Being Gathered

Thanks to Lois for shooting me this article.

I can’t find a previous post I’ve done on this topic – non-religious Sunday morning gatherings.  But I’m not surprised to find that it is a difficult thing to sustain over the long haul.  Seeing Christian community as a good thing but thinking that you can take God out of it and still have the same sort of experience reveals a naivete that is almost humorous.  Then again, given our devotion to the gods of psychology, it’s hardly surprising, either.  But this idea is pretty clear at the outset of the article when church is defined primarily as people, psalms, and stained glass windows.

Of course a key difference that the author of the article as well as the people she talks to are not able to articulate and would likely reject outright even if they could is that Christian community is not a matter of choice, but rather obedience.  This is painfully easy to forget, and is likely at the heart of how many congregations go through splits and divide.

We are called together, we don’t simply decide this is what we feel like doing.  The reality is there are plenty of Sunday mornings when we’d rather sleep in or  enjoy a leisurely and casual breakfast or get a head start on the yard work.  And all of those things are fine upon occasion, but we are called to gather together in worship.  Why we gather is a matter of great debate among Christians in the past century, and perhaps accounts for why fewer and fewer Christians are attending  at all.

Traditional Christian understanding is that we are called by God to gather together, because in public worship we receive the gifts of God in his Word and Sacraments.  In the many times and places where Christianity was or is actively persecuted, this understanding of worship is very comforting and encouraging.  To gather with others who believe the same as you, to be taught the Word of God so that you can apply it to your life, to remember what matters most as opposed to what the world or your local community wants you to believe is important is crucial.  Small wonder that even under brutal, intolerant regimes, Christians still risk imprisonment or death to gather with other believers for encouragement and strength – which comes first and foremost from God himself and secondly from those you gather with.

This is important because sometimes, you may not be thrilled  with everyone you gather with.  Community is hard – a mantra of mine – and nearly always your community will have at least one person in it you don’t see eye to eye with or whose personality grates on your nerves.  That’s human nature.  So if it’s all up to me whether I put myself with that person over and over and over again, I’ll eventually quit doing it.  But if I understand that I’m called to be there, that it is an act of obedience and not simply a personal preference, then I ideally have to figure out how to deal with that person in love.

But in times where the faithful are not persecuted or a minority, it becomes easier to think of worship as something I do, as something that I offer to God.  Worship becomes almost exclusively a matter of me praising and thanking God, rather than being fed by Him, or  it becomes a time where the main focus is how I feel.  Do I feel uplifted?  Do I feel as though I’ve given adequate thanks to God?  Those are some pretty subjective questions and the law of diminishing returns seems to indicate eventually those emotional highs will become more sporadic.  At which point it’s a lot easier to just forgo the whole  thing.  If worship is a matter of what I give to God rather than what I receive from God, then the popular argument that I can worship God anywhere makes a lot more sense.

Yes, you can worship God anywhere.  You can talk to him and sing to him and think about him anywhere.  And you should!  But is that what worship is?  Is that all worship is?  And if that’s my only form of worship, at what point does my conception of God begin to slip into a God of my own understanding rather than the God of the Bible?  At what point do I slip into any number of misunderstandings or heresies about God, which could ultimately lead me to reject him completely?

Christian worship very quickly becomes more than just something that’s fun to do.  It might not be very fun at all.  But it is an essential part of the Christian life of faith, and untold numbers of people over several thousand years have known this and preferred the risk  of torture or death to giving it up completely.

Tastes and preferences change.  Very few people maintain something on a weekly basis over the course of their whole lifetime – except for worship.  It’s not surprising that something that has no basis other than personal preference is hard to sustain over the long haul.  You might really enjoy listening to U2 and love the opportunity for a communal karaoke event, but without a deeper  meaning and purpose, that music doesn’t ground you in anything deeper, doesn’t call anything from you, doesn’t demand anything from you, and can’t offer you more than a few moments of nostalgia or some other emotional fix.

 

 

 

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