Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Worship...In (a) Church...That You Disagree With

Because of a lack of time--and the lengthiness of the post, I did not come full circle as I wrote about worship.  Today, I'd like to finish the thoughts on worship and come back to the extended quote by Timothy Keller:

If you don't trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God?  In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you.  For example, if a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they won't have an intimate relationship.  Remember the (two!) movies The Stepford Wives?  The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who never cross the wills of their husbands.  A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would describe such a marriage as intimate or personal.

Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will?  If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you?  You won't!  You'll have a Stepford God!  A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction.  Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten a hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.  (Kindle Location 1901-1907)

If we worship to come in contact with Jesus--to hear about what He has done and how we are saved purely and solely by His action...

And if it is at worship where we attempt to shut out all the other false gods of the world and concentrate on Jesus...

And if in the midst of doing so, Jesus begins tuning our hearts toward Him...

...then we should feel quite a bit of discomfort.

And I know we do not like feeling uncomfortable.  Take another quick look at the reasons I wrote for folks skipping worship on a given Sunday (or for an extended period of time):
  • I am spiritual, but not religious.  
  • I can worship God anywhere.  I do not need to be in church to do so.
  • I do not find anything compelling when I attend worship.
  • This person hurt me, and I do not want to run into them at worship.
  • I do not like the decision the church made, and I will not worship.
  • I do not like the way the pastor preaches. 
  • I do not like the music.
  • I want more organ music.
  • I want more contemporary music.
  • I like being anonymous when I go to church and do not like small crowds.
  • I like being welcomed and part of an intimate group and do not like large worship services.
 What do they all have in common?  Well, let me rephrase that question: who is at the center of all of these questions?

Me.  Myself.  And I.

It's understandable, really.  We live in a consumer oriented culture.  We live by the mantra, "Have it your way."  (Even though I detest Burger King.)  If we find a restaurant does not tickle our taste buds, we find another.  If a repair shop does not satisfy us with the job of repair, we find another.  If we do not like the prices at one store, we find another.  Hey, I'm just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to this.  I needed a part for my SUV, and after consulting with a few shops, I gleefully ordered it online and saved $30!!!  Saving money made me happy and much more comfortable.

And we really, really like our comfort zones. 

In quantum mechanics, there is a rule which governs atomic particles: those particles like to remain at the lowest possible energy state.  It takes extra energy to get them "excited" and changing or maintaining a particular position.  If everything is same ol', same ol', they simply will not change or move to another level.

The more I have studied humankind, I believe we too are influenced in the same manner.  We are all to happy to remain right where we are.  We are all to happy to stay entrenched in our thought processes, beliefs, and actions.  Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing in all circumstances.  For instance, you would be hard pressed to get me to change my belief that Jesus is the Son of God, second person of the Trinity, and resurrected Savior.  But am I so comfortable in that belief that I do not ask myself why I believe it to be true?  Am I so comfortable in that belief that it makes little difference in what I do and how I do it?  What challenges that belief and makes me think through why I believe what I believe and do what I do?

If I go to a church where I never end up asking myself those kinds of questions, I have a Stepford Church.  I have a church/congregation that simply affirms me and makes me feel good about myself.  I have a church that never challenges my ideas or makes me do the messy work involved in a REAL relationship.

And face it, real relationships are messy at times.  We disagree with others.  We misunderstand others.  We are forced to examine our own contributions to the problems in relationships.  We have to invest time and energy and money into real relationships.  We argue.  We fight.  Sometimes we don't talk to one another for a while.  But within those real relationships, we also find love, compassion, caring, and intimacy at a level far beyond most of the superficiality we experience each and every day.

You will find neither challenge nor true intimacy without engaging an "other" who is different from you and does not see everything just like you.

A few have asked me why I remain in a denomination that I tend to disagree with on many levels theological and philosophical.  Why stay in a denomination that I feel has gone astray doctrinally? 

Unless said denomination has people within it who challenge it (and vice versa) it will never grow, and neither will I.  Unless said denomination has people of differing theologies, it simply has Stepford Members, and if I find a denomination that fits all my beliefs, then I have a Stepford Denomination.  There is no growth, and there is no intimacy.

Whether it is a Stepford God, Stepford Denomination, Stepford Congregation, or Stepford Member, none of these are real relationships.  Relationships should make us uncomfortable as we engage the "other."  It's how we grow.

And if you are not engaging the Holy Other--Jesus the Christ, on an extremely regular basis, you are not growing; your heart is not being changed; you are maintaining your comfortable place at the lowest energy state.

Perhaps you are happy with such a thing.  Perhaps you believe you have no need to change or become a better person than you are.  Then church and worship definitely isn't for you.  Church is for people who know they fall short.  Church is for those who know they miss the mark.  Church is for those who know there is more to life than what they currently experience.  Church is for those who know they have plenty of room to grow.  Church is for those who want transformation of themselves, their relationships, and the world.

