Saturday, January 26, 2008

What Good is Church Anyway? Who Needs It!

Once again I’ve been involved in a conversation with several for whom church had once been a place that promised truth in a world that does not know truth, safe haven in a world that has been darkened by sin, and saving from the wrath of God that would condemn them to the eternal punishment of hell but for the grace available to them from God by way of Christ through their church. But as they matured in faith and grew bold enough to become curious, ask questions, express doubt, and discover a world of God’s love and light that exists all about them in every day life that same church became a place of oppression, filled with untruth and from which escape was essential for their own well being. They crave God’s presence in their lives, they have nothing against Christianity in principle, and most of all they desire authentic, supportive fellowship with others.

As a priest and pastor I am ashamed that their experiences in church have not nourished their souls, but that is what church is supposed to be about about, and in ways more profound than fellowship, even at its best. The church is nothing more than ecclesia, a gathering of persons for a particular purpose. Fellowship is important for success in whatever purpose is at hand, because it is through fellowship that the gifts and talents of those gathered can be recognized, developed, organized and utilized. Fellowship has the added advantage of providing the ground for friendships to develop between persons who would otherwise have no reason or desire to get to know each other. But the particular ecclesia that is church is to engage the gathering in a purpose that transcends ordinary time and space.

We are called to gather together in God's name to, with deliberate intentionality, enter into holy time and space. In the best Anglican tradition of the Episcopal Church, which is also consistent with the tradition of the early church, it means to be in direct, physical and spiritual communion with Christ through the Eucharist. In the moment of the Eucharist we depart from human time (chronos) to enter into God’s time (kyros). In that time we are fed with the holy food and drink of new and unending life. It becomes a time and place to be refreshed, healed, fed, restored and sent out to do God's work. Being sent out is to be sent in to the world of chronos and into all the opportunities for fellowship that confront us in every sort and condition of human being. It is not God’s wrath but God’s love that we are sent out to proclaim, not our depravity but our creation in God’s image that we are to celebrate. We are God’s beloved children, and if children then heirs through Christ in his eternal kingdom. The world is certainly filled with sin and depravity. We cannot ignore that, but we are called to be agents of light, love, and life in every place that we go and with every person whom we meet. In a most curious way, doing that also reveals the beauty and goodness of all creation, or, as the psalmist said, “in your light we see light.” There are other traditions within the Christian faith that share the same understanding but express it in different ways, so I’m not claiming anything that is exclusively Episcopalian.

What I deeply regret is that it is not the way of all churches that claim the name of Christ. It means that those who have had a bad experience and escaped from it are very hard to convince that they should return to the ecclesia where they can be more fully nourished than ever they could imagine and their great gifts and talents could be joined with others to do even greater works in God’s name. Even someone as great in faith as Bonhoeffer had some of the same feelings of almost despair over the failures of some churches and expressed them well in his "Letters and Papers from Prison." In them he wondered if we did not need a religionless religion of some kind. In the end he would not give up on that central moment of Holy Communion with God in Christ physically present in bread and wine and shared with one another in love.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear 'Country Parson'. I am a friend of Lucy's which lead me to this post. I really loved it and and agree whole heartedly!! Pamela

Country Parson said...

Thank you Pamela. Please feel welcome to join in the conversation at any time.

lucy said...

"But the particular ecclesia that is church is to engage the gathering in a purpose that transcends ordinary time and space." sounds lovely in theory and i hope to find it again one day in reality. how does one go about finding this when so many places seem to be preaching judgment and exclusivity rather than equipping us to be "agents of light?"

and i still struggle with the feelings i perceive that in order to really 'get it right', we have to be partaking of the Eucharist in a very specific time and place...otherwise, we are out of God's will and that just feels like more legalistic judgment to me.

so, where and how did bonhoeffer partake of holy communion while imprisoned? i think i need to go back and review his "life together". i remember it resonating with me and his call to community and fellowship...both of which i am strongly drawn to participate.

thanks for continuing your thoughts alongside me :-)

Tony said...

Steve:

Don't know if yu checked out the site of "Lucy", who responded to your thoughts on Good Church.

Her photo interface is pretty cool.

tg/ Wenatchee

Country Parson said...

Hi Lucy,
It's not an imperative. No one has to be in church in order to "be saved" or to "find God." I just hate it when church leaders lead other to think that. I'd have to go back to to Letters and Papers" to know for sure, but I as I recall there were a few opportunities for him to participate in Communion through help from sympathetic guards, but more of it came through remembering in companionship with Bethge as they exchanged letters. His idea about religionless religion came about through his great disillusionment with the Churches that aided and abetted Hitler and his own inability to comprehend the enormous influence he had and would have on generations of those seeking God in Christ. He really felt like a failure.

Sunrise Sister said...

The Eucharist for me.....I take it as often and "wherever I might be lucky enough to find it" - I do hedge my bets by going to a place each Sunday where I'm pretty sure it is going to be.

Hey glad to see one of your readers found Lucy and one of Lucy's readers found CP!