The difference between progressive and conservative churches?

I’ve been trying to come up with a framework for easily defining the difference between progressive and conservative churches.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Progressive churches seek to empower their members to action through the redeeming message of God’s love and purpose for them.  Conservative churches on the other hand teach their members to obey God via the doctrine that emanates from the pulpit.

Put simply, one says, “you are a child of God.  Go forth loving God and serving others!” and the other says “Obey the Lord!  Adhere to the rules of this church and find others who will do the same.”

Two very different underlying theologies that have vastly different spiritual, social, and political implications.

Posted in Faith. 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “The difference between progressive and conservative churches?”

  1. Frenchy Says:

    It seems to me that you’re just equating “conservative” == “legalistic”. Generally speaking, I think conservativism would resist change or embrace it more slowly while progressivism would tend to advocate more aggressive change or reform. The message of Christ from day zero has always been to empower his followers through the redeeming message of God’s love; conservative churches may tend to interpret that more in line with past understanding, while progressive churches might tend to more readily accept novel understandings of what that means. Or were you just looking for a framework that made “progressive” positive and “conservative” negative?

  2. Tom Hoberg Says:


    First off, welcome! Thanks for commenting.
    I think you are correct in terms of how progressive and conservative churches interpret their call to spread the Good News. The paradigm that I was trying to get at above essentially boils down to “empowerment” verses “conformity.” Here are my preconceived notions about why this

    Some churches:

    do not exclude individuals from full participation in worship and church leadership based on gender, race or sexual orientation. Rather, all of the above are invited to participate equally, at all levels. (empowerment)

    exclude women from church leadership positions, and/or exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from membership or church leadership. (conformity)

    regard peace and justice work as a call from God, in order to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. These works are usually not contingent upon church participation or conversion. (empowerment)

    consider their primary role with regards to others is to share with them the church’s set of beliefs. (conformity)

    assume and teach that everybody belongs to God. (empowerment)

    assume and teach that one must obey the Lord and follow church doctrine in order to attain salvation. (conformity)

    And the list goes on. These are of course extremely general statements, and there are exceptions abound. But these exceptions notwithstanding, I believe that this breakdown is largely correct when considering how progressive and conservative churches function on the whole in society.

    Finally, no, I’m not trying to paint “progressive” positively and “conservative” negatively, just for fun. But I am also no moral relativist: I believe that there are fundamental problems with a church model that asserts its own doctrine as a prerequisite to attain salvation, instead of an inclusive model that seeks to empower others through the teachings of Christ.

  3. David Reese Says:

    So, right:

    but in defense of conservative churches, it would be nice to have a church whose members actually took what it had to say seriously, which is (I believe) one of the problems with ‘progressive’ churches. This is, perhaps, why my theology is slowly (back?) sliding from ‘progressive’ to ‘radical.’ Empowerment is hugely important, but part of being truly empowered as a rich person (and I include myself there) is being willing to conform to the Gospel, and break one’s own power. It’s a weird thing.

  4. Tom Hoberg Says:

    Empowerment is hugely important, but part of being truly empowered as a rich person (and I include myself there) is being willing to conform to the Gospel, and break one’s own power.

    David, this is such an interesting and good point. It’s also a good reminder of the problems inherent in trying to stick “one size fits all” labels where they’re not necessarily well suited.

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