Matt's blog

The story of me, an American in Edinburgh, Scotland finding my place as a musician, a husband, a father and a Christian.

Long Load

One feature of a healthy church is that the individual congregation members know each other and care about each other. In Christian life this is marked by prayer. Prayer is one of the glues that hold Christian community together.

The first and foremost community glue in the church is of course Jesus, who through himself binds us to the Father and to each other as members of the body of Christ and as one with the Father as he is. This is either the spiritual abstraction of Christian community, truly expressed in the actions of believers, or the true reality of Christian community, of which the actions of believers are an analogous abstraction. (Or, I guess, it's all real, why privilege either a spiritual or physical manifestation of community over the other.) In any event, somehow Christian community must exist simultaneously spiritually and physically, or else it is not healthy.

So if Christ himself is the foremost glue of community (and it should be noted that he acts in both physical and spiritual roles inseparable from each other), any other lesser glues of Christian community must find their source in him. Prayer, worship, work, sharing and eating: all of these are actions through which Christ built and continues to build community. To be the community of Christ we must do these things as well, but not for their own sake. A group of Christians eating together are not acting out Christian community simply by the virtue of their belief in Christ. Not even of they're doing it in the meeting place of the church immediately following a service of worship.

If I'm simply looking for concern, if I'm simply looking for sympathy, if I'm simply looking for support, I can find all these things outside of the church delivered just as honestly. I guess what I'm saying is that when it comes to community, Christians are usually no better or worse than society at large at providing it. This is not a theological point, it is a practical observation. In general it seems that the indicator of how deeply a person cares for another person has less to do with faith than to do with the amount of time spent in proximity to each other. Case in point, the people Jeni knows from school have taken a deeper interest in our coming child than the people we see once a week at church.

I don't wish to lay a lot of blame on anyone here. I hope to make this as an observation, one which could then be formed into a hypothesis and tested to see if indeed we more often act out the actions of community with those of Christian faith of whom we see very little, or with those of no faith imperative to the relationship of whom we see very much. Through most of my life these two groups have overlapped, so I cannot give a reasonable reply to this question. Use the comments to provide your input to the poorly formed experiment.

Oh, but I started off with prayer, didn't I? I think prayer is the most difficult aspect of Christian community to fake. Engaging in prayer is different from listening to a sermon or entering a conversation on a Christian topic. In most Christian actions, God can reasonably be viewed as a third party observing us doing what we do in his name. (Note please that I don't think that's the role God really takes in these things, but I think it is all to easy to view him as a passive spectator.) In prayer, there's no disputing the fact that God is at the center. He is not, and can no longer be seen as a third party. When we hear a sermon we can fool ourselves into thinking that the pastor is talking and we are listening and God is watching. It is not so easy to do that with prayer, especially as the size of the group praying becomes smaller. Prayer is our most direct acknowledgment of God.

It saddens me to write about Christians 'acknowledging' God. But that's the feeling that I've gotten, that Christians so often don't like to acknowledge God outside of the time and place set aside for doing so. Unfortunately it seems that we don't like to acknowledge each other in those times set aside for God.

And so Christian community is fractured. God time and fellowship time are separate, and each loses its meaning for that.

I guess you've probably already realized that I'm not speaking in abstract here, I'm speaking about the church Jeni and I are currently attending. A visiting preacher this week spoke about the wonderful community of that congregation that will pull people in and overwhelm them with the Spirit of God. He said that people are drawn there because they see the hearts of the congregation members beating with the love of Christ. These are not the things which have drawn us to this church. We are at this church because a) we were tired of church shopping, b) there are some genuinely nice people there going through the same part of life we are, and c) because there's nothing particularly jarringly offensive about the place. Jeni and I left after the service without staying to chat with people as we normally do, I didn't think I could have held my tongue after that sermon and didn't really think it was the right time to be offending people. Perhaps we should have stayed and seen what happened.

Oh right, prayer! Don't worry, I'm getting there. At the church I grew up in, I felt like I was part of a community. One aspect of the Sunday service was, and still is, a time for sharing prayer concerns with the rest of the congregation. This has been a point of contention among members of the church involved in planning and leading the service. Many people disliked the idea of opening the floor for anyone and the inherent unpredictability that came along with that. You could never be sure who might get up or what they might say or how long it might take or if someone might be crazy or drunk or who knows what. Letting anyone be a part of the service somehow made it less dignified, but I think that practice may be the main reason why I feel like that church is a real community.

The services in the church we're in now are led almost exclusively by the pastor. On most Sunday mornings the only words spoken from the chancel not from the pastor are a reading from scripture or a prayer said by an elder. However, these too are often done by the pastor. In other words, the typical Sunday morning consists of the pastor alone doing stuff in front of an assembled group of people who watch. That's at least what it feels like to me, coming from where I come from.

Hey! Loooooong post! No real point! Welcome to Matt's blog.

1 Responses to “Long Load”

  1. # Blogger Jenevieve

    Funny, I've been thinking about prayer and community today, too. Possibly because I feel the need for prayer in an area which is not (yet) distinct enough to ask for it from others? I don't know.

    I don't have anything actually useful to contribute to the discussion. Just saying I'm reading and thinking about some of the same things.  

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