Teaching the faith used to be a lot simpler I’m sure. Up until the 20th Century attending a Church, usually the closest one to where you live, was a societal norm. Communities centered around their Church, often they were the seats of local justice and mediation when feudal lords were away, or where the police were mistrusted. One discrete denominational message was preached from the front, the masses listened and were instructed, then went on with their lives until the next time. There was more certainty in the words and frameworks delivered by the Priest, life was more fragile and religion gave explanations and comfort where science couldn’t. I apologise to those more expert than I for the simplification and lack of nuance, but bear with me for the purpose will become clear!
Today I can listen to a podcast from exvangelicals, Catholic mystics and conservative Southern Baptists one after another should I choose to. I can read six (and counting) different translations of the Bible when I go to my bookshelf, and many more if I could stand reading it off my phone screen. I own books of teachings from American Evangelical MegaChurch Pastors, progressive Lutherans, a 14th Century Anchoress and Bloggers who just had to speak out what God laid on their hearts. I can learn about urban monasticism, life in communities, the inner workings of the Anglican Parochial system and the individual journeys of those for whom church is no longer a safe place. At my fingertips I have six different answers to the same question I ask my online search engine. I can choose which answer, or combination of answer, aligns with my theology as I discern it in prayer and through study. Some would say it’s too much information which complicates the basic teaching of the Gospel. I adore it!
I adore that God gave me ways to test the convictions of my grandparents and use my own knowledge and experience to form my own, still Bible based, stances. I adore that God gave me community wider than my own direct experience so I can see so many different sides to the human struggle and the Grace which sees us through. I adore that I can discuss, debate, test, challenge and be challenged, and that I am a better person and a better follower of Christ because of it. I adore God’s design, the evolving pursuit of knowledge which constantly asks us to think again, not be complacent, choose Love.
I have completely fallen for Online Church, through Twitter mainly, because I see this facet of fellowship in action every single day. I long for it. It enlivens me, excites me, gives me hope. I have changed my stance on so many issues since I’ve discussed them with experts by experience, hearing how their struggles resonate with my own, and learned my judgment is prideful and offensive to God. I’m by no means perfect, I have many many flaws and God has a lot of work to do yet. But I am being swept downstream by the current of change, lying on my back gazing into the sky above and it feels a little closer to heaven every day.
So why do our church services, in general, keep to the same model attended by our ancestors when so much has changed. Why can’t our bible passages be debated instead of taught, our sermons provide a range of viewpoints with the challenge to engage with them, not be a lesson in one person’s view and that’s what they’d like you to subscribe to? Small groups, Bible Study groups, specialist services all meet this need to some degree, and I find those the most life giving element of a physical church community. I also know my words may be met with horror for those who receive best by the traditional model of a church service, who love liturgy and want to be led to an absolute truth; what sort of Ally to all would I be if I believed my need for difference trumps their need for stability?
I an not calling for a complete removal of the traditional Church Service. But wouldn’t it be something to at least have the conversation about different ways to try them? I suspect we’d all find our needs better met at the other side of it, in ways we may never expect …
Peace be with you.