Monday, August 24, 2015

Providence Church and The Bible

Our church began 22 years ago because Knoxville needed a church that was committed to the Bible AND committed to engaging the culture. That was it! That’s what Lance Robinson and I discussed in the early 90s while we were attending Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. In fact, our friendship began a few years earlier because we attended a college with religion professors who taught that the Bible had errors. This was shocking to us! Struggling against the indoctrination of these professors caused us to search out the truth regarding the Bible's claims. Was it really reliable? We both came to the conclusion that it was. Thankfully, seminary was a different kind of experience. We had professors who had a high regard for the Scriptures. Lance graduated before I did and had the courage to risk everything to start a church with that two-fold dream (I, on the other hand, briefly pastored two established churches before taking the risk). It's important to understand that Providence began before church planting was cool! Lance was able to gather together a small group committed to the idea and a support church, and through a providential series of events (pun intended), the church had to launch out on its own, really before it was ready. Three years in, when the church was a little larger (about 25 adults) I came (not the best career move) because of that original vision. I wanted to be a part of a church committed to the Bible AND engaging the culture to make disciples of people who are not yet Christians. I believed a church like that could change the world. I still do.
A young Lance & Chad
circa 1999. 

After a sluggish start, Providence shifted strategy to do both better. We all-but-abandoned the popular “topical” or “felt needs” style teaching to go verse-by-verse through whole books of the Bible. We also stopped advertising on Christian radio and made other changes (dropped denominational affiliation, changed music, dress, language, etc.) in order to form the culture of the church to truly reach those who had never been in church. This is harder than you might think! Churched people are generally better givers and aren't as messy! This, too, was a risk. There were times when we had to say "goodbye" to people who wanted us to cater to the churched. 

You may be asking, "Aren't there a lot of churches that do both of these things (high regard for the Bible AND engage the culture to reach unbelievers)?" Unfortunately, not as many as you might think. There is always a strong gravitational pull to move toward one or the other. There are many churches (at least, in Knoxville) that are strong on Scripture. Most struggle to have a culture-engaging culture. There are also those who are culturally engaging. But many of these tend to compromise regarding doctrine and strong Bible teaching. There are some besides us who do both, of course. But not enough! And there were even fewer then!
By insisting on both and making these adjustments early on (and because of God's grace), we grew, and through a providential set of circumstances (yes, pun), when we moved into our current building in 2002, we suddenly grew from 180 to 500 people. This was alarming! We were worried that we were becoming a "the place to be" kind of church where people came for perhaps the wrong reasons. So the elders spent about 6 months to determine our Core Values. As we prayed and discussed, the conviction that the Bible is our absolute authority was most obviously our primary value. All our doctrines come from the Bible, our mission, our discipleship process, our teaching strategy, and the rest of our values spring from this. There was an elder that disagreed, who ended up leaving Providence. This was difficult, but looking back it was a formative test of our commitment to God's Word. We presented these Core Values to the congregation, which unanimously approved them.

In 2010 the Elders carefully considered and revised our statement of belief on the Bible. The church voted unanimously on this: The Bible, comprised of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is God’s very Word to us. It was written by human authors under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is the supreme source of truth and authority for Christian beliefs and living. Because it is inspired by God, it is inerrant in the original writings and is the infallible truth in all matters it touches. The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.

There’s a lot there. And it’s going to take us 7 weeks to unpack it and more!

No comments: