Has conservative Christianity allowed liberal Christianity to redefine the word “progressive”?
To hear one speak of the liberal church today as progressive implies the conservative church is non-progressive, or at worst, degressive.
If I say I pastor a progressive church, the conservatives would immediately place me in the category of liberal because the liberals have adopted the term “progressive” to describe themselves. But just because a church is liberal does not necessarily mean it’s progressive, and a church that is progressive is not necessarily liberal.
A person, a company, an organization, or a church can be considered progressive if it is reaching its own predetermined goals. It is only when that person, company, organization, or church chooses to maintain status quo that it can be considered and labeled as non-progressive. If it begins to slip into declension, then we can say it is degressive.
The liberal churches in America have applied one small part of the definition of the word “progressive” to themselves, and in doing so have relegated the term non-progressive to the conservative Christian churches.
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of the word “Progressive” is as follows:
1.favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters: a progressive mayor.
2.making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.
3.characterized by such progress, or by continuous improvement.
4.( initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to any of the Progressive parties in politics.
5.going forward or onward; passing successively from one member of a series to the next; proceeding step by step.
And according to Merriam-Webster dictionary: Progressive means:
1 a : of, relating to, or characterized by progress b : making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities c : of, relating to, or constituting an educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual child, informality of classroom procedure, and encouragement of self-expression
2: of, relating to, or characterized by progression
3: moving forward or onward : advancing
To say all liberal churches are progressive and all conservative churches are non-progressive is to limit the definition of the word and to unfairly judge or praise each group. I personally know of many conservative churches which are very progressive. And, sadly, I know of many which are non-progressive and, even sadder, some that are in degression.
If my goal as a pastor is to inspire a group of believers to live consecrated, separated lives and to embrace a Christian worldview, then I can claim to be progressive if I am indeed obtaining that objective. That label would not change simply because I prefer conservative music in my services or wear a suit while preaching from the King James Bible. If, on the other hand, I reach a certain point and have no desire to go any further, then I would be non-progressive, and if I were the kind of pastor who refuses to embrace technology, viewing it all as the work of Satan, and fights to hold on to “the way it used to be”, then I could correctly be labeled as degressive. And the same could be said of liberal churches from their perspective.
Lest my motives for writing this be misconstrued, let me assure you that I have no illusions of grandeur. I do not believe there is anything I can do to make the gospel message more palatable to a God hating, Christ loathing, self-centered, sin loving world. It is pure foolishness to believe one could repackage the gospel in such a way as to make the world accept it.
So, what do I hope to accomplish by writing this? My only objective is to try to get Christians to think. The liberals did not label the conservatives as non-progressive by adopting the term progressive. We did that to ourselves. Normally, I would have blamed our society or culture because typically culture functions in such a way that when one group is called one thing, then the antithesis of that group will be subconsciously and automatically labeled as its opposite. But that is not what has happened here. We are so worried about being identified with or as those with whom we disagree doctrinally that we immediately label ourselves the opposite of what our opposites are labeling themselves. For example, when the Pentecostals and tongue speaking churches began calling themselves charismatic, we were quick to label ourselves as non-charismatic. The problem is there were some good Baptist churches which were and still are very charismatic. Just because they don’t speak in “tongues” or believe in “faith healing” doesn’t mean they are not charismatic. And just because a group does believe and practice those things does not mean they are charismatic. But now, because we were quick to label ourselves as non-charismatic, we have become, at least in the minds of those outside our ranks, its extreme antithesis, i.e. we are dead, non-spirit filled (that term itself needs clarifying) churches. I see the same thing happening today. We are so afraid of being identified as liberal, we immediately label ourselves the exact opposite of what they are labeling themselves, and in so doing become the antithesis or exact opposite of them in the minds of those outside looking in. In this case, it is progressive verses non-progressive.
I might get some negative feedback from this but I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I am a charismatic preacher who pastors a progressive church. I know many conservative Baptist pastors who would say the same thing about themselves, just not publicly. And I understand. The damage has already been done so why shoot myself in the foot? Society is what it is. And society will label us without our help. That has been the case throughout history. The next time someone asks you if you are a progressive church, tell them the truth based upon whether or not you are reaching your goals and moving forward. The next time someone asks you if you are charismatic (which is almost a non-existent label today), tell them the truth based upon your personality in the pulpit.
I’m going to live for Jesus within the context of my biblical conservative values and Christian worldview. I’m going to try to win as many people to Christ as I can through door to door soul winning, by being a personal witness, by relationship building, by pulpit preaching, through any and all technological means at my disposal, and by any other means I can without violating Scripture and my conscience. I’m going to pastor the people God has entrusted to me in a manner that I hope is pleasing to Him alone. And if the guy across the street decides to repackage church and the gospel in an attempt to make Christianity palatable to a lost world, that’s his business and between him and God. I’m not going to try to out market him and I’m certainly not going to fear being identified with him. I’ll keep doing my thing and just let the world label me as they see fit. That is fine with me as long as I know when it’s all over, I’ll hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is the only label I truly covet!