I really am frustrated by the state of modern Christianity. Going to church feels disturbingly like the rest of my life. A whole bunch of folks getting together trying to pretend they’re better at living their lives than they really are, listening to other folks tell them the “secrets” to living their lives better than they really are. It’s not the hypocrisy that bothers me; at least that’s the truth. It’s the fact that we collectively know something much bigger than our hypocrisy, and yet choose to only talk about Him in passive passing.
I feel like this is systemic of the current church. Yet many of my friends have found church homes. One friend had 3 questions he suggested using when looking for a church home:
- Was the Triune God mentioned during the service?
- If so, was the Triune God the subject of the sentences?
- If so, was the verb of those sentences active?
The basic gist of these questions is this… if you’re attending a church that doesn’t present the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the present and active subject every Sunday, is it really a Christian fellowship or just another support group? I mean, we’re talking about the Creator, the Savior, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the least we could do is take a little care about how we talk about Him in His own house.
I’ll be fair, I haven’t been to a service in a long time where the answers to those questions were anything but “Yes”, “Yes”, and “Yes”. But I have to be honest, I don’t remember the last time where that was the point of the sermon. If we didn’t read from the bible, recite the creed, and pray the Lord’s prayer, I’m not sure those answers would stay the same.
I’ve complained about the music in church before, and I really feel like the music is the best illustration of the state of the church. I’m frustrated that we spend so many resources in “keeping people engaged” during worship. I’m not saying church should be boring, but do we really need to make the service about people giving other people what they want? Folks spend all week chasing what they want, I’m frustrated that the time we set aside to recenter on what is truly important winds up being about what we want too.
Most of this frustration surfaced tonight by a song I love to sing, “Come Thou Fount”. It’s one of those songs I fall back on. It sounds pretty, the lyrics are poetic-ish, and it reminds me of some wonderful times in my past. Every denomination seems to have their own version, but in all the times I’ve sang it, we’ve always ended with something roughly equivalent to this verse:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Now I do love this verse, and I deconstruct it out of love, but look at all that “me” language. We start off with “oh look how horrible I am” then follow it with “please passively do this one thing for me so I’ll be good.” Then we go on to “I’m going to turn my back on you as soon as the song is over” but then somehow have the gall to say “But here’s my heart, you can keep that in a little box just for yourself.”
So imagine how I felt when I saw that the real last verse is the following:
O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.
There’s still a ton of “me” language, but at least we’re indirectly talking about God being God again. “O that day when freed from sinning” It’s passive, but at least it refers to the day when God will come again to raise His children from the grave. God will come. God will raise us up.
“I shall see Thy lovely face.” Again, it feels like God is passive, but the only action “I” am doing is seeing. He’s the one with the lovely face. He is the one clothing me in linen washed in His blood from His death. And it’s true, I will sing. I’ll sing the song He has given me to sing about His grace that He pours out for the sake of His children.
And yes Lord, please don’t tarry. Please Lord, keep the promise You made.
When He does come, He will take my soul, the soul He ransomed on the cross, to the place He has prepared so that I might be with Him just as He promised.
And by His own hand that day will come, and when it does He will carry me to His home, our home, the home He has prepared. And that new day will be endless. Amen.
So praise Him. Praise the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Praise Him for all that He has done. Praise Him for the promises He has kept, He is keeping, and He will keep. Praise Him for His love, His grace, His mercy, His beauty, His majesty. Praise Him and Him alone.
Hey, 2 things:
- I’m not sure if I’m the friend mentioned in paragraph 2, but I have used a variation of those questions. I don’t use them to evaluate an entire service (the liturgy, as you point out, tends to save Lutherans from what would otherwise be Godless services), but rather to evaluate sermons. And I don’t listen for mention of the Triune God (though that would be good, too), but just for what the sermon says about Jesus.
I got those questions from Issues, Etc., a radio show/podcast that occasionally evaluates sermon messages. They point out that Jesus said the Spirit would testify of Him – thus, Spirit-led preaching will be about Jesus.
- You might like the book The Fire and the Staff, by Klemet Preus (http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Staff-Lutheran-Theology-Practice/dp/0758604041/). Gottfried and I both read it recently, and it addresses some of these issues.
The problem with “secrets to living your life better” is that they (1) have basically nothing to do with Christ or why He came, and (2) do not preach to all parts of the world. The Gospel is truly for all people, but people in an impoverished country aren’t exactly looking for the “secrets to a healthy marriage,” I would guess. They would be interested in eternal salvation and Christ’s victory over death, though, or at least that applies to them.
Posted with : The Way