One of the most famous quotes attributed to President John F. Kennedy is the proverb, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  He originally used these words to defend expenditures for the construction of a large dam that others attacked as a pork barrel project favoring a few rich investors.  Since then, the saying  has been repeated often to defend government policies that may seem inequitable in the short run but  over the long term benefit everybody through improved overall economic health.It occurred to me that there might be a spiritual analogy in what is happening among churches today.  Several trends have been noticeable for some time.  First, so-called “mainline” denominations (Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregational) have been losing membership and attendance.  Non-denominational mega-churches, sometimes with several satellite campuses, have emerged in every large urban area.  New models of Pentecostalism have also been growing.  A phenomenon that has become a fad in recent years is the proliferation  of “new church plants.”  Starting a new church used to be the last resort of a group who have lost confidence in their current fellowship; now it seems to be the first resort in some circles.  Meanwhile, across the way, Pope Francis is taking some rather radical steps to revive Roman Catholic churches worldwide.

Of course, I have problems with all these spiritual  movements and can give a logically consistent critique of where they’re wrong and why they’ll fail.  As a 78-year-old veteran who has observed many spiritual movements, splits and struggles, I feel entitled to my cynicism.  But then I think of Kennedy’s maxim, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  I realize that these various expressions of the church are not necessarily competitors and challenges to what we’re doing at ABC.  Maybe we’re all rising together on the same tide of the Holy Spirit’s renewing work in our day.

The Apostle Paul felt helpless in his prison cell as he heard reports from visiting friends about changes that were taking place in the churches he had established during his missionary days.  New leaders had emerged, with new and different ideas.  Some of their teachings seemed questionable, even dangerous.  He wrote about his concerns in his letter to the believers in the Church at Philippi:

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and  without fear. Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These  proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every   way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to  rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will  turn out for my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame n any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in  my body, whether by life or by death.  (Philippians 1:12-20)

What amazing faith, optimism and graciousness!  Paul truly believed that the preaching of the gospel was a “rising tide” that would “lift all boats,” even ones which were insincere or powered by envy, and even the boat of his own body if he were to die as a martyr.

— Pastor George Van Alstine