Church

 

I’m anxiously trying to finish up my little series on my other blog because I have other issues requiring the space and it really is time to move on.  But I suppose I’ll go ahead and use this space since I don’t have much else to put here.

 

Regular readers will remember that I’ve been having issues with the church my wife has been attending for the past 6 months.  When I first started going, I was actually kind of hoping that it would be a bit more orthodox than the Methodist church that I had been attending.  And in some ways it is.  But in other ways, it is really pretty shallow.  And in still other ways it has similarities with the Methodist church, most of which are the most annoying aspects.

 

Having said this, it has been a productive experience in one sense.  It has made me think about church.  What is church?  What is the purpose of it?  What should church look like?  Why do people go?  Why don’t some people go?  What should people do when they go to church? 

 

The Bible clearly states that believers should meet together regularly.  It’s from the scriptures that we should derive our view of what a church was like in the days of the apostles.  How closely does worship in the 21st century resemble that in the 1st?  Is what we’re doing today productive?  Is it what Jesus had in mind?  Does this stuff we do every week resemble what Paul was doing as he went from city to city?  What would Timothy think about our modern churches and the way that we do what we do?

 

For the majority of evangelical church-going people, church consists of getting up early on Sunday morning, getting themselves and the kids ready to go, getting in the car and then driving to a fairly large building.  They walk in, say hello and shake hands with neighbors and friends, make some small-talk and then move to a sanctuary.  The sanctuary might have pews if it is a fairly old denominational church.  More contemporary churches eschew the pews and favor chairs which are only slightly more comfortable.  All seating is oriented towards the alter/stage from where all of the action is directed.  Newer churches actually have spotlights, projection screens and advanced sound systems to enhance the experience.  It’s almost like being there.  In all cases, there is music by the organist or a band.  The singing can be done by either the choir or the praise team.  There are prayers spoken by a leader/preacher/minister/priest from the stage.  There will be some singing, and sometimes the congregation sings along.  Sometimes they don’t.  Communion is done and involves a wafer, a speck of bread, a small cracker and a bit of grape juice or wine.  I heard it referred by one kid as “God’s Holy snack.”  It’s hardly anything resembling a meal.  Then there is the high light of the service: the collection of the money and the passing of the plate.  After this, there is the message from the clergy or sermon mixed in with some scripture reading.  It’s at this point that people start looking at their watches.  After 30-45 minutes (or more) there is a final singing and a final prayer/benediction and people go home or out to eat.

 

This is the common experience that we think of as church.  We go to church.  We DO church.  Church is an experience that is mostly passive and is directed by professional clergy.  Even Sunday school classes, workshops, group meetings and other educational functions that happen during the week will have a similar theme.  People will go, they will listen and they will go home. 

 

What would happen if a person from the congregation stood up right after a scripture reading, addressed the clergy person and said “Excuse me, brother, but I have an important message from God.  Do you mind?”  Would the clergy person step aside?  Would the prepared message be pre-empted?  How would such an act be received? 

 

Contemporary services differ in their music and their style of dress and sometimes in their watered-down message, but essentially follow the same formula that has been done for generations.  The Rick Warren church will have small groups which somewhat resemble the adult Sunday School we have in the Methodist church.  They will usually meet at another time per week and often have social events and partake in service projects.  There’s some autonomy involved, but all are organs of the mother church and the primary worship is always oriented toward a Sunday morning experience. 

 

I’m going to admit to some degree of ignorance concerning present-day Catholic traditions, but I do know that the clergy definitely occupies the center function of each and every service.  The administration of communion and other sacraments alone separates them from the laity.  Is this what Jesus had in mind?  Is this the way God planned to reconcile people to Him?  Is this what the crucifixion and resurrection are all about?  Can we go to mass or a church service once or twice a week and say, “I’m good.  I’m done.”?   Are these productions actually changing lives?  Can we justify the outlandish sums of money poured into buildings, building maintenance and restoration, staff, sound systems, lighting, a music director, decorations and the acres of land devoted just for parking?

