I was thrilled and nervous. At the Washington State Super Sabbath — the first for a long time — people from a variety of backgrounds and traditions (feast days, Pentecostal, etc.) attended, displaying the theme of unity. All of us together in fellowship — momentous!
As a youngster, I thought if anyone believed differently from what I’d been taught, they were sinning. In my naiveté, I believed we shouldn’t associate with anyone who didn’t believe exactly as we do.
Thanks to His longsuffering, God began to whittle away some of these prejudices. He used youth camps, where I encountered kids from churches and places I had never heard of, like the General Council and Turner Campmeeting. These kids became my friends and didn’t seem much different from me.
I also made friends at school with kids who came from non-Sabbath churches and shared much of my convictions about Christ and sin. I found freedom and joy in worshiping with others and enjoyed learning how other churches conducted their services.
As a graduate student, I gained greater perspective when I came across a concept called Church Growth Pathology.1
I learned that dying churches have “diseases” that strangle the life out of them. One of them is called koinonitus, or the “holy huddle.” In this disease, people become so comfortable with each other in the same congregation and their way of doing church that visitors don’t feel at ease. When this happens, churches sever themselves from the rest of Christ’s body and fail to make an impact on the world. What, then, do we do to avoid the holy huddle?
Get the right mindset
“In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”2
This popular saying grabs the idea that some things we cannot budge on, like salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8). But we can budge on our interpretation of symbols and parables in Scripture. For example, some people claim that mountains mean governments, beasts mean kingdoms, waters mean people, lamps mean the Word of God, and a day means a year. These kinds of things are best discussed with an open mind. Even if we do not agree about all things in Scripture, we can still display the love of Christ to each other (1 Corinthians 16:14).
Having the right mindset means that, even on more important items like the nature of God, we can be distinct but not exclusive. For example, our General Conference Statement of Faith says “God is revealed in Scripture as Father and Son” and that “The Spirit is God’s presence and power. . . .”3 If someone believes that God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can still love that person, worship with him, and minister with him. Or if a person believes that God is revealed as the Father, that Jesus is His Son, and that the Spirit is the presence of the Father, we can easily love, worship, and minister with that person as well.
Expand your vision
Gaining the right mindset toward others outside our group prepares us to reach even further beyond the holy huddle. Jesus Christ challenges us to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Note the progression. Witness begins at home as we serve our communities and share Christ there. It extends to the district surrounding and then goes national and international.
When you break out of your holy huddle, you find a new range of people to worship and minister with. They are from other churches within your denomination, from independent churches of God, and in other denominations. I challenge you to expand your vision.
Get out of the box
With an expanded vision for God’s kingdom, we can think of new and unique ways to spread the good news — another way of breaking free of the holy huddle.
Start with a goal. Are you trying to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you nurturing spiritual growth in all believers? Perhaps your church wants to get others involved in evangelism and include other churches in leadership training. Perhaps you enjoy a forum exchange with other Christians about biblical topics or can conduct a gracious public debate about the Sabbath. The point is, you are thinking of ways to get out of your box, and Christians are engaging the whole body of Christ for the sake of the gospel.
Work in progress
I’ve come a long way since those early days of thinking myself better than other Christians just because of what I believed. I thank God for His grace and mercy that broadened my vision and enlarged my heart — for His sake and the kingdom’s.BA
- “Church Growth Pathology,” http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/diseases.pdf, accessed July 1, 2015.
- “A common quotation from ‘Augustine’?,” http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/augustine/quote.html, accessed July 1, 2015.
- “What We Believe,” cog7.org/about-us/what-we-believe/, accessed July 1, 2015.
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- Avoiding Holy Huddles - September 3, 2015