Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The church versus the Church, Part IV

I guess I was meant to be a pastor because I loved church from the beginning. I learned the words to the hymns before I entered school, learned the order of Bible books, memorized John 3:16, heard about missionaries and dropped my Sunday School offering into the top of a steeple on a little plastic church. I loved the Wurlitzer organ, the altar table with it's mysterious words, "This Do in Remembrance of Me," the flower arrangements, the choir robes, the piano, usually the sermons, the sense of familiarity. I knew exactly when to sing,

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be,
world without end,
Amen, Amen.

I was baptized and I shared the elements of communion, I was taught and I was loved--and sometimes I got hurt.

Gary DeZotell punched me in the stomach several times, hard, outside of our church classroom. I listened to conversations I should not have heard. I saw my deacon father's frustration with politics and pastors and pew people. Later, I grieved as my once-vibrant church dwindled because it refused to change. Even as a teenager, I knew it was change or die. It was hard to see people I loved and respected make some foolish decisions.

I moved on to a very large church and I loved that one too, and I participated in the yearly Living Christmas Tree, evangelism trips to Palm Springs, and a missions trip to Mexico, and--
sometimes I got hurt. I was mostly ignored in the youth group and sometimes I was the object of unkind teasing.

When I first attended an Assemblies of God church I loved the praise band, the sax and the trombone, the drums, the gospel organ. The pastor's wife played the tambourine. Oh, I loved the pastor and the people of that wonderful church near a military base, attended by a motley collection of USMC families. But hurt happened there too. The pastor misunderstood me once and rebuked me rather too publicly. It was hard to grow close because your best friend could be transferred at any time.

Last week I preached at the prison chapel. I love the gospel choir, the clapping and enthusiasm of the inmates, the sense of love and community, even in a dark place--but I know the frustrations my chaplain husband endures trying to "do church" there. Later I went to a more formal mainline church where my husband had been invited to preach, and I found myself loving the tall ceiling, the pipe organ, the sense of reverence, the relatively "sedate" but warm older people. Sadly, we heard that recent troubles had caused about half their members, mostly young families to leave.
I agree with Mike Y. (see first post in my little series) that I have often been angry, distressed or frustrated with church, but I have never left for more than a month or two. I just can't, but that does not mean I did not want to. Many of my greatest joys--and some of my greatest moments of pain happened in, around or because of--a church. I thought about this recently when someone asked me, "Why do we have to be in a church anyway? It just causes problems and pain and misunderstanding. Relationships should not be so hard. I don't need the church to have a relationship with Jesus."
Lots of people seem to feel that way these days. I know a large number of once-upon-a-time churchgoers who have opted out. Some have found connection online. This is valuable in many ways (I love the RevGals for example) and It certainly would be safer and easier and less frustrating to "do church online." I know several wonderful people who are trying to do just that. Part of me sympathizes and relates. It would avoid the bumps and bruises.

Here is a quote from Doug Groothius ("The Constructive Curmudgeon") about why "cyber church" cannot be church at all. It speaks volumes about why a local church remins important.

There are no churches in cyberspace. There are Christians interacting in various ways--wisely or stupidly, thoughtfully or compulsively--on line. There are churches with web pages, which (if done well) is fine. But the church is a group of Christ-following, Bible-believing people who meet together face to face for teaching, worship, prayer, the public reading of Scripture, and fellowship. One cannot celebrate communion on line. "Now click the bread icon. Next click the wine icon." It is deeply absurd. One cannot sing unto the Lord together on line. One cannot be baptized or witness it in person on line: "Click and drag the little man over to the pool." It cannot be done.


Anonymous said...

LOVE this post Singing Owl. Thank you too for your encouragement and esp your prayers. I do appreciate them :)

Jules said...


Anonymous said...

I like this post. I could never do church on-line. I NEED to have relationships with people where I can see their face, hug them and smile at them. You just can't do that on-line.