 

These are the questions that I’m asking.  These are the things that I’m considering.  There is a lot of internal conflict where I suddenly feel like I don’t want to do church anymore.  Not this way. 

 

D.

 

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12 Responses to Church

  1. trueself says:

    You have put into words something that has bothered me for some time but that I couldn’t get the right words together to express. It does seem that church should be more community-like, and truthfully the best church experience I’ve had as an adult was just that, a community. We were a small church. Yes, we had our Sunday services, but the coffee hour would often drag out as long or longer than the service. People in the church cared for one another and took care of one another. There were many gatherings besides Sunday worship, many meals shared, many activities undertaken that went beyond the passive I’ll-sit-for-an-hour-while-you-talk-at-me services. I miss that church, that community, but it is half a country away. I haven’t found the right one here yet, but I keep searching and will keep searching until I do find the right one.

  2. xi smmit says:

    Your mention of someone standing in Church to deliver an alternate message reminds me of something our Church has recently lost. No, someone standing and saying they had a message would not likely be allowed to speak but we did have regular testimony times, congregational feedback, and open-floor opportunities where that would be allowed. We have lost that and I think in many ways we have lost something important. I learned ways of sharing my faith by listeneing to others share ways they used than I ever learned from Sunday School (why do I feel compelled to capitalize that?) or from the pulpit. People teaching people, people reaching people. That was the basis of the early Church and is something that is being lost in the ‘modern’ Church. Or Post-Modern, whatever inaccurate made up title people choose to call it.

    It’s possible that we may leave our current Church because it’s going all Andy Stanley on us and working prgrams are being replaced with unknown quantities simply on the whim of the leadership. The age-old I want what they got deal. Relevant Post Modern Authentic Community. That’s the new mantra here.

  3. Therese says:

    Digger,
    You might find it interesting to look at early accounts of worship and compare them to the current Catholic liturgy. This is kind of long, but I thought it would be fitting to your discussion, since you brought up what current Catholics do. It’s a letter from St. Justin to emperor Antoninus Pius, written in 155:

    On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.

    The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. The first part of the Mass is called the liturgy of the Word, and a reading from the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospel are read.

    When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. This is called a homily, where the priest preaches. It is essentially the same as a sermon.

    Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves…and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. In the currently liturgy, this is called the General Intercessions or Prayers of the Faithful. On Sunday it is prefaced by the recitation of the Nicene Creed.

    When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss. This is called the Kiss of Peace today, and follows communion.

    Then someone brings the bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. We call this the Offertory, and obviously, “him who presides over the brethren” is a priest.

    He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. That is still the nature of the Eucharistic Prayer.

    When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: ‘Amen.’ It’s actually called the “Great Amen” today.

    When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent. In the current liturgy, communion is followed by a closing prayer, but that is essentially the end of the Mass. Obviously, there are many more nuances than that in today’s Mass, but the overall structure is pretty similar to what was done in the early church. While it can and certainly has been argued just how important the clergy really are supposed to be, it is clear from the early writings that there was someone “in charge” during the service. The Mass has undergone a lot of “renovation” and there’s talk of a new translation being released within the next few years. Our current language isn’t as authentic as it could be. Although this letter doesn’t specify the church construction, it is safe to say that the simpler buildings adopted by many Protestants are more authentic to earliest worship than the elaborate gothic cathedrals scattered across Europe. I know none of this, though, was really the point of what you were trying to say.

    Your question about going to church once or twice a week being “it” is a good one, and Confused Husband actually mentioned that recently on his blog too. I think there are few who would argue that it is enough for a full Christian life, or is all God is asking of us. I think church should be a culmination of the Christian life, something people do in thanksgiving to God and out of love for Him, not obligation. If we only go to church because we have to, then we aren’t going to be likely to carry whatever message we receive into the rest of the week. I don’t think we can ever say, “I’m good. I’m done.” Although exteriorly it can seem like salvation for a Catholic is a sum of x’s in a box and checks marked off, a long list of “do’s” and even longer list of “do not’s,” all of that means nothing without faith and love for God and a humble admission of our individual and collective need for salvation.

