When We Void The Form

Full disclosure: I have few “hard-wired absolutes” in terms of musical form or for that matter, style/form of corporate worship service. In this I am in likely an extreme minority among professing Christians.

I indeed have my “likes” and even “loves” (thinking about Facebook and other social media emojis here:) but for too many, the relationship (or zero relationship) to a local church of any type comes down to “It’s complicated” and therefore you remain more or less single.

Not everyone must get married. But nobody was born to be alone!

A group of friends who rarely if ever disagree and challenge one another to spiritual growth is in my view, a bit like the difference between a collective and a true community.

Collectives tend to be deeply individualistic while communities (regardless of organized form) are more involved in one another’s lives and everyday stuff. Community typically requires more of us, collectives not much at all, which is why interdependence is less practiced, expected or achieved in a collective. The commitment is normally far less.

I also think this is why some local churches function in the practical more like collectives than communities.

There are for some believers deeply held theological, doctrinal (and more often) methodological convictions, preferences (a word that ought to be used a LOT more often regarding church and non-church issues of disagreement) but often it seems to me preference rules over the others and I’ve regularly stated this over the years.

The other day I was reminded of something that got me thinking about all this again. The writer made a statement about older people often being more closed to changes and new approaches to this, that and the other with lack of travel outside of their state or region of the country (whatever nation they lived in) being one major factor. I completely agree.

The judgments (sometimes deeply ignorant and false) made on “those people’s” culture, customs and even modes of worship, liturgy or seemingly lack of corporate worship form causes great division and an attitude of superiority in our hearts. This is immature, and I truly believe flat wrong.

I’m not saying all forms are equal or all methods are clearly offered in a close and contextual reading of The Bible -but I am saying the “absolute template” of HOW we worship when gathered (or for that matter, individually before the Lord) is not to be found in the Book of God.

Plenty of Jewish and Christian faith traditions (note, “traditions”) may be offered as a sort of “proof” to what God wants, and indeed biblical texts galore can be and are quoted, but the set and do-not-vary-from-this sort of gathered meeting even in the Old Testament where instructions were given aren’t typically followed by believers in our day. What of that? Is God angry with “those people over there” so we have every right to be also?

What did Jesus have in mind when He simply yet profoundly told the Samaritan woman “…in spirit and in truth”? (John 4.24) Did we hear him give an iron-clad, absolute template of a practical form of worship in this statement? No. It isn’t in the text -but it is a hill many of us will die on, criticize others over, create and join factions, foment seditions and sometimes manufacture (though we may be convinced we’ve discovered) heresies over because… sometimes… we haven’t gotten out of our province much.

When most of your experience is in your own neighborhood, other areas of town, or rural areas, tiny villages, or huge urban areas can really un-nerve you. Freak you out! In fact our own lack of comfort and security in a form may spark a “fight or flight” syndrome within us. Pay attention to this when in the presence of people and practices outside of your known ‘province”.

By the way, I’m convinced the very same is true in political posturing and what I’ll call “cement syndrome”. “THIS is where I’m comfortable and don’t you DARE disagree with the form and style that I find BEST!” Yep. It’s why people fled other nations, (the U.K. to the American colonies for example) started the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Civil War in part. Oh of course slavery and making money, sense of security was MASSIVELY PART of these and other conflicts, but you get my point by now.

I truly think the more world-wide experiences one has there is a least some chance we find good reason to prefer other forms of worship and perhaps even a living out of elements of our Christian faith in fresh and more authentic ways -though those ways may be quite different from our earlier -forms- of doing life and worship as a Christ-follower.

There will always be those who focus more on personal desire fulfillment than seeking to really learn, grow and humbly appreciate the good and genuine work of God the Holy Spirit in others as they worship differently.

This both starts new churches and kills old ones daily. It is also why many younger believers quickly give up on regular attendance in any sort of organized fellowship, and why others eventually quit not only showing up where Christians gather, but lose faith in what seems to them the pettiness of people who come together a couple of hours per week and not much else.

I’ve been a pastor most of my life and am ordained in a denomination myself- and I still believe what I’ve written here is reality, largely due to my searching God’s Word -and- traveling the world experiencing both short and long interactions with an incredibly wide variance of Christian fellowships.

Food for thought as we come together (or not 😦 ) to worship our common Lord and Savior.

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