“The most exciting aspect of the Both-And marriage of evangelical and charismatic Christianity is the bringing together of evangelicals’ historic focus–the salvation of the lost–with the charismatic power to get the job done.”
Are you one of those like me who tires of being presented with the polarities of “either this, or this” in the church or in the culture and wonder, is there a third option? If so, you will find this book helpful in casting a vision of a different paradigm and as well as an explanation of the powerful ministry Vineyard Columbus has had in its host city.
First posted here on August 7, 2014