Do Traditional Churches Still Have a Place?

A friend and I were exploring this topic yesterday. I was in a particularly negative mood yesterday and my friend was upbeat but realistic. He said something like this, "I'm not sure if 10 years from now if these places [referring to traditional churches] will still be around in the same way they are today."

I have pondered this question many times over the past decade. Two reasons exist for this: 1) The growing clarity that these churches are out of sync with a non-Christian culture; 2) I'm completely in love with the worship in many of these churches. I took my youth group to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco two weeks ago... wow! Such a beautiful building that hosts many prayer services each day, spiritual seekers walking the labyrinths, and pilgrims interested in a church that loves all types of people. Last spring, I took my group to Chicago. While there, we visited Fourth Presbyterian (right across from the water tower on the magnificent mile). It's an old building with amazing art, sculptures, windows, pipe organ, and vast architecture. While there, the choir was practicing for their Easter worship services.... I thought I was in heaven or at least in Boondock Saints (you know the scene at the beginning where they receive their "call").

Thus, I return to my question about these churches having a place. I find their worship to be so very inspirational, yet they are so out of touch with wider society. Not that I see all that they do as grand either. Traditional churches often waste tons of money on their traditional trappings. They have an amazing tradition and liturgical resources, yet lack the creativity to improvise on it. They tend to put the majority of their resources into corporate worship services rather than seeing worship as a broader idea encompassing all of life (this is often very true of contemporary mega-churches as well). So ask, "Do traditional churches still have a [significant] place? Do they have a role to play?"


Non-Biblical Communion

About a week ago, Dave Dack posted on the subject of communion. He had a conversation with a friend in regards to the frequency of having communion. James, a friend of mine posted a great comment to the post: "Communion is a time for us to put aside lesser allegiances for the sake of the kingdom. "

This got me thinking about my own ideas of communion. First, I should note that I think the Eucharist should be the center of our worship together. However, in saying that I know that a strong biblical argument can't be made for such a notion. Nevertheless, I do not think you can make any strong biblical argument for our modern practices of communion-- tiny manufactured bread bits, Welch's Grape Juice in tiny cups, and a table where no one actually eats. Even those who use wine like Jesus did and real loaves of bread are selling the whole act short.

Thus, I think that we practice communion in a non-biblical way-- notice I didn't say unbiblical or anti-biblical. Communion is obviously some sort of meal or bread break during the day (this is possibly where we get our phrase "take a break" from-- it was actually a time to break bread). Jesus took an everyday ritual of Jewish society-- the breaking of bread at every occasion-- and infused it with new significance. In this way, the breaking of bread was a common experience for any outsider to the Christian faith and yet had a very distinct and peculiar ritual attached to it regarding Jesus Christ. It would be common during the 1st century to take the bread and say a blessing of some sort... such as "We thank Caesar for providing this bread to us on this day." To remember Jesus Christ instead was a very radical act. Also, the act of Christian communion was always one where your neighbors were invited to partake with you... in this way the Christian breaking of bread was about extending friendship and hospitality beyond the Christian community, while also serving an important function of feeding the poor.

If you travel to the world, you will find many cultures that have such hospitality and breaking of bread practices. Back in college, I traveled to Costa Rica. Everyday around 3:30pm, everything would stop (and I mean everything) so that people could take a break. At that break would be bread. If we were walking down the road when this occurred, random strangers would invite us into their homes and share their bread with us.

This is somewhat congruent with what is going on in Luke 10 when Jesus sends out the 70 to various towns. They would come to a door and give the standard Hebrew greeting "Shalom." If the greeting was returned (i.e. an invite was given to them to come in-- this was the command to be hospitable given in the OT), they went in. If it was not received, then judgment was supposed to be declared.

All of this taken together, I would say that communion must be at least be a true breaking of bread, if not a meal. However, we need to find a complimentary ritual in our own day for it to take on the significance that it did in the first century. Is there a common thing most people do in our culture regarding food?


Bringing It All Together

Here is something I posted on Scot McKnight's blog:
Someone earlier said the following: "baptism is not constitutive of our salvation or of our relationship with God." This is part of what I see as the problem of the individualistic influence of the reformation. Baptism and salvation parallel very closely in many scripture texts. What I think happens is that all of us define salvation very differently. The Kingdom of God is the reign and realm of God at work in the world... it is the salvation of those who have experienced injustice and unrighteousness at the hands of the oppressive and it is the judgment of those who have acted unjust with their power and authority-- those in the latter crowd must repent, turn from their wicked ways, give up their place, and become servants; those in the former crowd must learn to forgive, reconcile, and accept those who have caused them pain. Baptism introduces both groups of people-- the forgiving oppressed and the repentant oppressors-- into a community that practices and lives out such a way of life. As such it is salvation coming into their lives. At least that is the way that it was supposed to be

Note: It seems to be clear that baptism was a cultural ritual of the Middle East before and during the time of Jesus that was carried into the future through Christianity. Baptism as such has lost its cultural meaning; thus, it is possible that it has lost its spiritual meaning as well. My next post will address this idea as it pertains to Communion/Eucharist.)


