I think the challenge in answering a question such as this are the layers of preconceived assumptions that lie underneath it. It may not sound all that intimidating but it is a challenge to give a sufficient response, at least to satisfy most of those who ask this question. You see, if the answer to this question addresses some points of difference and not those underlying assumptions, it will still remain unanswered. What do I mean?
Well, at the risk of sounding a little philosophical, let me examine the question itself for a moment. This question can be a direct one or an indirect one. If the intent of the questioner is to simply know the characteristics that make us different from any of the other local churches in the city, the answer seems pretty straight forward. But, on the other hand, the question may arise from a more fundamental discomfort, a distaste, in seeing a new church planted amidst a sea of existing churches, especially in the case where the questioner himself is a devoted church member of one of these other existing churches. In other words, the question that is really being asked is, “Why did you plant a church when you could have joined mine? What makes your church special?” Now, do you see the dilemma.
Let us address them separately.
THE SIMPLE RESPONSE
So, if the question is a direct one, where no underlying assumptions are being made on the part of the questioner, then my answer to that question will be equally direct and simple. I would begin to discuss on our positions relating to theology, church polity, soteriology, evangelism, discipleship, membership and so on. These discussions often seem to progress well and the questioner is able to see either sufficient differences we have with another church or conclusive evidences of God’s leading, inspite of similarities, that led to the planting of this church.
Now, on a side note, I always try to avoid making a gross generalisation of ‘most churches’ because it is not helpful. For even within such a generalised category, churches differ from each other on many issues. Therefore, in these discussions, if you were to ask me how we differ from a particular church, I could maybe give you actual points of difference, if there are any.
To add to that, if anyone were to go through our ‘Affirmation of Faith’ statement, a lot of the key positions we hold as a church can be clearly understood.
THE COMPLICATED RESPONSE
Now, to the more difficult ‘indirect question’. What makes this question rather difficult to answer is that the ‘Affirmation of Faith’ or any other statement would merely scratch the surface and will not satisfy the questioner. He will, ever so often, filter it all in the light of his preconceived assumptions. A common preconception in this regard among Christians I’ve met is that they believe that a new independent church plant is primarily a sign of rebellion. This is often how their thought process would go:
I am part of a church for quite a few years now and I am really happy where I am. Then, here comes along a new group of people who decide to start a new church when they could have simply joined mine. (As it often seems to happen) Now some in my church, have begun showing interest in moving to this new church. Does this mean they are better, that they know better. Since I find nothing wrong in where I am, then that must mean that these people disagree with where I am and what I believe. Then, I guess that makes them lesser and not better.
You see what I mean. Following this train of thought, if someone asks me, “How is your church different from mine?”, what they really want to know is, “What makes your church any better than mine?”. The possibility of this kind of misunderstanding is reason enough for me to proceed with caution when answering this question.
“Why? When you could have picked a needle from this stack of needles, why make your own? Is this a sign of rebellion? unwillingness to submit? pride? arrogance? immaturity or youthful folly?” Well, I must first admit that it is true that there are those who start churches for reasons such as these, but I can confidently say that such is not the case with Redemption Hill. Here, on the contrary, I would go so far as to suggest sinfulness on the part of many who question our existence in this manner, not because of the question itself, but because of the judgment behind the question that asserts that if we are a new church, it must be because of such foolish reasons. The sinfulness is on the part of the questioner if he preconceives for himself that all this is pure folly, instead of giving his fellow Christians the benefit of the doubt and engaging them in healthy enquiry and discussion and maybe even debate. Such judgments, without an honest interaction to understand the real reasons, is, without a doubt in my mind, baseless and thereby sinful.
So, how do I answer this question? Firstly, it is very important for us to understand that different does not automatically mean better. It may, but it does not by default. This means that if you were to look at why we are different from your church, every single point of difference is not meant to communicate that we are better than your church in that matter. We may simply be different and those differences may help us function better as a church. In these comparisons, I would argue that ‘better’ is the wrong word. The right word would be ‘healthier’. ‘Better’ is like a knife that stabs our ego and leaves us bleeding anger. Whereas, ’healthier’ conveys something a lot more honest. ‘Better’ often leads to a biased unhealthy confrontation and on the other hand, ‘healthier’ has an unbiased objective view of the situation and it leads to healthy discussions. It’s quite simple, actually. If you see someone better than you, you tend to feel inferior. Your ego is easily hurt. You may be motivated to be better, but often for the wrong reasons. Whereas, if you see someone healthier than you, it inspires you. You may approach them to find out what they do to be healthy and you may even follow suit. Therefore, we, at Redemption Hill, encourage our members not to look upon other churches as being lesser, but to be wise in realising that we can be healthier in several aspects if we are intentionally pursuing them as we see it in the Bible, even though they be different from the practices or views of other churches.
THIS IS AN INTER-CHURCH DISCUSSION
John Piper, in a panel discussion at T4G, said that he defines preaching in a way that it can’t be bad. He points out that if preaching is done bad, then it isn’t true preaching. I’d apply the very same standpoint to the local church as well. If a local church is bad, then it simply isn’t a church. Now, I know that no church is perfect. Surely the Corinthian church was far from perfect. Yet, Paul persuades them to change their wicked ways and purge the evil one from among them. Listen to what he says in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11;
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
In other words, we were once bad, “such were some of [us]”, but in Christ we are new creations. The old has passed away and the new has come. And if the local church is the gathering of such sanctified men and woman, then it simply cannot be bad. But let me tell you what it can be. It can be unhealthy. Like we see in the Corinthian church, it can be very unhealthy. A church is not a gathering of the perfect. It is the gathering of those being perfected. So, when I say that a church cannot be bad, I do not mean that sin is absent. I mean that the church, as a gathering of believers, cannot exist in contradiction to the work of Christ. A church which denies the deity of Christ is not just bad, it isn’t a church. A church which denies the cross is not a church. A church which compromises on the inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture, that supports the mass murder of planned parenthood, that compromises on its stand against homosexuality, that exalts man made traditions above the truth of scripture, that is drowned in the health, wealth and prosperity gospel – no such community can be called a church.
Why am I saying all this? Well, because the topic of our discussion does not apply to such a community. If you are part of a community that has been founded upon the word of God, believing the true gospel it proclaims, then the existence of Redemption Hill need not disturb you. We may rather shake hands and observe and discuss the healthy aspects of our local churches and rejoice, all the while perceiving the unhealthy aspects of our local churches as well and by encouraging and learning from one another, grow faithfully as healthy congregations. But, if you are part of a community that denies the fundamental truths that form the Christian faith as prescribed in the Bible, then, by all means, the existence of Redemption Hill church is a shout of rebellion. It is a loving cry against such beliefs, in hope that Christ would so shine His light in our lives and draw men and woman from the trap of such communities to the true gospel of Jesus Christ that we faithfully proclaim.
So to conclude, if you are part of a church, then the existence of Redemption Hill isn’t a claim to be better. It is primarily a decision taken in obedience to God who is leading us, and it is a consistent striving to be healthy. Hence, we may differ with your church in certain aspects and be united in other aspects, but we are on the same journey as you are, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:14). We can even agree to disagree on these points. However, if you are part of a bad church, which isn’t really a church (as I reasoned above), then we are different from your community as day and night.