Thursday, April 19, 2007

More on State of the Church

I've posted recently about my questions regarding the future of the idea of church as we know it.  I recently came across a well-written post by Erika Haub at The Margins.  Read her article.  Here is my reply:

Erika -

I appreciate the idea of this post, but I have to disagree with one of your fundamental points.

I think (if I understood you correctly) that you are saying the Sunday "large group" assembly is, at least in part and perhaps especially, important because, "I am required to participate in things that are not about my preference and my choice, and I am asked to join with all who are gathered in what becomes our shared experience of life with God".

But if I unpack that statement a bit, I think what you are suggesting is that by being compelled to be in community with people different from me - and perhaps people I would not otherwise be in community with, I am furthered in my walk of discipleship and transformation.

If that is what you are saying, let me say this: I completely agree with that statement and position.

But let me disagree with you on the application of that statement as applied in the context of the typical Sunday "large assembly".

I would argue that the same kind of segregation, selective fellowship and cliques exist unadulterated in Sunday worship as they do anywhere else. In fact, perhaps moreso.

I would argue that while the idea of being a part of a diverse community - and learning to live in community with people I wouldn't "choose", is central to the idea of kingdom living, it has almost nothing to do with our large church assemblies.

In most cases and as borne out by the behavioral and empirical evidence, large church assemblies by an overwhelming majority do not compel people to be in community and often work against such relationship-building. When I assemble with a group of hundreds of people, I do not and am not compelled to live in community - even for an hour on Sunday morning - with folks I don't "prefer". Quite the opposite, I sit with, attend class with, and worship with my selected friends.

So while I agree with the principle - whole-heartedely and enthusiastically - I believe you are stretching the application to apply it to the typical church assembly. Folks just aren't compelled to enter community during those times - because community exists in those mundane times of eating, working and living together and cannot be compelled or prescribed on folks during a 45 minute worship service - no matter how enthusiastic or uplifting it might be.

In other words, Sunday services don't create community, they reflect it. If we enter our services as fragmented, segregated, mutually-judgmental "micro-communities", there is nothing that happens in the service to change that. In fact, nothing can. Such a change must happen within the context of community - and outside our public assemblies.

Let me follow up by saying that I believe the future ecclesiology will lie in one of two paths.

One is the idea that "church" is about human relationship and that therefore "church" forms must follow the structures of those relationship. This will follow the trend of small groups and "non-institutional" churches to the logical end of the disintegration of large assemblies and the emergence of micro-churches.

The other is a return to the sacramental/liturgical model of the church assembly where we are compelled to gather - not to offer something or to "join in community", but to receive something - a blessing, the eucharist, confession, etc. - that only the assembly can bestow. Thus, we come to church to get something we can't get anywhere else.

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