    I hope that you are able to find peace somewhere. Choosing where and how to worship is one of the most important and personal decisions a person can make for himself/herself. May God guide you as you try to answer your very important questions.

  4. Therese says:

    I meant to italicize

    When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

    and

    When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.

  5. diggerjones says:

    Thank you for your encouragement. I am finding that there is a growing movement that is yearning to get back to the scriptures and that sense of community and caring. The pressure for churches to adopt the Church Growth Movement models of Willow Creek/saddleback are enormous. I’ll speak more to that later, but it is movement that will continue for some time.

    I give the Catholics credit for being relatively resiliant to cultural pressures. I think this is due to the fact that they have had centuries of history and did most of their major shifting in the earliest times.

    I actually did read that account of Justin this past week, as I began to wonder what was going on. And true enough, that form of worship is not significantly deviated from the experience of most today, at least in the basics.

    But this is not what we see in the book of Acts or what I’m gathering from Paul’s writings. For instance, Justin’s account tells of a priest offering the communion cup to the believers. None of this is in the New Testament. It’s as if the curtain that was torn at Christ’s cricifixion was sewn back together. They were sharing a *meal* together in the upper room and in the earliest churches. Paul talks of a service where some offer a psalm, some a prophecy, some an intrepretation, some a teaching and everyone is participating rather than passively taking in whatever happens on the stage.

    Eventually it becomes about the numbers, the buildings and the money. The clergy/leadership consolodates their authority and everyone else is relegated to the role of sheep.

    Is this what Jesus preached?

    D.

  6. Katie says:

    I am Catholic and to me it’s extremely comforting to know I can attend Mass anywhere in the world and it’s going to be the same format. I’ve never quite understood how other Christians “pick churches” or jump from one denomination to another. The gist of the Catholic Mass is to receive communion (the body and blood of Christ), everything else is extra. It’s celebrating the Last Supper as Jesus told us to do. But just because that is mostly what Mass is, Catholics are expected to live their faith at all times in other ways. I’d never attend Mass for an hour once a week and consider myself “done”.

    An interesting blog you might like to read to learn the basics of Catholicism is Ask Sister Mary Martha at http://asksistermarymartha.blogspot.com/ Some doubt she’s actually a nun but she’s been spot on in everything she’s written about it. (*whispers* Convert to the True Faith. *winks*)

  7. FTN says:

    Well, I guess it’s silly for me to say once again that the church isn’t a building, it’s us.

    I don’t go to church. I am the church.

    I go to worship on a Sunday morning. It’s not the culmination or high point of my week. It is one more aspect of Christianity that I enjoy and that I think is important.

    I think smaller, more intimate settings are more conducive to the kinds of “meetings” that are Acts-based. As churches grow, it’s tough to be very intimate and interactive if you are in a 1000-person service. That’s not to say that big churches are bad. Even the early church was growing by leaps and bounds. But when you get 10 or 20 people together in a room, that is when those “Acts things” that you mention can happen. People can talk. They can sing. They can share a meal and remember Christ.

    “Church” isn’t what happens on a Sunday morning. The church is a group of people, and we shouldn’t be gearing all of our energy solely into getting people into a pew on a Sunday morning.

  8. Xian Husband says:

    Digger,

    You are discovering exactly those things I criticized on your other blog about this generic, bland version of mega-church evangelical protestantism. What I criticized and kind of got jumped for. It seems shallow because it IS shallow. It is substituting real faith and real spirit for an emotional soft-sell. The focus is all on growth (and the additional $$ the growth brings in) such that the mantra is “get more people in here however you can.” And, in particular, whatever you do, don’t ever say anything that someone might have an issue with because that would keep them away. Keep it mellow, keep it bland, keep it mostly content-less, and sell and emotional high in worship and a way to salve one’s conscience by checking the box marked “go to church” each week.