What is Church? Post 2.0

Many moons ago, I began exploring this topic of "what is the church." I want to continue this series. Before I discussed the idea of the church as found around the "Eucharist table." Today, I want to explore Jesus' first use of the term "ekklesia" found in Matthew 16 and 18 using a comment I wrote to Scot McKnight on his blog because he is exploring the differences between church and kingdom.

"I have some questions that I’ve always wanted answered regarding this topic. Each pertain to my understanding of Matthew 16 and the correspondence of ekklesia (the word we mis-translate "church") to kingdom. Is it possible that Jesus uses ekklesia as the political organization that rules over the kingdom?

"In Matthew 16:18, Jesus asks his small band "who the Son of Man is?"– a phrase with a lot of political meaning if taken from Daniel 7 (where the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days where he is given authority over all peoples). Then Jesus takes it a step further asking them who they think he might be–- obviously implying that he may be such a figure. Peter then really crosses the line–- "You are the Christ/Messiah" (the one who will free us from the empire), "the Son of God" (a title given to Caesar).

"Interestingly, this whole scene takes place right outside of Caesarea, the political capital of Rome in that region. Isn’t ekklesia used in the Roman empire at this time to describe the local group of powerful citizens of the Roman empire that meet together to discuss town business? Isn’t Jesus stating that he will build his own ekklesias, as opposed to Caesar’s ekklesias? Then Jesus says that he will give the keys/authority of the kingdom to this little band of followers. Then two chapters later, Jesus addresses the process of how to handle disputes in this new ekklesia– a new non-Roman ekklesia.

"It seems to me that the ekklesia is a local government of the new kingdom that serves the new Caesar-- Jesus Christ. Basically, they make decisions and settle disputes in their region of the kingdom. Just as in the Roman empire, most people were not citizens, but this local group of citizens made decisions affecting the non-citizens around the city/town."

Those were the thoughts that I put on Scot McKnight's blog. Here are some other thoughts about Matthew 16 that I have. It is possible that Jesus wasn't giving much thought to Rome and Caesar. Jesus was probably speaking Aramaic rather than Greek and Son of Man could be more in reference to its use in Ezekiel-- basically he is the prophet-- this is in keeping with the disciples response to the question-- "Jeremiah, Elijah, or one of the other prophets"-- Jesus being near Caesarea is probably near the "gates of Hell" where idolatry to the god Pan took place at the mouth of a cave near Caesarea. Instead of ekklesia, he would be making reference to qahal, the cultic/worship assembly of OT Israel. In this way, Jesus will build in his own worship assembly that will challenge the idolatry of the contemporary situation. However, this would still be a very political statement, especially with the after comments about kingdom, keys, binding and loosing, etc.


Without Sin Can There Be A Jesus?

I've been reflecting the past few days on Karl Marx. The Communist Manifesto makes a lot of assumptions (many of them false). One of the worst assumptions is that once the people revolt against the elite, all will take care of itself. The assumption is that the people as a collect are pure.

The thing that stood out to me is that Marxism is defined as counter to the empire system. In fact, without the existence of the empire elite, you really can't define Marxism. (I'm sure someone will find a way to disagree with that statement.) This got me thinking about Christianity. It too seems like a counter system/counter story. It emerges in the shadow of the Roman empire's imperialism and at the inspiration of Jewish revolutionary thought. In the midst of a moral majority of Pharisees, Christianity proclaims forgiveness and acceptance (dare I say tolerance as well). In the midst of a movement declaring revolution by a violent messiah to come, Jesus comes preaching peace and reconciliation.

Also, in my own experience I find that Jesus often only makes sense with the sin story as a backdrop. Perhaps this is the reason why radical Christianity seems to really take hold of people who do not grow up in it. It is their counter-story to a different reality.

However, I do want to make another comparison to Communism. Does the Christianity of Scripture only serve as a counter-story with no real plan for society once the counter-story becomes reality. Looking at history, this definately seems to be the case. Looking at the Bible, I would doubt such a thought. Which is more true... the playing out of the teaching in real life or the idealism of the teachings itself?


Theologically Confusing

If you look over at my side bar, you'll find a theological worldview quiz results. I think I completely confused this quiz wizard... it had a really hard time placing me. It even gave me a tie-breaker question at the end that made me Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. The real results were 61% Evangelical Holiness, 61% Roman Catholic, and 61% Emergent. To tell the truth, I was really suprised at such results... I figured it would call me Emergent, Neo-orthodox, and Liberal as my top three. Where I most confuse these quizes is with my insistence that Scripture must be taken very, very literally while also saying that scripture is very human and not inerrant, while also saying that scripture must be taken as completely authoritative, while also saying that the world was not made in seven days. Also, I placed a huge emphasis on holiness in the survey while also placing a high degree on church tradition, academic knowledge, etc. Thus.... this quiz didn't know what to do with me. Mostly because I refuse to accept its categories and definition of words. Am I an arch conservative? An arch liberal? A confused fence-rider... or perhaps I'm actually near the center. I think I will take the quiz again and see if I get the same results.