“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, January 08, 2007

Church of the merry-go-round

Impossibleape, a frequent contributor to this weblog made an interesting comment to the December 12 posting. He writes,
there comes a day when we shouldn't have to be spoon-fed another bible lesson, comfortably entertained and made to feel that our hearing the word (again and again and again) is enough.
He is so right. You see, church is understood as going to a church service and hearing the pastor preach a sermon, singing some songs in worship and then praying. Perhaps we then go to a Sunday school class where we study the Bible some more. We end up like experts on the study of baseball who play very little baseball. I sometimes even wonder at the regular "altar calls" which happen many weeks at church. I would bet that 90% of those in the congregation are already saved.

Is that what church is? Is that what the capital C Church is about? Hearing many sermons, as good as they may be, singing many worship songs, and prayer? Obviously that is a part of what church is, but it definately is not exclusively what it should be. But that is what church has become for too many people. Then someone with a disability comes and the attenders get confused about how they are supposed to do church when a noisy person with a cognitive disability is in the audience. They see the mentally ill person in their midst as someone who needs to be excluded. "How can we get through the lesson on love if that person is so distracting?" "If that person is involved, we can't do church in the way we have always done it?"

I don't think that is what church is supposed to be. Perhaps a small portion, but not the majority. And when we do get people saved, we ruin them by letting them think that that is what church is supposed to be.

Why are churches constantly begging for people to work in the children's Sunday school classes? Why are people with disabilities not a priority for ministry in ALL churches? The problems are related. It has to do with the structures of the church and how they demand something which is not what the church should be.

I personally do not now nor have I really ever understood what worship is. Is worship little more than me becoming emotional at a particular song whose lyrics or music connect with me? Is that what worship is? Should I disconnect my intellect from the lyrics of the music or disconnect my aesthetic appreciation from music and lyrics and try to be swept away by what I am experiencing? Should I actually choose my church on the basis of the style of music presented? Is that what church is? Is that what worship is? Such an approach to church, to worship, is debilitating in that it provides a substitution for a more demanding way of doing the harder worship like taking care of widows and orphans (see James). Don't get me wrong (if you are even still reading), I am absolutely not saying we should not sing songs of worship to God.

But please do not confuse songs of worship with other acts of worship. Singing songs are the easy way to worship. Your singing will be made a more beautiful act of worship if you have worshipped in other ways as well, ministering to those who are disenfranchised, working with children, loving your neighbor. Clapping to the music is more enjoyable if a severely disabled adult is clapping along, off time, with a huge smile on his face.

Sermons and Bible studies are of value in themselves. However, teaching on 1 Corinthians 13 without anyone in the room who is particularly difficult to love, is easy. Is love easy? You might think so.

I don't need another sermon on 1 Corinthians 13. I need people who challenge me to live and love in the manner described in 1 Corinthians 13. By that I am not claiming that I entirely understand the passage. I am saying that I need to put what I do understand about the passage into practice. Challenge me to love a mentally ill woman. Have her in the church in my midst. Have the leadership clamour to understand what to do with her. Then we will all really learn about love, and the extent to which we are willing to love others who are difficult to love. When am I really going to be playing baseball rather than just talking about baseball. What do I do with church structures if I know that there are difficult to love people who are not entirely welcome because we don't know what to do with them under our current structures? Our response is the status quo.

I sometimes feel like I am on a horse tied to a merry-go-round. The horse was desperate to run, but it just kept going around and around, covering the same ground, doing the same thing. Eventually the horse turned to wood and now just mindlessly keeps going around and around and around. It used to be a horse, was originally a horse. But now it is an inanimate object just going around and around and around. It still looks like a horse (it's doctrine is correct) but is it inanimate (it's love is not correct). Maybe life can still be breathed into the wooden horse and it can run once again instead of being bound to the merry-go-round.

The captial C church needs new structures needs new love and inclusion, like the horse needs to get off of the merry-go-round.



Anonymous said...

Hi, good commentary. It's simple. When people stop doing religion and start doing relationship, with Christ and one another, that is when ALL people will be valued, respected and accepted. Church is just another social gathering replete with all the bigotry, biases and favoritism of any other. It's getting harder and harder to identify the Church from the world, and that's a sad commentary on our ambassadorship in the last days.

Impossibleape said...

Isaiah 28:28
28Does one crush bread grain? NO, HE DOES NOT THRESH IT "CONTINUALLY" . But when he has driven his cartwheel and his horses over it, he scatters it [tossing it up to the wind] without having crushed it.

perhaps we should get on with it

the the same, old same old, same old, same old, same old with more gusto, the same old, the same old with a new preacher, the same old with a new building, the same old with a new set of Bible Study books, the same old with a better multimedia presentation, the same old, the same old......

will not do

we are crushing the grain and the land is in a famine of really hearing and seeing the Word of the Lord and eating and enjoying the bread of life.

Impossibleape said...

Professor McNeil

Have you read Shine Claiborne's
The Irresistible Revolution?

Such materials for a bible study would not let churches sit comfortably (but bored) as they take another ride down the rutted 'Roman Road' while mechanically reciting the '4 spiritual laws'.

Anonymous said...

Your singing will be made a more beautiful act of worship if you have worshipped in other ways as well, ministering to those who are disenfranchised, working with children, loving your neighbor. Clapping to the music is more enjoyable if a severely disabled adult is clapping along, off time, with a huge smile on his face.
This is all things that I have never really thought of before. I am still an infant in my faith but I am learning more and more every day about the things that will make my life better by glorifying God. We all talk the talk of being a good christian but we all need to start to walk the walk. I can't even imagine how much more the Lord would touch a congregation crying out a joyful noise when there is a disabled person crying out next to each of them!

Anonymous said...

As for the horse analogy, I completely agree with the ieas represented by the horse. We, as Christians are all horses going around this merry-go-round of life as inanimate objects not really participating in our faith. We are just circling the ride. We need to take an active part in our christianity and become the horse untying ourselves and going out into the world and finding those people with disabilities and bringintg them to the lord. You never know what a teenager with downsyndrome at your church will do for them as well as for your congregation and glorifying the Lord!

Anonymous said...

The capital C in church should stand for compassion. Each church has a vatity of ages from the very young to the elderly. They all have a need and a purpose within the church. The small children see each new day with bright eyes, big smiles and occasional cries. The elderly usually bring wisdom. Many churches have modified bulletins with fill-in blanks to go with the sermon and large screens to see and answer the blanks. My church also has a special greeter. He is a mentally ill person who brings me joy each time I enter church each Sunday. He greets every person with a handshake and a smile. He makes my day brighter and my children enjoy shaking his hand and saying hello. They like to sit near him in church. We have a person who signs for those who are deaf. She has even spent time to teach some of us some words so we can make them feel welcome. My youngest child's Sunday school teacher is blind and uses a seeing eye dod. She has enlarged the printing the children read so she can also see it.These children find the print easier to follow and write. They love to listen to her stories each week. Her dod is well behaved and she allows the children to pet him at the end of class. She is also in the choir and has a beautiful singimg voice. We are lucky to have these two in the church. I know there are more people out there like them. We as a chuch need to seek them and invite them in. I believe our horse is grazing, maybe it will start running and sooner than later.