    Which means it ends up not really being much of a church at all but a country club wrapped in a weekly concert wrapped in pop-psychology wrapped in emotional bibble-babble.

    Christ, on the other hand, made it clear that narrow is the way that leads to righteousness and few there are who will find it. Paul made it clear in his ministry that you cannot do justice to the Word without offending some people, and that you don’t do anyone any favors if you don’t present to them the full message in such a way that they have to make a choice. Forcing people to make a choice means that some will choose the wrong path. That’s sad. But at least they had a chance to make a choice.

    And that choice isn’t easy. It is about a real change in direction in one’s life. A total change. A metamorphosis of one’s being. If your church allows people to be fully-functioning members without ever really making a real change (except where they spend their Sunday mornings) then it isn’t really presenting them the Gospel. It isn’t doing them any favors. And if people aren’t being really able to choose, then is anyone able to choose what is right? Are the people there really “converted” in the real sense? Not if they haven’t made that choice, which is something they cannot do if they are never presented with the choice.

    As for what the early church looked like, you’re partly right and partly wrong. The early church DID have leaders — the Apostles established elders in every church as they founded them to function as shepherds of the people. Shepherds whose primary method of guidance was teaching. And the worship was a direct adaptation of the Jewish synagogue liturgy with the additional element of communion added to the end. Which means that it looked, well, remarkably like what Therese describes. And that absolutely goes back all the way to Paul and the Apostles. You might not get that sense from the scriptures if you aren’t aware of Jewish synagogue culture, but it is there.

    Buildings and money. That is absolutely the issue. The early church may have had a liturgy that looked a whole lot like modern Catholic worship, (but it WAS more congregational in involvement, though, not to the extreme you are thinking), but it wasn’t in a dedicated building of any sort. The early church met in people’s homes. House churches of a dozen or two people at a time. The pater familias of the house the church met in holding the same role over the church that met in his house as he did over his own family. Leader as elder and a real father-figure. Which means directly getting involved with the people on a personal level — which means not having one guy over a thousand people he doesn’t know, but one guy over a tight-knit family of a dozen or two believers that he has an intimate relationship with.

    As one guy put it, to be a real shepherd you are goin to smell like sheep. You’re going to be so personally and intimately involved that, like Christ, you can say you KNOW your sheep and they know you.

    There is no place in this paradigm for a dedicated church building able to house thousands — because the very idea of housing thousands goes against the grain of personal involvement and interpersonal intimacy as a family. Besides, we are called to use our money for the Lord’s work, which is about helping the poor, spreading the Gospel, etc; and not about building pretty buildings.

    Mega-churches with their focus on size are so far from this original form as to be unrecognizable. Their focus on growth, growth, growth leads to a doctrine that is itself unrecognizable. And what you are left with is something cheap and easy and meaningless. And their focus on money is that black under-current the emotionalism is trying to hide.

    Which is, I think, what is bothering you. You want depth and reality and a true connection with both Christ and your fellow believers, and you want a church that you can trust is working for your eternal salvation and not your pocket-book. And that is something you can never find where you are because such a thing is contrary to their entire reason for being.

  9. Digger Jones says:

    Ah, Katie! You are a welcome addition to this discussion thread. However, I am not soon becoming a Catholic as I have too many heretical ideas in my head, mainly the whole “priesthood of the believer” thing. And the idea of the idea of the purpose of church being the celebration of communion is an interesting one.

    I know what you say, FTN, and totally agree. However when you use “church” in the common speech, you and I both know you are talking about a place you go and something you do when you discuss you and Autumn’s involvement in the church and chirches you have belonged to. It’s okay because most of us do it, with the tacit understanding that if pressed, we will say it is not about the building. But if you are on a church board or session and discuss hiring a church janitor, you are hiring someone to clean a particular building, although cleaning everyone’s hearts on a regular basis isn’t a bad idea.

