Tuesday, August 3, 2010

No Frills

If you look around you, you see a world that is looking for a no frills Christianity, one unencumbered with dogma, liturgy, morality, ministerial office, or building and all its accouterments.   Take a gander at the architectural style of most modern church buildings and you see a structure empty of art, sculpture, stained glass, wood carving, stonework, or pipe organ.  Instead, you see a warehouse style building that does not hide its structural members or mechanical systems.  Instead of the customary Christian adornments, an up to date sound system and video screens are the only really indulgence.  Everything else is no frills.  This architectural style perfectly reflects a faith in which doctrine is flexible, Scripture speaks what you want it to say, and the trappings of church mirror the things "in" at the moment (current technology, music, and methodology).

The resurgence of the house church (check out the news magazines and even current Christian journals for more on this) is itself the ultimate fruit of such a no frills church.  There is no building, there are no creeds, there is no confession of faith, there is no objective Scriptural truth or moral code, there is no ministerial office or ministers, there is no authority higher than the judgment of the individual.  This is seen as basic Christianity, the Christianity of the early church which worshiped in the home and preceded the actions of council and bishop to creedally define and confessional proclaim what is orthodox and true.  The only problem with this is that as quickly as it could early Christianity gladly exchanged this simple expression for buildings, ministerial office, creed, confession, hymn, and structure.

We find ourselves at a moment when people have become disenchanted with their institutions -- including the Church.  Polls tell us that younger Christians are less dogmatic, less inclined toward objective truth or morality, less defined by the creeds and confessions of the past, and more willing to remodel Christianity to fit the moment.  And why not?  For a long time, their parents have been talking down the Church, her ministry and ministers, the structures through which she does her work, the truth she proclaims, and authority she bears.  It is not that youth disdains so much the Church as youth is bearing the seeds of discontent sown by baby boomers and those since.  All of this willingly and gladly exchanged for a no frills Christianity which is generic in its confession and faith and libertarian in its expression in worship and piety.

Yet it is all a false and misleading dream.  The idea that Christianity can be distilled from Scripture in such a way that it is no longer captive to the Word is a myth foisted upon the Church by those who became disillusioned with the frailty of humanity and the hiddenness of God in weakness.  It was capitalized upon by those whose education, science, and demythologizing attempts to paint the Christianity of creed, confession and liturgy as a development foreign to the Jesus of history.  Over time this wedge between the Jesus of the Church and the supposed Jesus of history and primitive Scripture has helped fuel the illusion that a no frills Christianity, devoid of all unnecessary additions, is the genuine article (vs the hypocrisy of the Church defined by creed and confession and lived out within the parameters of human weakness and frailty).

In 1964 a relative came to my family reunion with a brand new Chevy Malibu.  People made the usual fuss about how rich he was and extravagant.  But he protested.  The car had no air conditioning or automatic transmission.  In fact, he had them remove the white walled tires and exchange them for black walls.  No frills.  Just necessities.  As a youth consumed with thoughts of cars and driving, I wondered what it cost him to have the white walls removed and for what gain.  (White walls were in then.)

Where orthodox Christianity exists, there is fullness and this fullness both draws from us our best and our highest even as it conveys to us through Word and Sacrament the best and highest God has to give us.  Where orthodox Christianity exits, there is art to express in image the fullness of this grace upon grace that has visited us in the incarnation of God in His Son.  Where orthodox Christianity exists, there is creed and confession to speak clearly the truth of the ages to a particular time and to bound the limits of what it means to believe, teach, and confess Jesus Christ as the Scriptures norm it.  Where orthodox Christianity exists, there is reverence for the legacy of the saints and the living tradition of those who have come before, to which we add the best of the present day.  Where orthodox Christianity exists, there is liturgy rich and full, faithful and catholic, bringing to us the treasures of the means of grace so that we might not only own them but respond to them with our highest for His glory.  Where orthodox Christianity exists, there is music to serve the Word and sing the truth to ears, hearts, and minds (and not as entertainment or merely something to set a mood).  Where orthodox Christianity exists, there is the fullness of the Office of the Ministry to serve the faithful with the gifts of Word, Water, Bread and Wine.  Where orthodox Christianity exists, there are structures to serve as houses of God that reflect not only His glory but the wondrous mystery that He dwells with men through His Word and Sacraments.

Remember the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive, perfumed oil?  Where is the no frills part of that story?  Where is the generic Christianity and the basic Savior?  No, where the true faith exists, there is fullness, not minimums.  It is not a matter of what we can get by with but reflecting, as best we are able, the fullness that God has given to us, sparing nothing -- not even His only Son -- for us and our salvation.

