Christian Progress

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending some time with my friends from high school.  Every year we pick a weekend to reconnect, coming together from a variety of cultural, religious, and political perspectives.  These friends have known me long before I was granted the title of “reverend,” so I’m sure the idea is still a little foreign to them.  But if you ever spend time with a pastor, you can assume that there will eventually be some dialogue on the topic of God, which is exactly what ended up happening.  At one point, our Godly discussion turned to the idea of “progress.”  Culturally, the term “progressive” has primarily been associated with liberal social and political agendas.  It assumes that if you hold more conservative beliefs, you are antiquated and not interested in progressing toward a better future.  Is this true, or have we misunderstood what progress really means?

Politically, both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, are striving for progress.  The difference is how progress is defined and directed by each group.  Regardless of your political stance, an important question Christians must ask themselves is: How should we understand progress from a Christian perspective?  No doubt, there are both liberal and conservative Christians, so answering might be difficult.  However, I think Christian progress can be categorized in two ways: the individual and the corporate.

Individually, Christians are called to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit and transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  The first half of Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Similarly, 1 John 2:6 says, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”  For Christians, individual progress is becoming like Jesus Christ in mind and action; it’s striving to live and think like our Savior and Redeemer.

Corporately, Christians are called to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.  After all, isn’t that what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer?  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  As disciples of Jesus, we are not just inanimate observers who should sit back and wait for God’s Kingdom to arrive.  Rather, we are participants who have an active role in doing God’s will in this world.  The second half of Romans 12:2 says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  If we hope to know God’s will for His creation, we have to know and be transformed by God.

Individually and culturally we are progressing, but to what end?  I think we can all admit that humanity often progresses in the wrong direction.  In his famous book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”  As we consider this concept, I pray that we might be able to recognize that both sides of the political spectrum have ideas of progress that do not align with God’s will.  And rather than becoming entrenched in our own point of view by demonizing those who don’t agree with us, might it be possible for us to openly communicate with others in a way that reflects God’s love and grace?  Most importantly, if Christians have any hope of humanity progressing towards a brighter future, we must seek God’s will for our lives and for His creation in Scripture.

Rev. Timothy Wilmetti – Bluffton First United Methodist Church