In a rather embellished story two of the first Moravian missionaries on their way to live among and preach the gospel to the slaves of St. Thomas Island, cried out to those watching their ship leave, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!" The two missionaries and those who followed left vibrant churches in their wake. The desire to reach peoples, cities and nations for Christ is the Church’s story and history. It was and is often the story of men and women dying to natural human desires as they bring the word of God and the message of redemption. But sometimes, too often, Christians have melded their own lifestyles into a witness that becomes no more than cultural accommodation. A witness that fails to lift up the living, dying, resurrected Lord.I have already written about two of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Mercy Junction and Kindred Spirits Retreats. Both of those communities are involved in cultural accommodation, one by actions which infer that Jesus is not the only way to a relationship with God, the other by lifting up unbiblical sexuality and self-awareness as true spirituality.
The Presbytery of East Tennessee is responsible for Mercy Junction, and they are now considering another community, First Creek, which will be birthed with the same spiritual outlook. This one will be in Knoxville. As teaching elder Kally Elliott, who will lead this community, states:
“At first glance downtown Knoxville seems saturated by churches. There are several large mainline churches, including First Presbyterian Church. There are also many new church developments meeting in various places such as Cafe 4, The Bijou Theater, Remedy Coffee, and the Convention Center. All of these churches are doing good work and serving a need in the community. However, there are more needs not being met. Most of the churches in downtown Knoxville have a specific identity and/or theology. The mainline churches usually center around a traditional worship service and way of doing/being Church. While their worship styles vary, the new church developments in downtown tend to be more conservative and evangelistic in their theology.”
Elliott goes further,
“There is a need to serve those in downtown (and other parts of Knoxville) who have ties to the traditional mainline church (i.e. were raised in the mainline church or have experience with the worship style) but who yearn for more connection, conversation, and authenticity during meeting times. This is not to say that worship or other activities in the mainline Church do not breed authenticity and connection, however, we need to be open to trying new things to reach more people. There is also a need to serve those who, while they enjoy the openness, creativity and informality of some of the new church developments, might find their theology too conservative and desire something more progressive.”
So the intention of this particular call for a new worshiping community is not that the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus can be made known to those who are without the hope of the good news, but that those who are unsatisfied with any of the existing churches, including the Presbyterian ones, can find a more progressive theology in the midst of a new kind of community.
And then there is the confession that not only are there diverse shops, artistic attractions and diverse people in downtown Knoxville, it is also Elliott’s home, her place of familiarity. It is also the place of familiarity of those members of the team working to build the new community. Kally writes:
“We have lived in Knoxville for many years and find ourselves working and hanging out in downtown over any other place in Knoxville. Downtown Knoxville is our community. It is the natural place we would plant a church because we already feel at home here. We know the place and the people. To plant a church somewhere else in Knoxville would feel inauthentic to us. We care about downtown Knoxville and want to see the community grow and flourish.” (Italics mine)
While there is a great deal of good in loving your place, in caring about neighbors and neighborhoods, in attending worship in your neighborhood, none of Elliott’s reasons for a ‘new’ worshiping community have the authentic, (if I may use that word), ring of a biblical call. Elliott and her team want to introduce people who are similar to them to a Jesus who bears their image. Missing is the longing to introduce the people of downtown Knoxville to the one who loved them enough to tent in their neighborhood, walk among them and shed his blood for their salvation. The heavy cost of grace, to paraphrase Bonhoeffer, is missing.
The community will:
1. Provide progressive answers to theological questions about faith.
2. Be a part of the atmosphere of a postmodern community with coffee shops, cafes, artistic venues, farmer’s markets, etc.
3. Plant a garden, clean a creek, offer theological conversations with dinners, and eventually offer various forms of liturgy.
4. The people who are part of the community will create the liturgy.
5. Help the homeless.
An inoffensive Presbyterianism meets in these communities. The Reformed faith will shape First creek, so states the proposal, and yet it will be changed by the community so states the proposal. The Reformed faith is needed for the Southside of Chattanooga, says the proposal for Mercy Junction, because they, the authors, are “proud of our Reformed heritage that reminds us that to know God, we must first know ourselves.” The proposal also points to “faith in mercy, justice and relationship with our Creator …” And even Presbyterian “discipline and structured accountability” of the tradition is lifted up. And, of course. Presbyterian polity.
But what of faith in mercy and justice? Poor cheated sinners, where is Jesus who gives mercy because of his cross. Where is Jesus who procures justice by way of his cross? Know ourselves? In Christ we are known and loved by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us. (Eph. 1:7)"
 This sentence has all of the earmarks of what is called sheep stealing. That is not the proper kind of new church building.
 I am thinking here of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
 The proposal states: “- All will be invited to participate in worship. Each week those from the community will be equipped and encouraged to help write the liturgy. They will also be encouraged to share their gifts during worship. The liturgy will be set out and as people enter for worship if someone wants to help lead worship he or she can take the piece of the liturgy he or she would like to lead. Worship will be messy. It will not be polished but will be authentic to the people gathered.” Given the push for progressive theology and the lack of care about biblical Christianity, some in the PET are concerned that the sacramental part of worship will fail to uphold not only the reformed faith but Christianity itself.