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When tensions bring possibility

Feeling the pull is a valuable part of our identity as Christ-followers

by Adam Forry

Relying on God: We confess our dependence on God for everything and seek to deepen our intimacy with Him by living prayerfully.

Tensions are an expected part of family life. One person likes hiking, another reading, another cooking. More fundamentally, hopes for the future can differ from person to person. My sense is that when we encounter friction between ideas, we typically regard it as a problem. However, what if we began to look at tensions in a different way—not as harmful or threatening but as good and beneficial, as signs of health?

As I reflect on the history and values of the Brethren in Christ Church, tensions abound. Since our earliest days, we’ve encountered dynamic interactions between the theological streams that shape our community. Anabaptist convictions about outward obedience differ from Pietist principles of inner devotion. The “in-the-world” engagement of Evangelicalism is stretched by the “not-of-the-world” separateness of Wesleyan holiness. Yet if any of these theological tensions was completely resolved, we would lose a part of our unique heritage. As I’m discovering, tensions are crucial elements of our identity as Brethren in Christ and, even more, opportunities to express our trust in Christ.

I’m challenged by a talk I heard from pastor and author Andy Stanley, who discussed the difference between a problem and a tension. A problem, he said, you seek to solve; a tension, you seek to manage. Indeed, if you try to fix a tension, you’ll likely create a new one, or even move into the realm of problem!

Of course, tensions are not mere abstractions; they’re practical issues in church life. At Speedwell Heights BIC, I wrestle regularly with the conflict that can arise between embracing BIC values and practicing hospitality. I am committed to seeing BIC convictions sustained and promoted in our church. At the same time, I’m devoted to keeping our welcome wide to whomever is within our reach. Yet how do I welcome people in without having them stumble over a doctrinal particularity they don’t share or understand the minute they come through the door?

And that is only one of many questions emerging from the doctrine/hospitality tension. Is there a point at which we must tell potential new members that they are too far out of step with our Core Values to be part of the family? On the other hand, if we welcome anybody and everybody, do we risk losing the uniqueness that makes us who we are? And for that matter, we might consider whether or not there even can be a singular understanding of what it means to be BIC.

I don’t have firm answers to these questions, and I’m sure that at times I manage the tension poorly. But I’m committed to living with God in the uncertainty. As I do that, I’m learning that although tension is frequently uncomfortable, it is also formational. It’s in the stretching and stressing that muscles grow strong. It’s in the wrestling that we more fully realize who we are in Christ. It’s the process of working out our faith that drives us repeatedly to God in united prayer and humble reliance—to embrace one another as family even amidst the tension. And it would be a problem if it were any other way.

This article is adapted, with permission, from “Journeying down the Brethren in Christ Streams” in the winter 2013 issue of Shalom! A Journal for the Practice of Reconciliation.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2013 issue of In Part magazine.
Adam Forry

Adam Forry is a husband (to Kimberly), a dad (to Cassie and Trace), a pastor (of Speedwell Heights BIC in Lititz, Pa.), a reader, and a runner. He sometimes feels the tension between these roles, but so far he’s managing fairly well.

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