Thursday, June 4, 2009

Christian, but Unchurched

What a strange sensation it is to be back seemingly to "square one." Not the least of these strange feelings is the fear of contradiction. Previously I had asserted my Baptist credentials while confessing an attraction to sacramental worship. I admitted the attraction, but resolved to remain faithful to Baptist theology and tradition (the two distinctives being believer's baptism and "spontaneous assembly"). However, significant life events can, at times, serve as a catalyst to evaluation. Our family has undergone such a life event, and the subsequent evaluation has left us confident that a better fit awaits us in the Reformed Episcopal Church than we had previously enjoyed in Baptist subset of the evangelical portion of the Protestant division of Christianity (whew! catching my breath). It has to do with how God, through his Spirit, fashions believers over time to reflect a specific side of the "diamond" that is Christianity.

As a result, we are becoming acquainted with a Christian tradition that, though quite old in its heritage and expression, has many aspects quite new to us. There are no doubt many areas where our submission to the Church will be tested, and our resolve to assimilate challenged. The immediate effects have constituted a sense of wonder at the various Christian traditions that we (my wife and I) are learning for the first time, somewhat frustrated for having not known them already. It's as though we're the "un-churched" seekers that need to learn the basics of Christianity.

Today we drove to the Church of the Holy Communion for some designated time spent in personal devotion and reflection in the sanctuary. This was among our first "wake up calls" that "we're not in Kansas anymore." We previously had not found ourselves in church cultures that emphasized a sense of "sacred space" to the extent that you would drive 40 minutes to the church building in order to spend 30 minutes in quite prayer there. Not to disparage our previous experiences in any way. They just had different emphases. However, the emphasis here is not to deny human desires for:

-designated space for worship,
-designated and tangible elements of worship conveying God's grace,
-designated clergy that humanly convey God's "nearness," and
-designated rites that convey continuity with historic Christianity.

On the contrary, these instincts are seen as God-given, and are therefore redeemed as avenues of enjoying God's grace. This is a previously lacking aspect of my Christian development. Therefore, I'm experiencing surprise at the "newness" of various attributes of ancient worship. The surprise is somewhat fun, but also frustrating. I have been a Christian all my life. There's an underlying assumption that these things should NOT be new to me.

For example today, our drive to north Dallas to spend time in personal, pre-confirmation, devotion felt like the ancient discipline of pilgrimage. Certainly such a drive is less than walking for days or weeks from Wittenburg to Rome, but it nevertheless contrasted with our American instinct for convenience. One may be willing to drive quite a distance on Sunday for a mega-church service, especially if nothing in one's community can compete. However, would we also be willing to drive 40-45 minutes to a church so as to spend less than that amount of time there quietly? Before today I would not have thought so.

When entering the sanctuary, there is a practice of reverencing the Cross with a bow. This practice is often misunderstood by non-liturgical Christian traditions. Reverence for the Cross should not be confused with worshipping an icon, or idol. The Cross symbolizes so much more than be spoken by eloquent orators or written in all the volumes of the world. Some physical reverence is appropriate. Ironically, many an evangelical who could not imagine bowing to the Cross would not think twice about placing their hand over their heart during the Pledge of Allegiance or the playing of "the Star Spangled Banner."

Regarding bowing, I have two frustrating observations:

(1) I should be used to bowing out of respect due to my years in martial arts. This should NOT be foreign to me, or feel strangely new. Yet it does, and somewhere along the line I must have lost some instinct for respect that was previously dear to me.

(2) Christians, of all people, should be used to humbly bowing in the presence of God. The very nature of worship is predicated on the assumption of God's immanent presence among his people. If my acts of worship have not produced a corresponding instinct to "bow in his presence," how mature a worshiper have I really become?

Sacred spaces. Sacred rites. Sacred times.
The place of prayer.
The posture of prayer.
The prose of prayer.

These aspects of Christian identity are being seemingly "discovered" for the first time. It's one thing to have one's spiritual life get a refreshing "shot in the arm." It's quite another to feel like a newcomer to the historic Christian experience. Sure, my wife and I have been Christians all our lives, but we're feeling brought into the Church in a new way. It leaves the uneasy sensation of feeling "un-churched," though Christian. One could take this too far and think they are becoming "truly" Christian through such new experiences. We know better. Nevertheless, it's weird to go back to being the newcomer, learning to assimilate into the Church, coming in from the outside.


CMWoodall said...

This week you will hear the most overt reference to the 'Thin Place'...unless we skip verse four.
see ya soon

Alan said...

One may be willing to drive quite a distance on Sunday for a mega-church service, especially if nothing in one's community can compete. However, would we also be willing to drive 40-45 minutes to a church so as to spend less than that amount of time there quietly? Before today I would not have thought so.

I know you lived in Fate, but most of Woodcreek had to drive a bit to get there each week.

Monk321 said...

There's no doubt a significant trade off has been made. Is the distance preferred? No. Is it worth it? Most definitely.

I suspect many are willing to suffer a great deal of inconvenience to find where they fit most.