On a Sunday evening in April 1989, I walked into the Seventh Day Adventist Church for a worship service at a new church plant called Redeemer. I had graduated from Columbia a year earlier and was in my first year of a new job and living on the Upper East Side. I was bouncing around different churches at the time when a friend from graduate school told me about this new church that was starting up so I thought I would give it a try. The rest, as they say, is history.
As we celebrate 25 years of what God has done in and through Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I find it impossible to separate Redeemer’s story from my own. I have been asked many times what it was like in the early days and why I am still so connected to the community. My answers to those questions are less nostalgic than they are strategic, as I see lots of parallels between those early days and our current model.
For example, in this year of Public Faith, I am reminded of one of the reasons I found Redeemer so compelling in the early days. To put it simply — it was a safe place to doubt! Growing up in the church and the culture of Christianity, like I did, often leads very little room to question your beliefs. But knowing and following Jesus is a journey that often reflects a father’s answer to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). To be a Christian is to live on a continuum of assurance and doubt, and therefore I am grateful that one of the values of our community is to embrace the doubter in each of us.
How does this inform our current situation? While there are challenges living in an increasingly ‘post-Christian’ world, I see great opportunities as we begin the next chapter of our history. Charles Taylor, in his book “A Secular Age,” notes how both Christians and secularists are ‘haunted’ by the faith of the other. Secularists, absent a vocabulary that explains so much of the world around them, are haunted by the transcendence of a God who created them and gives purpose and meaning to their lives. Christians on the other hand are haunted by what Flannery O’Connor called the ‘conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of our times.’
Why is this an opportunity? From the earliest days Redeemer has intentionally acknowledged and wrestled with the conflict O’Connor describes. It has therefore developed a vocabulary and culture of faith that helps both those who grew up in the church, as well as those who have long since written God off as irrelevant. As we look ahead to the next 25 years of being public with our faith, my hope is that we will continue to be a community that is honest about our own doubts, and patiently introduces our friends to the gospel of Jesus Christ.