Wiki says no frills is a term used to describe any service or product for which the non-essential features have been removed to keep the price low.  Is that the Christianity we want?  A discount version of Christ, a basic Savior without all the features and fuss, or a no frills faith stripped of all the extras?  Yes, it may be what we want because we want to keep the cost low.  If the God whom we worship is no frills, than we can get by with as little as necessary (or possible) in response to His actions.  But the majesty of God is that He has hidden His glory in earthly flesh and blood through His Son and in earthly elements of word, water, bread and wine to convey what His Son accomplished for us.  But simple words, water, bread, and wine are no longer simple when God claims them as His own and makes them the means of His grace.  Here the ordinary become extraordinary and the routine become spectacular.  The result of our encounter with this lavish and generous grace is that we want more of it and we want to make it the focus and fullness of all that we are and hope to be.

So, you can keep this no frills Christianity.  I want nothing of such a basic version of what God intends to be fullness.  I do not want a church content with minimums but one whose passion is the expression back to God of all the fullness that He has shown to us... 


Rev. Thompson said...

Thank you for these observations! How important it is for Christians to understand that public worship is God serving us (Gottesdienst) and the proclamation of His sacrifice for our salvation--His work (Leitourgia).

It can be a temptation for us all to approach public worship in a way that focuses the attention upon ourselves rather then Christ. Is the music "contemporary" enough or is it difficult to sing and too sad or too slow? Is the preacher dynamic enough or multimedia savvy in the course of his presentation? We want to be entertained and dazzled. Yet when you look at how God works, it is through non-dazzling things like water, bread, wine, and voice. Why work so hard to put on dazzling multimedia productions along with homemade liturgies? Perhaps we should reexamine the centuries of meaning the historic church has found in chorales, stained glass, meaningful rubrics and rites, etc.

Pastors would serve their flocks well by expending a very deliberate and careful effort in explaining the significance of the historic liturgy to their congregations. They could also strive to grow in their efforts to provide excellence in execution of the Divine Service in officiating, preaching, and quality of musicianship.

Regarding the disregard of the office of Pastor: God established this Office for the safeguarding of the Gospel. In the Lutheran Church we thoroughly train our pastors in the Biblical languages, the History of the Church, the Doctrines of the Church, and Practical applications of the ministry. After four years of college our Pastors receive four more years of Seminary instruction. Many of us have received two to four more years in addition to that. How important it is for our Spiritual leaders to maintain as thorough a grasp on God's Mysteries in Christ so that he may be able to teach and defend the faith. It is God who established the Office of Pastor. The Lord also outlined His requirements for the Office (to Timothy and Titus especially). If we diminish or devalue the office of Pastor, we risk losing the comforts of the Gospel God safeguards through that office.

Rev. Matthew E. Thompson
Hayward, CA

Kaleb said...

I agree with pretty much everything you said, but be careful with your assumptions about house churches. I attend a house church that is solidly confessional.

Pastor Peters said...

You may indeed and it may be wonderful but I think most of the house churches eschew creed, confession, minister, liturgy, etc... in their pursuit of the simple Christianity of a dream...

Dr.D said...

My parish is a house church simply because we are too small to afford a building. That certainly does not stop us from having the complete Mass according to the Anglican Missal which includes the Introit, Summary of the Law, Kyrie, Collect, Lessons, Creed, Sermon, and the full Canon. I'm sure what you say is probably true about some house churches, but it certainly does not have to be true of all.

Kaleb said...

Maybe there is a distinction to be made between being a house church because that's what makes the most sense, vs. being a house church as a way of making a statement.

Gloria said...

Every home is a "house church".But nothing can really replace the "Church" building for proper,corporal,liturgical and sacramental worship.

Anonymous said...

I think you find most house churches from fundamentalist/discontent methodist who are trying to capture a simplier time, often with no understanding of the true historic house church and void of an Ordained Minster, Liturgy and the Sacrament being present.

Anonymous said...

yes and amen how blessed we are to have Pastor Peters don't anyone come calling to take him from us! We love him! every Sunday is Christ start to finish thanks be to God!!

Bill S. said...

Well, anonymous, I sure would like to take Pastor Peters away! My parish has an open call right now and it's tough to find a good, confessional pastor in the LCMS who reflects Pastor Peters viewpoint. We've found two, called two and got neither one!

This issue of a no frills church really hit home. Over on a Christian forum, a Catholic priest and a handful of us liturgical types are going around and around with a dozen or so 'no frills' Christians. These folks consider things such as liturgy, candles, art and incense as pagan and unChristian!! They have articles written by so-called Christian authors that denounce the use of the things Pastor Peters applauds.

We've tried to explain that these things were part of the Jewish temple which was patterend after the heavenly temple. Revelation contains candles, incense and liturgy---so why not now? But nope-they just aren't budging.

There's also a strong belief in modern Evangelicalism that there are no sacred spaces. Their churches are these warehouses that might be a church on Sunday; a concert hall on Wednesday; and set up as a gymnasium on Friday! They just don't believe that a place can be (or should be) blessed and set aside as sacred as they reason that 'church' equals 'people'. That's true, but 'people' should be gathered around the 'altar' and the 'sacraments'---all of which they eschew!

As an adult convert to the LCMS, I sure hope that in the years to come I can still find confessional, liturgical Lutheran congregations to worship in. May pastors like Pastor Peters increase!