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Ever since I was young, I took great satisfaction in creating my own path and not conforming to the expectations of my peers. I’ve always had an ongoing desire to go against the grain and fight the status quo. Although being a ‘trail-blazer’ was more like an act of defiance while living life through trial and error, it was what I considered to be a way of being ‘progressive.’
In my last year of high school, I was one of the first students to turn 18 and be able to legally buy alcohol – yet I prided myself in being among a handful of students who didn’t care for getting drunk. But by the time I reached my 20’s, I had experimented with my adult freedoms long enough to realize that I actually enjoy having a few beers and the occasional flavored cigarillo. Most of my social life had revolved around those I met in Bible school and church gatherings where drinking and smoking was somewhat frowned upon – though I wasn’t afraid to hide my enjoyment of these supposed evils.
While many like myself would think this is a sign of progressing into maturity, some ultraconservative Christian folks would consider this to be a few steps backwards. In light of this, I developed a huge disdain towards legalism in church communities. I remember one summer, some Christian friends and I used to hit up the pub for beer and wings right after Bible study on a weekly basis. Our numbers grew as we invited people to come and join us, but after about a couple months the young adults group associated with our church at the time started up an alternative gathering – conveniently on the same day and time as our Bible study and pub meet. Our weekly ritual of Scripture, meat and alcohol quickly phased out as people began to attend the church event instead. There is a chance it might have been just a coincidence that this happened, but I remember feeling absolutely blindsided as though their event was deliberately planned to thwart our own tradition, just because it happened to take place in a bar.
As an Evangelical at the time, this only further pushed me to believe that the church (as individual believers) could gather anywhere – even at the billiards of a seedy bar. I believed it was our job as Christians to storm the gates of Hell and spread the Gospel – even in the most unconventional ways. If we only limited church on Sundays, what’s stopping us from having ‘church’ anywhere else at any other given day? I had convinced myself that it was ‘progressive’ to stop putting God in a box and placing limitations on where, when and how we can worship Him.
But given this mindset, my desire to wake up at a decent hour and actually go to a designated place of worship to have fellowship with other Christians on Sundays was practically nonexistent. By attempting to make ‘church’ something created in my own image for the sake of my own convenience, I had replaced something that was originally commanded by God to be set apart and made holy 1 with something trivial. Granted this, I grew disillusioned with my involvement at the church I had been attending at the time, and I no longer considered myself to be an Evangelical and began to toy with the idea of Progressive Christianity.
One of the most appealing aspects of being progressive was the openness to new ideas and viewing God from different perspectives. There were times in my life when I grew frustrated with how conservative Christians approached such topics like the environment, evolution, immigration, feminism and abortion. What I appreciated about the intellectual aspects of Progressive Christianity was how taboo subjects could be discussed freely, and faith and reason were encouraged to go hand-in-hand – a quality that was surprisingly quite rare within the culture of Evangelicalism. It was easy to gripe about the legalistic mentality of church members who seemed to care more about their own personal theology than they did about people – therefore, Progressive Christianity appealed to my angst.
There were other factors in my life that prompted me to consider such a theological direction. The rigidity of church music having to conform to the expectations of the elderly made me wish my denomination had abandoned those ancient, outdated hymns to draw in a more youthful dynamic. The nitpicking about whether women should wear head coverings or yoga pants, let alone speak during service for that matter, seemed to give feminism more credibility. The stigmatization of mental health and human sexuality made conversations with certain accountability groups even more painfully awkward than already warranted as though struggling with depression, anxiety and chastity was an indicator of insufficient faith. Even cases where marginalized individuals were shunned or turned away from the church somehow made me think the LGBTQ+ movement was on to something in their attempt to push for tolerance and inclusivity.
To me, all of these areas where there seemed to be a lack of social justice were enough reason to desire a push for change. But would it be a change for the better or for worse? Is changing something to suit my own or other people’s desires such as church, or Christianity for that matter, actually ‘progressive?’
In the wake of the Sexual Revolution, most Christian denominations fully embraced contraception as a viable means of family planning. It would appear these churches have finally pulled their heads out of the sand and taken a more progressive stance on sexual health. Fast-forwarding to modern times, we have noticed nearly half of all marriages in North America end in divorce 2, STI’s such as Chlamydia are at an all-time high 3 and porn addiction is deemed by some to be a public health crisis. 4
To me, that sure doesn’t sound very progressive.
In recent years, the Church of Sweden had officially decided to take a more gender-neutral approach to the Bible by refraining from calling God the ‘Father’ or the ‘Son.’ 5 Some historians argue that gender confusion and the feminization of men was a contributor to the collapse of great ancient civilizations such as the Roman Empire. 6
That doesn’t sound very progressive either.
Some have even speculated that advances in science and technology have paved the way to allow us to become immortal and keepers of our own destinies. We could create a futuristic utopia where humans are lab-grown 7 and would no longer need sex to procreate 8, but at the expense of surrendering our human freedoms to become more like machines. 9
If we as Christians want to be progressive, shouldn’t this mean we should strive to be more Christlike – not more worldly or machine-like?
Typically when I would run into issues of theology, I would ask for a second opinion as the Ethiopian eunuch inquired with Philip in the Bible. 10 But because I have such a vast network of Christian friends from various backgrounds, I would get a different response from almost every single person – especially on divisive topics such as baptism and communion. I would tell myself that this was the Holy Spirit working within these people to give me answers but I often grew disappointed and frustrated with the inconsistency of perspectives. I often felt that I was left to my own devices to come up with my own conclusions, which was initially what I liked about Progressive Christianity.
The problem with relying on our own understanding with Biblical interpretation is it leaves us with an unstable foundation. 11 While it’s easy to say we don’t conform to worldly views, it’s just as easy to ironically conform to non-conformist group-think. 12 Priding ourselves for not being put in a box can be the result of not basing our personal theology on truth, but on what we like and don’t like. 13
But this only led me down further rabbit trails in my brain about what the nature of truth really was. I came to a point in my life when I had to take a step back and rethink the direction I was going – whether to adopt Christianity as the fullness of truth in spite of my doubts, or have it my way and remain a ‘trail-blazer.’
The argument that something ought to be changed because it’s (insert current year) is probably one of the most logically absurd proclamations out there. The phrase itself is an appeal to popular trends that ebb and flow like algae in an ocean tide. If truth is eternal, it is certainly not defined by what year it is or what seems to be culturally relevant. What may be desired by one person, might not be good for everyone else. A society that allows cultural trends to dictate reason becomes like a snake eating its own tail.
In my perspective, what many people call ‘Progressive Christianity’ is only a means to an end. It is the result of a culture that is rapidly embracing hyper-individualism at the expense of objective morality and the collective good of humanity, and is only a short walk away from atheistic nihilism. 14
There is much to be said for how there is nothing new under the sun 15, and there is very little in this world that the Church has not wrestled with in the past. 16 Oftentimes, new trends and fads are only recycled heresies and result in repeated historical failures. A close look at history shows that the Church as a whole adapted, developed, grown and survived over the past two millennia through its many saints, martyrs, theologians, writings, councils and creeds.
If that isn’t progress, then I don’t know what is.
Thus, my thoughts, findings and experiences have led me to believe that Catholic Orthodoxy, in spite of its seemingly unwavering rigidity and lack of worldly relevance, is the most progressive form of Christianity in existence.
“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.”
– C.S. Lewis
1 Exodus 20:8-11
10 Acts 8:26-40
11 Romans 12:2
12 Proverbs 3:5
13 Judges 21:25
14 John 12:25; 15:1-7
15 Ecclesiastes 1:9
16 Matthew 16:17-19