Friday, July 22, 2011

I Had a Bad Experience...

I will admit it.  I hate going to the dentist.  I hate having my teeth cleaned.  If I could, I would never go back.  But my wife and family have called me to reason over and through my fear and to obtain the salutary services of dentist and dental hygienist to retain my soft and decaying teeth in as good a shape as can be for as long as can be.

I am sure that I am not the only one who lives in fear of the dentist.  In fact, all of us have some fears, rational or not, and most of them proceed from one unfortunate experience or another.  Recently it has become fashionable among some to reach out to those who have had a bad experience with the Church by offering them something that does not look, act or sound like the Church.  Sometimes, they both advertise and celebrate the fact that they are not like "your grandfather's church."  In some places, it has become a standard entrance litany to proclaim this, well, church is for those who have had a bad experience with Church, who don't like Church, who feel rejected or judged by Church. 

No vestments here (rather polo and khakis or jeans and a tee as the standard uniform of relevant clergy).  No chanting or hymns, for that matter (rather a praise band that sings songs that sound like what you listen to on your Ipod -- love songs to my BFF Jesus).  No pews (rather theater seating with cup holders for the Starbucks you get in the food court of the campus or facility).  No Church Year or lectionary (rather sermons on the text du jour chosen by the Pastor to fit the neat 9 week sermon series acrostic he came up with).  No altar (rather, a chancel centered on nothing more religious than a large screen).  No pulpit (the Pastor roams around with a cute little Brittney Spears microphone hanging off his ear).  No baptismal font (rather a blow up kiddie pool blown up and filled for the baptismal services or a real swimming pool does just as well).  No sermons on dull and ordinary things (rather, sermons on punching up your sex life or making the most of bad situations or giving up your addictions, etc.).

I will admit it.  I am as offended as those dentists who tell me that my bad experience was not their fault.  I resent being labelled as one of those bad experience churches because we sing the liturgy and hymns of the Church, observe the Church Year, have all the traditional chancel furniture, and preach from the pulpit sermons on sin and forgiveness, death and resurrection.  I resent being lumped together with every aberrant and uncaring liturgical church and Pastor as an offender against relevance, modernity, and fun.  Even more than this, I resent that the liturgy of the Church is deemed irrelevant, antiquated, and boooooring.

Get over it.  That is what my wife told me when I admitted to her how long it had been since I had been to a dentist and why I was afraid to go back.  Get over it.  It was what I needed to hear.  The liturgy is not child abuse nor some catastrophic tragic event.  It is the place where God's people come to receive the things of His promise (the Word and the Sacraments).  I had a bad experience with Church....  So what!  Get over it.  We have all had bad experiences with churches, with dull sermons, with bad liturgy, with terrible hymns, etc. 

You know what is so amazing?  Even when preach the Word badly, God's Word still goes forth to accomplish its purpose.  Even when we do the liturgy poorly, it speaks and sings the things of God -- what He has done for us and our salvation and where He bestows these gifts.  Even when we struggle to sing hymns played terribly (fast, slow or without any recognizable rhythm), the wonderful hymns of old speak of God's saving grace given to us and for us in Christ.  Even when the building is devoid of art and the liturgy less than artful and the Pastor ill at ease as the liturgist, Christ is there where He has promised to be -- in the Word and the Bread and the Cup!

Some folks need to get over it...  Find another Church home where the faithful confession is married to a more vibrant liturgical expression... Don't ditch the baby with the bathwater...  And for God's sake, don't beat your chest in pride that your church is not like the Church.  Get over it!  Indeed!


Cheryl said...

I have a little different take on this. I belong to a faithful, confessional church, but one that utilizes great variety in its choice of music and liturgical settings. Understand that we don't have CoWo, we don't have pastors in polos or screens or a praise band or creative confessions and creeds. What we do have is a congregation that appreciates and thrives on a rich musical palette and a cantor who is able to provide that for them. Everything we do is chosen with the utmost of care by a team of pastors and cantor who know what they are doing and who are faithful to Scripture and the Confessions and historic practice. And yet there are people who say we are slipping down the CoWo slide because we don't do the liturgy right out of the book all the time. I have had people tell me that if they were in my church when we did this or that song they would walk out rather than avail themselves of the preaching and the sacrament--because of one song. I don't understand this. Individual parishes are different. Even where there is basic uniformity and following of the historic liturgy there will be slight differences in worship. If I attend another church as a guest I do not expect to feel completely comfortable with everything they do. But I will try my best to participate as fully as I can. So I do not understand those who expect to come to my church and be able to close their eyes and do it all by heart the way they do at their home church. They can do that at home. When you're visiting you need to be a little more flexible.

Thank you for this post, Pastor. It's right on. I guess my point is that there are people on both ends of the spectrum who need to "get over it."

Sage said...

Yes, but when those who have tired of the services that come off like a Wayne Dyer conference and have no substance or benefit beyond feel good morality lectures look for the real meat of the gospel, they come to grandfather's church. Like the son who spends his inheritance foolishly and wakes up to the fact that life in his father's house is not so bad, there are many prodigal's out there that have already come home.

Those who have returned or even discovered the faith, appreciate it beyond measure.

Anonymous said...

The Holy Spirit can work through the
Word of God to accomplish his purpose
yet our mission as pastors is to make
sure the Word is proclaimed in truth
and purity within the framework of
Law and Gospel.

Poor preaching makes the Holy Spirit
work harder. Poor preparation makes
the Holy Spirit work harder. We need
to take our role as instruments of
the Holy Spirit seriously.

Rev. Allen Yount said...

"Poor preaching makes the Holy Spirit work harder" ????