Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Church Visit #3

I went to church again this past Sunday.

I have this notion I ought to visit all the churches in my neighborhood, which I define as within, say, a fifteen minute walk.

So this Sunday I visited the nearest church. Maybe a three minute walk from my house.

Now, the first couple of visits in this little series have been pleasant enough, but the preaching confirmed a maxim of Brian Chappell's. He says that much modern evangelical preaching falls into two categories: 1) what you should know, and 2) what you should do. It is possible to preach such sermons in a Christ-centered manner, but this seems to be a difficult matter for many.

Well, in my first church-visit I heard a what-you-should-know sermon, and in my second visit I heard a what-you-should-do sermon. Both churches were cheerful places with friendly people and in both cases I enjoyed the music, but the sermons frustrated me.

I'm just looking for a Jesusy church, that's all.

Now, this week's church was the liturgical kind. Vestments. Processions. A very ceremonial form of communion. Also, most of the folks here were solemn, reverential, so there were no hearty greetings, no hands to shake and names to try to remember. Only the occasional furtive glance at the stranger in their midst.

Oh, I'll just come right out and say it . . . this was a Roman Catholic church.

Early Sunday morning, before deciding just what to do with myself (which church to go to, if any), I read Ted Gossard's post quoting Miroslav Volf. It seems that Volf was frustrated in the same way that I have been, and his response was to repair to a "Eucharist-centered" church.

With this in mind, I walked down the street to the local Catholic establishment. They meet in a big high-ceilinged space with beautiful artwork on the walls and a hymn-singing choir that sounds like angels. We sang Shall We Gather at the River, Precious Lord, and I Know that My Redeemer Lives. I was lovin' it!

And here's the thing. It was one of the most Jesusy church experiences I've had in years.

There were readings of extended passages of Scripture, and almost no sermon at all, but for a brief talk concerning a couple of the parables of Jesus (the lost sheep, the lost coins). The priest said, "The sheep doesn't have to prove itself worthy before the Shepherd will rescue, and the lost coin doesn't even have to cry out for mercy in order to be found. In fact, the coin can't cry out at all, but the woman searches relentlessly till she finds it."

Ummm, I hate to admit it (kind of), but that's more Gospel than I've heard in my two evangelical church visits combined.

Now, look, I'm not planning to "swim the Tiber" or anything like that. But as a confirmed evangelical, with charismatic leanings, I find it kind of embarrassing that a Catholic church beats us hands-down at preaching the Gospel, and without a 45-minute lecture, too!

That, plus the incredible choir, plus the beautiful and reverent space in which they meet (not to mention the three-minute walk), means I may be attending this church again from time to time.


Jason Kanz said...

Bob, I have appreciated your candor in writing about your struggles and your church visits. Clearly, you seem to reject the teachings of churches in your area as not up to snuff, but I found myself wondering today, what are you looking for? What does it mean to be "Jesusy?" A church teaching what you should know (in other words teaching the Bible) seems wholly appropriate. I also think learning to apply scripture appropriately--living in the shadow of the cross in a fallen world--is essential for many people today. I guess I have this vision that what you desire is a pastor up front saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus ad infinitum."

Let me ask, have you been to a church or watched a church online that fits what you are looking for? How do you reconcile your love for Jesus without being a part of a local church?

Please understand, I am not at all trying to be critical, I am simply trying to determine where you are coming from.


Bob said...

Very good questions, Jason. I appreciate your asking them. I think it is entirely appropriate to preach what-you-should-know and what-you-should-do sermons. But to do so in the context of the Gospel is not simply to say "Jesus Jesus Jesus" over and over. But the good news about Jesus is after all connected in some way to all this, in some essential way, and without making that connection clear we are simply passing on mandates to one another. I think sermons ought to be at least as "Jesusy" as the New Testament.

Yes, I've been to Jesusy churches. Online, I listen to Jesusy preaching. Just did so this morning in fact. Your phrase, "in the shadow of the cross," is a good one. That's what I'm talking about.

Finally, I don't intend to be church-less forever. This is not a condition I'm satisfied with. I mean to find a body of believers, and I am looking for one. I even found out this morning about a very interesting local church, and have listened to two of their sermons online and investigated their website. This could be the one!

Bob said...

BTW, if you want to investigate the meaning of "Gospel-centered" (which for me is the same as Jesusy), and hear an example of preaching that is at least as Jesusy as the New Testament, listen to Tim Keller at this link:

Jason Kanz said...

Thanks for responding. Sometimes, I write things tongue in cheek and realize, only later, that they don't necessarily come across that way. Like I said, I appreciate your candor. I too desire to be a part of a church that is firmly rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Fortunately for me, I feel like my pastors get it right most of the time. Good luck and God bless as you continue to look.

Bill said...


While I love my evangelical church and get lots and lots of Jesus there (it's very Jesusy since we got new leadership and lost our desire to be all different and edgy) I had a similar experience in Oxford, England last month. I attended Christ Church cathedral. Not catholic, but Anglican and very high church. The homily was very, very good, communion was meaningful (communal wine cup). Jesus was preached.

speculator said...

Golly, you guys- Christians in a Catholic church are Christians, too!
Don't we all know there are committed Christian disciples of many expressions. Of course, the emphasis is to live for the Messiah, and to be his representatives for all in our midst.
Bless you, Bob, for your open-mindedness. Remember Rich Mullins' great lyric: "I am home anywhere if You are where I am."