At certain moments, most often in their worship and acts of mission, congregations intensify their own search for the meaning of their corporate lives. It is in these events, which often seem to be parenthetical moments in church life, that the local church represents its participation not only in its own story but also in that of God.
There are four approaches from which one examines a potential dwelling: contextual, mechanical, organic, and symbolic. To consider seriously the capacities of either houses or local churches, in other words, is to view them as textures, mechanisms, organisms, and means of signification. While all four perspectives are in play in any single instance of inquiry, one of the four generally dominates.
The basic ground of democracy is the Christian conception of man as a child of God in the innate worth and dignity of every human creature, regardless of race, color, nation, economic status, language, creed, culture, or any other man-made line of cleavage. This is the chief meeting point of the Church with men of good will outside its ranks.
The idiom is primarily conveyed in story form, as the parish apprehends its corporate experience and as its members communicate their common life and draw resources from the narrative structures of the world. Telling such a story enables a congregation to comprehend its nature and mission.
If the conservative churches are producing more personal religious vitality than the others perhaps the primary factors are: 1. The church going habit is earlier and more persistently associated with religion. 2. The emotional part of worship is more vivid and dramatic. 3. Greater demands are made on church members. 4. Concrete instruction in Christian doctrine is given. 5. In some matters, greater emphasis is put on the essential heart of the Christian gospel.
Setting is a group’s cosmic construction that accounts for crises. This working picture of reality often goes unexpressed until challenged. Then, in that tension, the plot thickens, and world view as story is related, binding even in the light of its contradiction the self to the Other, the finite frame to the world’s outcome.
The minister’s theology in preaching must be brought to bear at every point on the human situation: on prayer; on the problem of evil; on sin and repentance; on the fact of death.
World views reflect and give a focus to group experience, providing a map within which words and actions make sense.
The vitality of the church upon the world is in the hands of the laymen. Their economic and political life must be guided primarily by the Christian gospel; the Christian faith must be communicated to them in language they can understand. Each layman must do something about this himself perhaps through channels of fellowship, study, action, prayer, and personal witness.
The three great doctrines of Christian faith are examined: Creation — The most elemental meeting place of the Christian with the secular mind is at the point of the doctrine of creation. Judgment — At the point of doctrine of divine judgment the modern mind finds both easy corroboration and an almost insurmountable stumbling block. Redemption and the Kingdom — The Christian doctrine of redemption, like the closely related concept of the Kingdom of God, is viewed in several polar relations, in which the omission of either aspect of a fundamental duality introduces distortion.