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.