Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why do we meet? (And why bother?)

Man, tonight was a shift in perspective!

Even with just three of us adults present (we'll blame Spring Break, among other factors) after reading Psalms 63 and 139 we were faced with (dare I use the phrase) existential questions over whether our souls "thirst" the way David's did (63:1), if we readily invite God's discernment of our hearts (139:23) and even whether our worship is as pleasing a thing as "flavor" on a brisket (63:5 -- yep, we're Texans, though I'm told by a certain Californian that an avocado has as pleasing a taste and texture).

Ideally, we should run to any opportunity to engage in private and corporate adoration of God. If God gave us a spirit to worship him, if our non-spiritual parts are yielded to Jesus Christ then that's what we should crave.

You see, we don't often look at communing with God as a pleasant thing, but something that plays second-fiddle to earthly things that please the flesh. This goes for any of us at times, no matter how spiritually mature you are or think you are.

This is especially true for our desire to meet as a church body. "Church" is such a heavy word and it may not be adequate for this question of "why do we meet?" All etymological discussions aside, it's supposed to be a simple meeting of of Christians already engaged in the work of the Kingdom of God. (The term "kingdom" can be awfully loaded lately, too, but that's whole other shooting match.) When we think of church as nothing more than the regularly occurring rendezvous of saints on mission for God, it makes total sense to gather. It's our war room. We want to catch up with each other in love. We want to rejoice in victories had. We want to bear each others burdens, and by doing so fulfill Jesus' mandate. That makes sense. And the more engaged you are in the Great Commission the more you look forward to "debriefing" with your co-missionaries.

Conversely, simple gatherings don't make a whole lot of sense for Christians who are not on-mission for Jesus during day-to-day life. Many reserve church for something to do on a weekend that doesn't involve excursions or pro sports for that very reason. It just isn't a priority for them. Nor should we expect it to be until there is some reason to meet as active Christians. But we often spit at the wind trying to find clever ways to woo them back.

Please note that I wrote "simple gatherings." More complex church meetings often bring along activities and edifices that draw in otherwise lackadaisical Christians. In traditional meetings, there are varying degrees of liturgy (some include pages of instructions on when to stand, repeat sayings, kneel, etc.), there is impressive architecture to give a sense of grandeur, there could be echoes of ancient rituals from exotic world cultures, and there are likely frequent appeals to the Five Senses that give awe and wonder and plenty of worldly reason to "attend church." You know, if you're into that kind of thing.

And on the other side of the spectrum we're seeing an increasingly complex form of stagecraft that accompanies an otherwise simple gathering consisting of a few songs and one guy giving a talk. This is for people who don't care much for "smells and bells" in the traditional churches, and who prefer a fresher, more modern and austere approach. Many megachurches (and smaller churches based on that model) have made an art out of creating a Sunday morning experience that is "relevant" to the crowd they're reaching for Jesus (more power to them on that). If you like Modern Rock, then you'll LOVE our worship band! You know, if you're into that kind of thing.

The same can be said for the fondness many feel for a variety of trends, new and old: Southern Gospel worship music, revivalism, Gregorian chanting, shouting during prayer, long periods of "swaying and praying," hymnal pages instead of PowerPoint screens -- you name it. The truth is, we often "feel" God when our artistic preferences are met.

So what "kind of thing" should we be "into" as sincere Christians? I don't want to split hairs on worship styles, as we all have our preferences, but I do want to share my experience. The more I've drawn closer to God -- the more I've studied the Bible, prayed frequently, told others about Jesus, fasted, confessed, contemplated the Lord's Supper, kept a sabbath, basked in the peace that passes understanding, etc. -- the more jittery I become in a church meeting that is stacked full of fleshly reasons to "attend." It almost doesn't matter to me what style of worship it is. It gets lonely when one guy is talking 80% of the time, and you can't share. Or stop and ask someone how they're doing without the clock ticking. Or just pray for anything and everyone as there is need. It's downright stifling to my spirit, and makes me want to find reasons ... not to meet. (And, yes, I understand there are small groups, Sunday Schools, outreaches, etc., where this itch can be scratched, but it often lacks the "sanction" and permanency of the larger gathering and opportunities are limited.)

So there I am in standard building-centered churches, craving a chance to freely share and freely pray in a packed auditorium that at the same time can be devoid of souls. Yet how boring my ideal of a stripped-down meeting may seem to others! No programs or entertainment, but at the same time a very useful function for a much broader kingdom lifestyle. You'd have to really be into Jesus to enjoy my three-person church this evening. Used to be, I'd have a sense of guilt for not being exciting or winsome enough by attracting such small numbers. Tonight, though, Jesus was enough.

In short: The meeting (church) does not exist for itself. The meeting serves a vital role in the Kingdom of God ... you know, if you're into it.

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