Denominations, congregations and individuals sometimes can find themselves out of balance in regard to the wholeness of Christian life. Bringing that balance back into play is the result of properly interconnecting three components of faith: thinking it, praying it and living it.
That was the topic of discussion headed by the Rev. Dr. Philip Butin, co-pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, Ark., during a PCUSA Big Tent session at the Galt House in Louisville, Ky., on Aug. 2.
In discussing balance and wholeness in Christian life, Butin asked participants to determine ways that denominations, congregations and individuals get out of sorts at times.
Denominationally, polity, theology and institutionalism were top reasons for losing balance, while a fear to offend, limited ministry to the material world and striking a balance between ministry and business were cited for congregational imbalance. Personal and work-related issues were given as reasons for a lack of balance by individuals.
Butin maintained that the triad for wholeness should focus on thinking, praying and living the faith.
“They are woven together and need to overlap to create balance and wholeness in Christian life,” he said. “We must work more to incorporate them in our faith, weaving them together.”
Development of such a triad of wholeness comes from Scripture, the church’s catechetical tradition, the ebb and flow of church history (tendencies and movements) and the felt need for balance/wholeness as Christians in this time.
Butin cited Deuteronomy 7:6-11, emphasizing the ninth verse of “knowing God, loving God and serving God,” as a parallel to thinking, praying and living the faith. He further intertwined thinking, praying and living the faith through the works of Paul (Galatians 3:25, 2 Timothy 1:13), John (John 14:21) and James (James 2:18) in the New Testament.
In looking at the catechetical tradition of the church, Butin alluded to the Apostles’ Creed for thinking the faith; the Lord’s Prayer as an element to praying the faith; and the Ten Commandments for living the faith to develop the triad of wholeness.
“Functions of the church need to involve all three,” Butin said. “Evangelism is best when it involves them all. You can’t seek a separate trinity in works.”
As a matter of clarification, Butin and session participants collaborated to determine that Bible study, Sunday school and focusing on the mission of the church satisfy the thinking aspect of the triad of wholeness, while praying, worship, liturgy and music are part of praying the faith. Living the faith would encompass such concepts as discipleship, serving others, loving neighbors and working for social justice.
He noted that the Ten Commandments actually cross two areas of faith, observing that the first four spoken by God to Moses in Exodus (20:1-17) regard praying, while the final six are about living.
In a paper published as “Doctrine, Worship and Ethics: Keeping the Church in Dynamic Balance,” Butin suggests that all three aspects are essential for the church or one of its particular denominational traditions to express the fullness of what it means to be Christian. To effectively move forward, it must guard against the neglect or over-emphasis of one particular area in regard to the other two.
“But balance is not the ‘end’ for the church. Instead it is a means toward the dynamic fulfillment of God’s call,” Butin writes. “Occasionally, if a crucial element of the church’s life has been neglected, groups which seem for Biblical reasons to be committed to either doctrine, or worship, or ethics in an extreme and unbalanced way will need to be heard if that element is to be restored to its proper place. When genuine listening takes place on all sides, the church will be able to continue to move constructively forward in that holistic and dynamic balance of belief, piety and action that God intends.”