Providence is unique.
You probably know that already. It may be the reason why you chose to join in the first place.
You wanted to be part of a faith community that stresses the importance of relationships, welcomes questions, makes room for differences of opinion, and tries to practice what Jesus preaches by serving others in his name.
You wanted to be part of a faith community in which Christian sisters and brothers work together, worship together, pray together, and play together, not because everyone agrees about everything but, rather, because everyone agrees about the one thing that matters above everything else: Jesus is Lord.
In other words, you wanted to be part of a faith community with Christ at the center, where unity doesn’t require uniformity and faithful obedience to God coexists with freedom of conscience.
Through the years, Providence has been clear: This is the kind of church we want to be. Our determination to open more doors than we shut, and build bridges rather than walls in order to share God’s love has been central to our identity since our founding in 1954. Providence prefers finding common ground to drawing lines in the sand, making a kingdom difference in Jesus’ name to quibbling over differences that generate heat but no light. I am grateful that God has put us together this way.
Our generous spirit is a tremendous strength.
That said, it’s not always easy to communicate this strength—and, with it, the qualities that make Providence such a unique congregation of believers—to people who either don’t know who we are, or who assume that they already know what they need to know about us because we’re a Baptist church.
Back in October, at our semi-annual ministry staff planning day, we talked at length about how we can more effectively share our story—and our God-given strengths—beyond our Randolph Road campus. We all agreed that calling ourselves a “moderate Baptist church” doesn’t really mean anything to anyone who’s not familiar with the long history of Baptist political and theological disagreements. Furthermore, as someone put it, “whenever we use the word ‘moderate,’ I feel like we’re falling into the trap of letting people on the extremes define who we are. I’d rather come up with a different word that describes who we want to be instead.” After some back-and-forth conversation, we decided that “Christ-centered” best describes the kind of church we want Providence to be—and, in many ways, the kind of church it already is.
Not only does “Christ-centered” reflect the best of who we are as a church, but it also captures the essence of what it means to be a New Testament church. When the apostle Paul describes the mission of the church, he writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that “all this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself in Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” That’s worth repeating. God has given the church the ministry of reconciliation, a mission to bring together through the patient, persistent love of Jesus what the world insists are irreconcilable differences of race, gender, social status, nationality, partisan affiliation, and so on.
What this means is that, by definition, a New Testament church is a community of faith with Christ at its center—with more than enough room for all who call him Lord to find a place to stand on the common ground that we share at the foot of the cross. When Jesus is at the center of the church, then it’s Jesus who binds the church together, turning strangers into neighbors and enemies into friends.
Now, churches that deliberately try to stand with Christ at the center do run the risk of being scorned by Christians (and others) who insist on seeing the world in stark, divisive terms of us against them, left against right, conservative against liberal. I’m OK with Providence running that risk. I believe it’s a risk worth taking. It is certainly a risk that’s worthy of our calling to further God’s ministry of reconciliation. It is, finally, a risk that reflects the best of both who we are and who we want to be: A congregation uniquely positioned to work together for God’s glory because Jesus has brought us together for God’s glory. When we decide that our common commitment to Jesus and his priorities is stronger than the cumulative weight of all our individual differences, we are practicing what I believe the New Testament preaches.
Here, then, at the beginning of a new year, let us have the courage to say who we are, and what we are, and to claim our identity as a God-given strength. Let us commit ourselves again to being a community of faith with Christ at the center—as our focal point, our common ground, and our shared hope for a reconciled, restored, and redeemed Creation.
May the peace of Christ be with you!