    XH, I had a feeling you would do your thing if you got ahold of this topic and I was hoping you would. I was lead to the writings of Justin as cited by Therese above specifically from your series back in January which I’ve been looking at again. You do have a way of laying out things, as you see them, in an exceedingly easy fashion.

    As for Jewish synagogue culture, I have no doubt there was a lot of influence upon the early church. However, there was also a marked departure as more gentiles became involved and as the community suffered persecution. At that point, having this huge building with thousands of attendees would have been rather stupid, as it would be today in most of Asia and many parts of Africa. The community of believers had to be mobile and organic in nature in order to continue growing in the face of persecution.

    I’ll speak about leadership later, but suffice it to say I’m in agreement with most of the substance, mainly that the church growth movement is bringing the world into the church at the expense of sound doctrine, and basically saying what itchy ears like to hear for the sake of warm bodies and checkbooks.

    But as Xi Summit eludes to, the pressure for *all* churches to bend to this is enormous. Mainline denominations are dropping their denominational names in favor of being called “Comunity Churches” and they are stripping away their unique identity in order to ride the back of this beast rather than be consumed by it. The community church grows by stealing the members of other churches. Every member I’ve met of Saddleback East came from a neighboring church in our community. If you are a member of a mainline denomination, be prepared to confront this phenomenon. It is the Wal-Mart-ization of church. More variety at rock bottom prices and it will drive every other church community into either joining or being wiped out. Rick Warren himself has trained over 300,000 pastors in the formula for setting up purpose driven churches. One of them was Rick Junior here at Sadleback East.

    Having said that, they do try to emulate the community atmosphere through their small cell groups that actually do meet in people’s homes. I have more to say about that in my next post as I further explore this new landscape.

    D.

  10. Therese says:

    FTN –
    I think use of the word “church” for a building is a bit of semantics, as Digger said. Personally, I agree that the church, the body of Christ, is the people. People say “go to church” I think, more referring to the building, but could just as easily say “Religious amphitheater” or “worship service.” Catholics tend to say “Mass” instead of church, actually, to identify the ceremony we’re attending, since we have so many. But I don’t think people who say “go to church” are necessarily denying the other definition.

    As to your other point, I think more importantly than where we disagree is where we agree: Christian life should not end when we walk out the door of our respective worship spaces, whatever or where ever they are. Christianity is a way of life, not something we do once a week.

  11. xi summit says:

    Agreed, the Church is the people and has nothing to do with the building or the denomination or the other “trappings of the faith” that I like to equate to the “Clubhouse rules”.

    When we were children many of us had clubs, either formal or informal, which had expected procedures, motions, and behaviors we were all judged by. I am constantly amused by the fact that, as adults, we still seek the same things- the association and familiarity, and procedures motions and behaviors just like we did when we were children. Evenr though we know we are to put away childish things. Yet we yearn for that familiarity, not realizing just how much of it is carry-over from childhood. The peer-pressure, the expectations, in short the cliques all over again in a different form. And then we call it a Holy Church and suddenly it’s all good and we go through all the relevant motions to try and be in good standing when we enter the ‘Clubhouse’ for a ‘meeting’. And the new Post-modern Church is all about the new-and-updated ClubHouse rules. Bigger and better than ever. And yet, the same thing all over just in a different package.

    It’s a stretch, but I liken it to new kids on the block who take over the club-house and change the secret handshake, the ceremonies, and the paint but it’s still the same club. If you want to be a full memeber you gotta step-in-time or be left behind.

    Can I be one of the gang? Please? I know the handshake and eveything ….

    (No, I’m not bitter. Just confusing)

  12. […] a comment below by Christian Husband he makes reference to the importance of having a pastor to act as a shepherd […]

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