Posted by: Brian Musser | July 4, 2012

Philly says to America “You’re Welcome for your Freedom”

The Fourth of July, this is the day of the year the country celebrates our freedom.  It is also the day Philadelphia looks at the rest of our nation and says, “You are welcome.”  Almost 100 years before the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed in the great city of Brotherly Love, William Penn established the Pennsylvania colony as a grand experiment.  Many of those experimental ideas of Penn became staples in the nation that was founded in his fair city.  On this day of freedom I want to highlight the idea of religious freedom.  That freedom was given within the colony of Pennsylvania long before our great nation was ever conceived.  It was a novel and new and unique thing within the British Empire.  After Penn’s charter in the 1730’s Philadelphia was the only city in the entire British Empire with publicly practicing Catholic church.  If you remember the animosity between the Anglicans and the Catholics, you get an idea of the significance of that.  Today the legacy of Penn’s experiment exists in the presence of many churches predating our country from differing religious flavors.  This idea of religious freedom hasn’t always been smooth but at least it has existed on paper and been attempted in reality.  Since Philadelphia was such a receptive host to those parties which created both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Penn’s experiment of religious freedom become not just limited to this colony but a greater experiment over the entire nation.  On this Fourth of July 2012, let take a moment to think about how our nation is extremely unique throughout the world.

Since Wednesdays (even this holiday) are all about giving Students a handle on how they should connect to churches, I want to explore a few ideas about how religious freedom can negatively effect connecting with churches.

The original Temple Baptist Church at Temple Univ/
Photo by Michael “Hair” Kelley

1)  There are so many choices.  We literally could go to a new church every Sunday, you are a student at Drexel.  You could explore the diversity and be extremely entertained by the differences.  That would be cool if church was a spectator sport and observing was the key.  There is a level of participation required in the church that “church-hopping” does not allow.

2)  If there is a relationship problem in a church, for example you are dating someone who goes to the same church and the relationship ends, the easy way to solve the awkwardness is to go to a different church.  Church is where we can have true relationships.  Church is where we can work through issues of forgiving and being forgiven by others.  The freedom to leave often does not force us to do the hard relational aspects of church.

3)  Since there is a plethora of churches and they are all trying to attract basically the same population, some churches will cater to the consumer.  We have the freedom to choose churches based on how that church makes us feel.  If the church talks about an issue in a way that makes us uncomfortable all we have to do is go to another church.  We no longer have to submit to the teachings of the church.  The church now has to submit to the felt needs of the consumer.

4)  Often we will decide which church to attend based on superficial reasons.  Religious freedom have given us the responsibility to make religious choices on our own, however, many of us have not been equipped with the necessary tools to make good decisions.  We can decide our values for ourselves and create our own identity.  But how do we do that when we have absolutely nothing to base that on.  We choose any church but which church is worth choosing.  Without some clear criteria for choosing churches we often pick based on superficial reasons.

5)  With religious freedom the theological diversity that is present within the body of Christ and I believe could even be healthy within a local congregation no longer exists.  Instead of having to work through our theological differences within the context of a relational Christian community, we have chosen to make theological disagreements the reason to go our separates ways.  Religious freedom has allowed us to divide the body of Christ in very unnatural ways.

With that said, we first need to establish some definite parameters for how we will choose which church to be part of.  A previous post of mine (Finding a Church – Theologically) starts this conversation.  Then we need to intentionally commit to becoming part of that local body of Christ even through relationship issues, even when they say something that convicts us, even when we may disagree with someone.  Although we have freedom in PA and the USA and most importantly in Christ let us choose not to abuse it.

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