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You only have one life

18 September 2008

You only have one life — therefore get world-class entertainment.

That was the message I heard on a TV ad the other day.

And Jonathan over at Thicket and Thorp observed:

I was driving on the interstate the other day when I noticed a big billboard for a church. Now, here in the American South religious oriented billboards are nothing noteworthy, but this one stood out. It read: “Real. Comfortable. Church.” in big letters, next to a picture of a couch, along with the name of the particular church being advertised. I was floored- comfortable church? My initial thought was, man, at my church we stand up for the entire service, I wonder if we could figure out how to get that on a billboard- maybe a guy standing and another prostrating, someone having an allergic reaction to the incense, with a caption like “Orthodoxy: Real. Uncomfortable. Church.” Fr. Justin and I talked about the sign this evening- he had noticed it also- and he suggested, in a more serious vein, “Real. Martyred. Church.”

And I suspect that what took place at that “real comfortable church” was entertainment rather than worship.

We are born
We are entertained
We die

Is that what life’s all about, really?

And Confessing Evangelical recently commented on worship:

In conservative evangelical worship, by contrast, the job of the preacher is to tell us about Jesus, but our interaction with Jesus himself is in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, not through Jesus addressing us by an external word. This has an impact on preaching, which tends to be more focused on “teaching the Bible” rather than “proclaiming Jesus”.

So many people, if they don’t “go to church” to be entertained, go to be instructed. And they expect the instruction to be entertaining, or the entertainment to be instructive, and if it isn’t, they complain that they “are not being fed”.

Again, Confessing Evangelical says:

Above all, the difference can be seen in the Lord’s Supper. If you believe that, when the pastor says the words of institution, he is simply repeating what Jesus said at the Last Supper, then – whether you are the “highest” of Calvinists or the “lowest” of sub-Zwinglians in your understanding of the Supper – you are unlikely to accept the assertion that the mere recital of those words can turn the bread into Jesus’ body or the wine into his blood. The Lutheran view will sound like a belief in “magic words”.However, for Lutherans, when the pastor says those words, it is not simply the pastor repeating what Jesus said about that bread and that wine, way back then. Rather, it is Jesus who is saying those words here and now, in respect of this bread and this wine, right here in front of us.

And while Confessing Evangelical was writing about Lutherans, much the same could be said about the Orthodox (hat-tip to Skyldings in the Mead-Hall).

Do we “go to church” to be entertained, to be instructed, or to worship?

What is important is not to go to church, but rather to be the Church.

Back in the old South Africa I was banned for a while. Being banned meant that, among other things, I was not allowed to attend any gatherings, and especially not any political, educational or social gatherings. When banned people were arrested and charged with breaking their banning orders by attending gatherings this was tested in court. One guy was acquitted because the judge said that some groups of people had a common intention, but not a common purpose, and so were not gatheings within the meaning of the Act. Church services fell into this category. People went to them with a common intention, like a cinema audience or a bus queue, but not with a common purpose.

That may have been good in law, but it was very bad theology. A church congregation isn’t (or shouldn’t be), like a cinema audience, there with a common intention (to be entertained) but rather a gathering, with a common purpose, to worship God, to become something together that they were not separately — the Church.

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