Saturday, September 19, 2009

evangelicals longing for the sacred

There are a lot of things that I LOVE about my church, most of all that they push their congregation to be serious about their faith and to be engaged in service and community - never growing stagnant. Sometimes, though, I think we over-emphasize some things and miss out on others. There is a heavy focus on the importance of people and their stories. I AGREE that people need love and care, but I also don't think that people should be the purpose of the Church. Isn't our focus supposed to us worshiping our God?

I think sometimes when we over-emphasize people we fall into the tendency of America to become focused on self-help, emotional experiences, and keeping ourselves entertained. We forget to stop, kneel, and be silent in adoration of God rather than ourselves or people around us. It infuses our songs. Isaac pointed out one that bothered him this morning that speaks truth, but it's the subtle emphasis of the song that really isn't great. "My God He was, my God He is, my God He's always gonna be". Miiiiiiinneeee... Me. It's all about me.

Don't get me wrong, my church is great. We picked our church because it is vibrant. There is a drive to grow as people, to worship with our lives, to be truly known and truly in relationship with each other. It's remarkable for such a big church. The people that come are really and truly cared for, and challenged to not just come on Sunday but to understand that the implications of what we believe affects every area of our lives. I have personally seen the lives of my friends being changed as they attend here, and that is true of us too. So... that is awesome.

But... in the casualness of this kind of church, I miss and long for the sacred. We don't take communion on Sunday, and I miss it. We don't use much liturgy. There is very little guidance to the spiritual disciplines. I long for that. I want to intentionally participate in the creeds, in structured repentance, in silence, in the lectio divina practice of meditation, in the practices that have been passed down through thousands of years of believers.

Last week when we went to the ordination of a friend to the priesthood of the Episcopalian church, I reveled in the liturgy. The solemn communion, the chanted Nicene creed, the reading of scripture... oh it was all beautiful. When we left Isaac and I discussed what it must be like for someone that has grown up in that atmosphere. We value it so highly mostly because we miss it (I did experience some of this in a Presbyterian church growing up), and now that we've studied church history and theology, the nuances of liturgy and historical practices mean the world to us. However, the trouble with churches like that is that children raised in the church are very likely to leave. They may never develop a personal faith if they only participate in corporate ritual. It can becomes empty and only the leaders who study it truly get anything out of it. I personally believe that's one reason that Evangelicalism grew so much - it engages and involves the youth. on the other hand, once a youth is grown, if we long for greater depth we often join the current exodus into high church denomination, Roman Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy.

The negative tendency of more liturgical churches is to lose the soul beyond the liturgy - to become a ritualistic club that puts on the appearance of religion. Low-church traditions tend the opposite - to keep the spirit but lose the sacred.

A theology professor at North Park University (Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed) wrote about evangelicals and liturgy recently. He asked the question:

Where did low church evangelicalism drop its connection to this ordered liturgy, this ordered exposure of God's people to hearing the Word of God read, and to the connection to the Church of all ages?
The thing is, technically evangelicals follow orthodox faith. Technically they believe the Nicene Creed, and just about everything else that is taught in liturgy. However, I would guess that most people in my evangelical church don't KNOW that and don't have any sense of connection to the broader church, mostly because it's never taught, and our faith is never publicly confessed. Oh yes, we say we have faith, and we talk about that all the time. But, as my husband says, EVERYONE has faith is something, so faith means nothing. In the statement, "I believe _____", it's the "____" that really matters.

I guess I feel increasingly like - if we are a church that has decided to do our own thing, in our own way... then we are ridiculously arrogant and chances are we will fall into heresy very quickly. Christianity is huge because we follow a historic faith, passed down from the Word of God himself through the scripture and the Body of Christ, the Church. It is not all about us or all about now. It's about Christ and about His redemption of everything.

I think that in my devotional time over the next few weeks I may actually go through a few of the old creeds, and perhaps the Westminster Confession


CM said...

I've never been to an Episcopalian liturgy, but from what I've heard, they know how to do it up right. As a Catholic, I obviously have the liturgy, but we still sometimes try to make it more "relevant" and end up singing crummy songs and downplaying some of the sacredness. And by crummy songs, I do not mean the praise and worship type songs, but very badly written hymns.

It is interesting that the liturgy by itself, without the life of Christ in the heart, is empty ritual that pushes people away. However, those whose life *is* Christ seem to gradually grow to long more and more for the most solemn and sacred that liturgy has to offer. I have seen this in the lives of a lot of Catholics, who maybe at one point didn't know Christ, and could take Mass or leave it. Some even left the Church altogether. But once Christ becomes central, so does the liturgy, and they don't want it watered down either.

Good stuff! I always enjoy reading your blog!

That Married Couple said...

Wow - great post.

Anonymous said...

Just found this post. I completely understand your concern for the focus of the more evangelical churches and I also think its good to be concerned over the fact that many children who grow up in traditional Christianity eventually leave. Where I guess I differ is that I don't think being weary of that is reason enough to be scared of those faith traditions. Children naturally question their beliefs at some point in their life anyway, regardless of what type of church their in. Also, additional teaching and learning should occur within the family in addition to what happens on Sundays and that's often what is lacking. People understand what to do and what to say, but not why they're doing it. I think that's a role that the domestic Church can and should represent a little more.
As a convert myself I am constantly wondering how I can teach my children to appreciate our faith with the same excitement that I have, and I usually conclude with "I just really need to teach them and provide the resources for them to learn, not only rely on someone else's homily" - although that's a good place to start.
I think that's true for any religion though.

Kacie said...

I agree with you, matchingmoonheads, I think that if a church filled with liturgy and ritual is worshipping God, it's simple the challenge of the family and the leaders to do their best to help the children encounter God personally and understand the significance of it all.

Your'e right, most people question and many people leave their own faith traditions when they become an adult, and to a certain extent I think it's mostly because They are searching for a fresh way to approach God, something that seems meaningful and different than what they grew up with.

Elizabeth said...

Kacie: wow, you really spoke my own heart, here. This is very much something I struggled with and one of the reasons why I love the Catholic Church. Thank you for sharing. Your thoughts echoed with my own.