Six days ago my wife and I visited a church that had been repeatedly appearing in my dreams. That sounds coo-coo, but who cares. The church is Reformed, so that was reason enough. Today I thought I would share a few BRIEF (ha.. At least under 1,000 words, I promise) thoughts that have come to settle with me after this experience. Maybe some of these thoughts will be worth your time.
No amount of church research will prepare you for the real church. I spent somewhere between 12-20 hours reading through every single published meeting for this particular denomination for the last 40 years. I traced their development on hot issues such as homosexuality and female pastors. I found where I agreed with them and where I disagreed with them, where I celebrated their positions and where I had concerns. I even read their position on free-trade coffee (which I loved!). I read and scrutinized every church confession they held. I do this because church is a serious business to me, and precision in thinking and theology are my life’s priorities. However, what I realized was by going through this long process, I built a version of this church that does not exist. In my mind this church had all sorts of strengths and weaknesses that probably have no basis in reality. The church lost its humanity and became a product of my imagination. And for a moment I forgot what church really is – people. It isn’t creeds and confessions. It isn’t faith statements. It isn’t building structure or children’s programs. It’s people. What I learned here is that failing to think of church the right way, and instead going through the kind of process I mentioned above, will most likely set me up for massive disappointment.
The way we do church is not the only way, and dare I say not even the “right” way. As a Reformed Christian I am rather aware of my Christian heritage, and I love it. I prize the thousands of years of theological development and I constantly read the most influential dead men in order to aid my self-examination and to experience their time periods. Despite this, I am still prone to chronological snobbery. This means I am prone to think that the way we do church now is somehow better than the way church used to be done, because we are more advanced… or something. This is just foolish. Being removed from my normal church atmosphere reminded me that church can be and has been done thousands of ways for thousands of years. How that manifests itself will change, and ought to change, over the centuries. What I learned is the church essentials are our doctrines and our devotion.
The way we do church in the west, more specifically, is also not the “right” way. This is very similar to my previous thought but I did find myself also thinking during the worship service at this local church about other cultures today. I am a Western Christian, and that’s got to mean something. I don’t know. I’m far from an expert but I can almost guarantee you my brothers in India worship very differently than my brothers in the Eastern Orthodox Church. I highly recommend you visit some international churches a couple times in your life, at least, to get an appreciation for what I’m saying. And stay away from the ones that sing Hillsong! I guess what I realized in the end was the way I worship is the way I worship because of where I worship.
Experiencing another church inspired me to continue loving my church and helping it grow where it needs to grow. I’ll be honest I’m not entirely sure how attending the new church caused this sentiment in me, but it did. Being a Christian in today’s world is a funny thing, with the proliferation of churches. In any given city you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of local churches. The specifics of how and why and when God moves people around is mysterious. Being exposed to a new church again opened my eyes to my desire to be where already am. I don’t know why God has me at Hamlin right now, but I know that while I’m there I will continue working to make it the best church it can be. And even more importantly, I will continue to support and encourage the people there the best I can. I suppose you could say I learned yet again that I desire above all else to just love my friends.
…. This post is definitely getting filed under “random thoughts”