Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Can’t We Have It ALL?

Are you content with your church relationship? Or, to put it differently, is your church life — especially its worship life — all that you would like it to be? Increasingly, my wife and I find we are on a quest for a more fulfilling “church experience” — a tawdry sort of phrase, but I can’t think of a better way to put it right now. But we’ve been frustrated. One reason for our frustration is that, while many local churches have something of what we’re looking for, none of them even comes close to having everything. And we wonder why not.

Let me explain.

We can find a church that has liturgical solemnity and celebration, with the aesthetic satisfaction of color, pageantry and symbolism and the dignity of Christian tradition. These are things that could stretch us beyond the four limited dimensions of our mundane world into the transcendent realm of God’s presence. But those churches, typically, have abandoned the Holy Scriptures as the standard for faith and life and are caught up in stylized “inclusiveness,” pro-homosexual policies and other earmarks of political correctness.

At the opposite extreme, we might find a church that meets in homes as did the earliest Christians — where every member is free to offer his or her gifts contributing to the life of the body, where there is a wonderful sense of being bonded together in common life in Christ, in faithfulness to New Testament patterns. But when do we experience those moments of high worship when the transcendent glory of Christ breaks through to touch us intuitively? Where is the opportunity for the high ceremony of the worship of Israel, or the pageantry of heavenly worship reflected in the visions of John the Revelator?

We might easily locate a church that stresses faithfulness to the Word of God, where astute expository preaching brings out the nuances of the sacred text. But our role is pretty much limited to that of passive spectators of an oratorical or pedagogical performance. In such a preacher-dominated atmosphere there’s no opportunity for us to offer gifts of our own, whatever they might be, to our fellow worshipers. And the wordiness of such gatherings stifles or eliminates any breakthrough of the mystery of the transcendent — a mystery that touches us through sensibilities that can’t be confined to the flat world of rational understanding.

We could just as easily identify a church where free expression is valued, where there is a sense of the movement of the Holy Spirit among the whole body of worshipers, and where a sense of “family” pervades the congregation’s life. But such congregations often lack a sense of continuity with the historic church. They stem from movements that once experienced a life-giving breakthrough in understanding some neglected aspect of the Scriptures. But now that understanding has become a shallow formula that inhibits learning from other branches of the body of Christ.

It’s not hard, any more, to find a church that desperately seeks to connect with contemporary culture through cutting-edge music, heavy use of media and down-to-earth, conversational preaching. But the sensitive person on a quest for an encounter with the transcendence of God can be overwhelmed by the high-volume electronics, or lost in the busy crowds that flock to such churches.

Why can’t we have it all — in one congregation? Why can’t we have a church that holds to the moral standards of God’s Word, expounds that Word in depth with fidelity to the original texts, combines historic and solemn liturgy with free and passionate expression of praise, makes room for the exercise of individual gifts even during corporate gatherings, engages with the issues of our culture using the technology people have come to expect, and does all of this through a pervasive atmosphere of koinonia, the shared common life of all Christian believers in the unity of the faith?

Why can’t we have it all? Just asking.