What is Progressive Christianity?
The United Church of Christ
We are a Christian church, born out of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Our religious ancestors include New England Congregationalists and German Reformed Congregations of the middle-Atlantic states. Along with other reformed Protestant churches, we believe in the “priesthood of all believers.” This belief means that all of us are ministers of the Gospel, not just the ordained clergy. As a result, all can be in relationship directly with God through worship, study, prayer, and service of others. An intermediator between God and the people (a Pope, Bishop or Priest) is not necessary.
Our ancestor churches merged in 1957 to become the United Church of Christ – a national denomination known for its dedication to social justice, human rights, and eco-justice. We see ourselves as a church of “firsts”: the first mainline church to ordain a woman (1853), the first church to ordain an openly gay man (1972), the first church to post bail for an African American pastor arrested for a non-violent civil rights demonstration (1973); the first church to elect an African American president of a racially integrated mainline denomination (1976); the first to publish a hymnal that honors in equal measure both male and female images of God (1995); the first to call for marriage equality for the LBGTQ community (2005).
These “firsts” reveal that our congregation values and nurtures the leadership of women at all levels of church life. We celebrate the diversity of cultures, races, religions and ethnicities. We welcome those who may be handicapped or with special needs. The LBGTQ community is embraced and loved, and their ministries are lifted up as gifts to our church and our world.
Our Beliefs Are Deeply Rooted
We believe in the Trinity: God the Creator, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. We believe that Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” is foundational.
We are more comfortable acting on our faith than talking about it.
Saint Francis of Assisi’s wisdom: “preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words” resonates deeply. We believe that Christian faith is a journey, not a destination. We think of ourselves as “work in progress” Christians.
We believe that God’s will and way were revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. We believe that the historical Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi carpenter who lived in ancient Palestine, became the Christ as his followers encountered him in their midst after his earthly death. The Holy Spirit awakened them to the power of Jesus’ presence in their midst. Jesus came alive when they trusted that his love, guidance, support, comfort and challenge remained with them even though his physical body did not. Jesus' life, death and resurrection, provide the inspiration and challenge for us to live as followers of Jesus today.
We Are Always Reforming
A phrase that points to our identity is that “we are a reformed and reforming” church. There is a dynamic aspect of our faith and practice. We believe that God calls us in each generation to use our minds, our hearts and our spirits to keep the Christian faith alive and relevant. Ancient traditions and practices shape who we are but they do not define who we are. God continues to shape us as the world changes.
Our “reformed and reforming” character was pioneered by Jesus himself. As one who was raised in the Jewish faith, he knew well the Law and Prophets. His purpose was not to start a new religious tradition. His purpose and call was to bring the faith of his people back to life: to make the reign of God a present reality. The Gospel tells that Jesus “came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." In fulfilling it, he established a new covenant, a new pathway to aliveness in God. The covenant through Jesus expanded God’s beloved community beyond the boundaries of Judaism.
What is Progressive Christianity?
In keeping with our “reformed and reforming” identity, we have embraced a movement that began in 2006 called Progressive Christianity. The movement was a part of a larger movement called “the emerging church.” At the heart of these movements was the desire to articulate a way of being Christian that was an alternative to the Christian faith portrayed in the public realm. The leaders of Progressive Christianity had grown weary of defining their Christian faith in negative terms: “We aren’t fundamentalists. We don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant or infallible word of God. We don’t agree that Creationism should replace the science of evolution in public schools. We don’t believe that God hates gays. We don’t believe that people of other faiths are going to hell unless they convert to Christianity. We don’t deny the right of women to choose what happens to their bodies.”
Our Progressive Beliefs
1. The Christian faith is founded on three primary calls we see through Jesus;
To love God, to love our neighbor, and to love ourselves.
2. The Christian faith is our way of being faithful to God. But it is not the only way.
Christianity is the truth for us. But it is not the only truth.
This principle stems from the reality of the 21st century. We share our lives with people who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist. We experience these people as loving and caring by following their religious traditions. To deny that is to deny that God can only draw people with one way. That simply isn’t born out in our experience.
The power of the Christian faith to transform lives does not require it to be exclusively true. Exclusivity is born out of fear. The fear that there is one train to God and if you aren’t on the right train, you’ll go to hell. We believe there are many trains and God welcomes them all.
3. Love of God involves all aspects of life, not just human life.
Care of the Earth and its eco-systems is an expression of Christian faith and stewardship.
This principle stems from our ever-widening understanding of climate change and influence our “carbon footprint” has on the quality of the air, water and soil. Science and religious faith are friends – each informs the other. Wisdom and insight from both are essential for Christian faith.
4. Love of Neighbor means extending kindness and care...
To those in our family and in our local and global communities.
Further, love of neighbor includes affirmation of the LBGTQ community, immigrants, people of other faith traditions and even those who are enemies.
5. Love of self means engaging in spiritual disciplines
Worship, prayer, music, study of the Bible and other literature feeds the mind, heart and spirit.
Love of self also includes giving time for rest, recreation, nurturing friendship, a healthy diet and physical exercise. Love of self requires humility and humor.
For a fuller expression of Progressive Christianity, see The Phoenix Affirmations,
Come and See
If our beliefs align with yours, or meet a place deep within you that whispers, “This sounds like the place I’ve been looking and praying for," we’d love to show you that Bethel really is a community that embodies our motto:
“No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here. Never place a period, where God has placed a comma. God is still speaking.”
To see progressive Christianity in action, visit us any Sunday morning at 10:00 AM or just head over to our blog and learn all about our activities and events.