Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Will the real church please stand up?

I read two posts on  the church in the last twelve hours, one by Donald Miller titled I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere and a rather alarmist response defending the traditional cultural notion of church from Denny Burk titled Donald Miller’s prescription for spiritual suicide. Little surprise here that I find a lot more of value in the original post from Miller than the hyperbole laced response from Burk, even though I would probably agree more with Burk on a lot of other issues.

Miller's general point is that the main elements of the traditional "worship service", the non-negotiable actions that you :must: have in order for it to be legitimate, namely the corporate singing and the sermon don't connect Miller with God.

I’ve a confession. I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I’ve ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

I used to feel guilty about this but to be honest, I experience an intimacy with God I consider strong and healthy.


It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.

Yeah I hear that. I have never really enjoyed singing, with a few notable exceptions. I am not good at it and I am uncomfortable doing it. Sermons likewise are great for head knowledge and thus I like them but I don't see them equipping us for the work of mission or much else other than giving me some good information. Even those kinds of sermons are pretty rare, most are eminently forgettable.  I am sure that many people will accuse Miller of forsaking the assembly ( a verse that Burk predictably cites as a defense of Sunday morning pew sitting) but many of us have found that a) Hebrews 10:25 is not and cannot be describing a religious event that didn't exist for hundreds of years later and b) that gathering with the church can be more fulfilling and profitable in non-institutional settings. Denny Burk is having none of that, leaping instead to a litany of predictable eisegesis like assuming that Acts 2:42 describes a sermon and a plate of oyster crackers or the idea that 1 Corinthians 16:2 describes the passing of an offering plate when it does nothing of the sort.

I have some quibbles and concerns about Miller's piece although a lot of it resonates with me. Denny Burk's post that employs all of the typical less than subtle threats (if you don't go to church like we culturally understand it you are committing spiritual suicide, whereas I see the traditional church as more akin to a patient in a coma being fed by an IV). When Burk says that "It is very clear that Miller’s view of the church differs markedly from what we find in scripture." and then launches into a defense of a church model and practices that have no foundation in Scripture I just shake my head.

The real church is often found amidst the traditions and rituals of institutional Christianity but it is not necessarily, exclusively or most faithfully found there. It would do a world of good for the leaders in the church to spend more time trying to explore other expressions of the faith rather than defending to their dying breath a system that is not found in Scripture and often more harmful than helpful. The days of the dominance of the institutional church model are coming to an end in spite of the efforts of those with a vested interest in its perpetuation. Nothing is going to stop that and nothing should. How we respond for the future is what matters now and most of the church is doing very little to prepare to shed institutional Christianity. That failure will make the seismic change in our religious culture more painful than it needs to be but human beings in our fallen state usually keep making that same mistake over and over.

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