Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Church Extraneous?

I just got back from a scientific research meeting in Spain. While in Spain, I had the opportunity to take the train from Valencia (where I was staying) up to Madrid to spend a day with an old friend. Antonio is a Spaniard and was my roommate and best man in my wedding.  I’ve visited him three times in Spain, each time about a decade apart.  He was a missionary (although natural born Spaniard) to Spain for many years, just stepping down five years ago.

I listened carefully to some of the ideas that he brings to the table as a non-American.  He was Americanized during his 15 years of living in the states.  I think his wife, Helena, who has never lived outside of Spain, has had a great influence on him.  She is the typical Spaniard, classified as Catholic, but never darkening the doors of a cathedral except for very special occasions.  She because a Christians in her twenties, but never plugged into an American-type Protestant church.

Antonio, even though he was a missionary, never goes to church and has not been involved with a church since leaving the states in 1985.  He considered it when he got back to Spain, after all he was involved with protestant churches in the U.S. and was being sent by churches as a missionary.

Helena was the first to question him.  She thought it was very strange that anyone, especially Christians, would want to get involved with the organized church. She, like most Spaniards, considers it as a black hole of sucking in your time and energy with no clear purpose.

Of course, over the ages it has been argued that a good Christians is very involved with the church.  But we must divide Church (the body of Christ) from the human organization we know as “church.”  When you think about it, Jesus was unchurched.

Antonio asked me why I go.  I am a very honest person, which always gets me into trouble and keeps me on the low end of the popularity list, especially among Christians.  I go for two reasons. First of all, I do want at least some Christian friends and in the American society, to have Christian friends you must be involved with a church. Secondly, my wife expects it from me.  If I were to stop going it would be a scandal within her entire family and it would create a lot of friction in our marriage. It was the same when I stopped going to her church.  Lastly, I go because I do still retain some enjoyment of the Sunday morning service, but not much. I mean if the talk (sermon) is decent and they have some good music, I’m fine with that.

True church, in my opinion, is what I’m about to do in ten minutes . . . go to a small group of Christian friends and do some honest sharing and praying for each other.

But I do think I’m drawing close to point that my next choice, if I don’t stay in my present church, is to become unchurched.  I would have to out-live my wife to reach that point, and I hope that never happens.

I may come back to this topic as I do think it is important.  I do think the present generation needs “permission” to leave the organized church and still be a Christian. Right now it is swallow the whole thing or leave the faith entirely.


nestus venter said...

We've been in and out of the organised part of church for 25 years and mostly out the past 14 years. We have Christian friends who form a church community with us. I think the organised part of church helps spiritual growth up to a certain point an after that, it hampers. The Mystery that is Jesus cannot be explored in a place who has all the answers.

We came to a place one day where we had to answer the nagging questions. "Is this it?" "Is Sundays and Wednesdays as we know them what God intended?" "Is this the Christian life?"

There has to be more.

So we walked out. The journey since, is not at all glamorous or safe or an example of "how it should be done", but we have seen glimpses of God the Father in the everydayness of life. And that makes the journey worthwhile.

May God bless you in your journey.

Dana said...

It depends on what one believes the Church *is*.

I belong to a Church that is sacramental but not "the dispenser of the sacraments," that expects "glimpses of God in the everydayness of life" (and expects that people will mess up and is not thrown by that reality), whose name for Holy Communion is "the Holy Mysteries" and lives comfortably with Mystery, and has recognized from the beginning that "having all the answers" isn't the point.

I was in the process of leaving the western church at the same time all my children did. I did not forsake Christianity as they did, but you can bet I had questions and needed to give my self permission to disengage somewhat from "church" -

Interestingly, my last stop on my journey out of the western church was a PCUSA church. I had no personality issues with anyone. When I told the pastor where I was leaving and where I was going, she had nothing but encouragement for me.

We're all where we are for a reason, Mike. God is with you no matter what.


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

This post greatly reminds me of my missionary friend in the Philipinnes. He runs his own church & school & has been supported by people in Australia. He is pretty much independent. However, I would say that your view takes a very low view of the historical & sacramental past of the Christian faith. To come up with this I would assume you, & your friend, are pretty much "sola scriptura" in your thinking. I also used to be in fact.

Sure the church is the "body of Christ", but it is also a visibly recognisable body, not one in secret. Being the "body" also means being united to Christ who prayed for a mystical unity with the Father & each other. How can we Christians move towards that unity if most seem to strip the faith back to, "me, Jesus & the bible", with no concrete agreement on what is necessary to the "plan of salvation" besides saying a "Jesus prayer" ?

I think a historical look at Christianity, through a trust in Providence, would indicate that there was a real "Apostolic succession" of truths (& some structure) passed onto subsequent generations, to protect the faith from falling into individualistic gnostic chaos (which worked for a while at least).

I too struggle with the Church, stuck between an overly "low" one & a "high" church, with liberal elements in it. However, because I believe I need to take the sacrament to sustain me, I put up with it. I even attend Catholic mass on occasions and monastic retreats.

So even though there is a lot of boredom & frustration on the way, there are ways to sustain the spiritual life without abandoning the "formal" Church. I would rather keep myself connected in some way than to "go it alone". To me it would be turning my back on the providential work of God in my forbears. Who am I to judge they got it all wrong or they were just a product of their times ?

j. Michael Jones said...

I have a great respect for the early Church leaders and the wise councils that tried to keep the Church on course. The Church has also committed a huge amount of great atrocities throughtout the ages in the name of Christ. The organized Chruch has built its foundation on guilt manipulation for human gain.

It is about definitions. A small group of believers who meet in a bar or coffee shop . . . and who share the sacraments . . . is no less of a church than a great cathedral. Yes, these small groups are very vulnerable to mis-guided manipulations and false doctrine, just as the mainstream organized churches have been. The reality is, we are now living in an age where the organized church has lost a generation of people. If we tell those people that it is all or none (you must buy into the organized church or leave Christianity altogether) then they will leave. If we say, there are other options of forms that you don't HAVE to throw the baby out with the washwater, then there would be an opportunity for some to keep Christianity.