McSwain’s recommendations 5 and 6 in his prescription for the church, may seem to offer a slightly unnecessary caution in the Church context with which some of us are most familiar.

5. Stop using the Bible and worship to mask prejudice or promote a political agenda.

I do not hear this happening a lot. The pulpits with which I am most familiar are seldom used to bully people into complying with an overt political agenda.

But the caution is well taken. When the message of the church is captured by any “prejudice” or “political agenda”, no matter from the right or the left, the church risks losing its central purpose for existence.

McSwain cautions against allowing the church to become captured by any social agenda and points the way back to the first task of church.

…people come to church to worship… to experience God. They do not need someone telling them how “real” Christians should vote. It’s not only demeaning… To adorn one’s prejudice in pious platitudes is not only disingenuous, it is just plain dishonest.

There is no doubt that “worship” and an “experience of God” have political and social ramifications. But, for the most part we need to leave people free to work these implications out within the unique context in which they find themselves. The church’s task is to call people back again and again to an awareness of and reverence for that hidden secret dimension of existence in which the mystery of love and light is deeply honoured. Everything else flows from this deep inner awareness of God’s presence and action in all of life.

The situations in which most people have to live out their reverence for this invisible dimension of life are so intricate and complex that no preacher or church could ever effectively dictate what it might look like for any person in their particular situation.

The church will move forward when we in the church  are willing to respect the work of God’s Spirit in all peoples’ lives trusting that those who join us for worship will indeed live out the implications of that worship with sincerity and truth in their particular life-situation.

6. End the war on science, biology and psychology.

Perhaps this happens where Mr. McSwain lives; it is not part of my experience. On the contrary, where I live, we are much more likely to so revere “science, biology and psychology” to such an extent that we extend to them an unquestioning faith that may not be much more healthy than joining a “war on science, biology and psychology”.

But, McSwain does make an important point here.

I will be so glad when people in the Church stop saying the universe is under 10,000 years old and that Genesis is a scientific textbook. Neither is true and telling people of faith they must believe such things only discredits Christianity. It undermines genuine faith, too. No person should be expected “to believe what they know ain’t so,” as Mark Twain put it.

We are never well served in the church when we demand that people sign on to any formulation of faith or vision of the world that they do not sincerely hold in their hearts. If the church is going to move forward it will only be as we genuinely extend to all people the integrity of their own beliefs and trust that they are following faithfully where the truth they have perceived is leading.

This leads directly to McSwain’s point number 7.

7. Be who you are and stop pretending to be who you are not.

In a world that seems often to be dominated by image and spin, people crave authenticity and genuineness. If the church is going to move forward we must stop being dishonest…. about anything.

We must not pretend to know more than we actually know, affirming a certainty that we know in our hearts we lack. We must look deeply into our own hearts ask ourselves what is genuinely true for me. We must learn to speak and live from the depths of our own authentic experience. We must resist the temptation to adopt programs or strategies just because they appear to have been “successful” in other places. We must learn to live from our own experience speaking from a place within that is honest and authentic.

The church will only find its way forward when we commit ourselves to deep authenticity.