And that transformation comes from Jesus who changes hearts at worship.


John Flanagan said...

I find most of what you've said quite thoughtful and reasonable. As for staying in a church which has strayed in major, not minor, doctrinal fundamentals, and has even abandoned or willfully misinterpreted essential Biblical truths, such bodies one cannot remain, There is a point at which some churches reflect the temperament of those apostate bodies alluded to in Revelation. Of course, we can disagree in some areas and still remain in fellowship, but some areas do not conform to what the Bible teaches and we must wipe off the very dust of such heresies and realize we can no longer align with certain churches or denominations. If such bodies have made their own poor choice to reject orthodoxy for post modernist rubbish, no longer reflect the Apostolic teachings, then we must follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and the quiet voice pricking our conscience says, "It is time for you to leave." We may also view the transforming and straying church as a test for us personally. God may desire to see how our loyalty to Christ, our first loyalty, will rise above the traditions and loyalties prompting us to remain in a straying and recalcitrant body. For this reason, I conclude with a conclusion which will offend you, but I say this in brotherly love. Among the proven straying churches today is ELCA, and those who have already left it are richer indeed, and they are the ones who have listened to the Holy Spirit, who guides us in such serious matters of the faith. God bless you.

Deb Haug said...

If we leave, our voices leave with us. As Kevin said, it becomes about "me". Am I willing to stay and voice my beliefs and stand up for what I believe is true to God's word, or do I want to be comfortable and unchallenged? In either capacity we can serve God, serve our community, serve each other. If it's the ELCA that concerns you, stay in the ELCA and say the ELCA. As for "richer" churches who have left? I have been in contact with some of the "richer" churches who have left and who have been left. Defining "rich"...the devil's in the details.

John Flanagan said...

I do not think the hierarchy of ELCA is really very interested in listening to dissenters within the congregation, and if you or others become too vocal you would likely be asked to leave. It would be like Luther challenging the authority of the Pope. He also wanted to reform the church, and you know how receptive they were to him. Also, I did not say there were "richer" churches, but that those leaving would be "richer" (spiritually) for having done so. If one leaves a church it should not be for relatively unimportant reasons, but because the true word of God is no longer preached, and false doctrines and practices have tainted its' witness for the Gospel.

John Flanagan said...

To add one more point. I once met an ELCA pastor at a cemetery where he was officiating at a funeral for a deceased individual whom he had never met. He was a talkative sort of guy, and after the brief service was over we discussed the faith, and ELCA's direction. This happened 6 years ago. The Pastor told me he was personally upset with ELCA, but he had invested many years and could not consider leaving for a practical, albeit bad reason. He said, " You know there is the matter of pension and health insurance with the denomination, and I have a family. I can't just leave the ministry at this point."
I think these are significant tests of faith, because who really wants to forfeit benefits one would lose by leaving a church. And yet, that is exactly why Jesus illustrates the idea in Holy Writ that it is sometimes a narrow and lonely path we are called to follow. Blessings.

Kevin Haug said...

John, while I do understand exactly what you are saying, I heartily disagree for one very strong, and powerful reason. Hearkening back to your first comment and "wiping off the dust"...

When Jesus advised His disciples on this matter, He first instructed them to go and proclaim the Gospel. If the Gospel fell upon deaf ears, then they were to wipe the dust off their feet.

My contention is this: the Gospel is not being proclaimed in the vast majority of our churches these days. The Gospel centers upon what God has done, and in our congregations, 90% or more of the time, sermons and teachings deal with what we are supposed to do. People are getting a heavy dose of the Law over and over and over again. And you know, as well as I, that the Law is subject to manipulation--the manipulation of our sin. Only the transfomative power of the Gospel can change hearts.

It is my contention that the Gospel has lost its centrality in the ELCA--and in most mainline denominations. Even those who have broken away from the ELCA focus on the Law--not on the Gospel. Until I am convinced the ELCA cannot and will not hear the Gospel, I will not leave her. In my own congregation, since literally being converted to the Gospel, I have had numerous folks say, "We have never heard this before." I understand. I didn't really hear it either. I certainly wasn't preaching it. I was focused on ethics and following the Law. Now, I am focused on the proclamation of the Gospel. There is a big, big difference.

And that proclamation takes time--oftentimes lots of time--to take root and change hearts, especially in the world we live in today.

Unknown said...

Points well made, As a person intimately familiar with more than two sides of the issues that lead us to the dissension.
And oh yeah I have known,spoken with and related to many different perspectives, not only on this current issue but back into the mid 1980's. The question/suggestion of leaving vs. continuing in relationship .. At one point I was particularly adamant in my position, but after thoughtful dialog with those who disagree have encouraged me to reexamine my position in an effort to come to understand their positions.

As Difficult and as different as it has been for me I have opened my heart and my mind to give more thoughtful consideration to their position.

Thanks Hawg for your witness and for being there.