As I continue on my journey in Christ, I long for the “otherness” that I believe a church gathering should provide. My family and I now attend a non-traditional church which offers much and in many ways drew my family in with its approach and focus. This church has been a blessing. This church meets in a movie theatre and is very focussed on small groups. Neither of these things are an issue with me at all…so please do not imagine they are. But increasingly I cannot help but feeling like something very important is missing.
Let me better define this “otherness” I feel like we all long for. In short, I feel like many churches of the kind that I attend seem to boil our faith down to “just follow Jesus because he is your friend and not too demanding and not religious at all”. (And while you are at it make sure you remember that he Old Testament God is now gone and replaced by the new and friendlier version of God we find in Jesus). In fact Jesus came to abolish religion (how illuminating to learn that this was in the Father’s mind when he planned to send us His Son). It is all feels very much like a big wet spiritual kiss, but is it true ?Well – it is indeed true in the same way you could describe Beethoven’s 9th symphony as a collection of specific notes notes – that indeed it is – but then holistically it is far, far more. So I conclude that in my church (and others like it) we play a few notes of the symphony rather too loudly (it is a legitimate note or phrase, but a note does not make the song) and refuse to play many of the other notes needed to complete a full picture of what it is we are called to and called from (and what this means to our daily lives).
Churches need to attempt to communicate and model an all-encompassing view of the greatness and holiness and the wide and deep love of our immensely merciful Saviour. We need to deeply hear this story and how He invaded history and how he worked at first through Israel and now through the Church, etc. I believe this weekly gathering needs to take us out of the “usual” into a mode where we are properly challenged and encouraged and exhorted to live for Our Great God and Saviour in this fallen world. We ideally need to leave church feeling like we have been confronted with the “Other”. We need to see that the humanity of Jesus which helps us understand that we have a Saviour who is touched by the very feelings and infirmities we are, but that the Creator and Father is also so much “other” that is beyond us and would make us fall down on our knees in fear and worship and awe (if He revealed himself in other than the humanity of Jesus). This is not at all about old fashioned hell-fire preaching. It is rather about being reminded of the incredible gulf between us and Our Great Lord and yet also of His merciful and immense redeeming love and how that should provoke us to joy and service. It needs to feel significant and weighty. It needs to feel much more than the way I feel when I attend classes or watch a self-improvement show (think Oprah or variants). Sadly and rarely does my church (and many others) rise to this high standard – or even appear to be trying perhaps because they feel it would alienate seekers? (Is the regular Church gathering about seekers?).
I cannot shake the feeling that many churches are not far from providing much of what we can experience from watching Oprah and spiritual variants (using “Oprah” as a proxy for any number of entertaining self-improvement shows).
When we gather as a body of Christ we should fully expect to be confronted with the “otherness” of God and shaken to our core. We should (as the early church did from day one) expect to gather around the Lord’s Table to remember his physical life/death and re-present him as food to our souls. We should expect to pray together. We should expect to read Scripture together. We should expect to sing from our hearts (rather than listen to the “canned worship music” as we gather). We should expect to be shaken and encouraged and challenged to our very core . We really should not settle hearing a message that is entertaining/amusing enough and mildly convicting enough, but not really of any deep emotional and spiritual impact.
In the typical evangelical gathering I feel as if far too little time is spent on Scripture and communal worship and prayer. Rather what I see is a professional group of very nice and competent people deliver a rather entertaining form of something that for me has become a caricature of what I believe church worship and fellowship needs to truly be.
I crave the “other” as I journey further along in my walk with the Lord. Am I alone? Perhaps its just me ? Dear Lord speak to my heart and illuminate me further if it is…