Sunday, September 5, 2010

"It's nice, but it's not church"

When a couple who had converted to Orthodoxy described their journey, they told us about visiting various evangelical churches. Their reaction: "It's nice, but it's not church."

Think about the services in many evangelical churches. If you didn't know the language, what would there be to distinguish the service from a concert/lecture?  Sure, some people may raise their hands, but you see plenty of hand-waving at some secular concerts.  Yes, someone might bow their heads to pray, but interestingly, the Bible never mentions anyone bowing their heads to pray.  Jesus lifted His eyes to the heavens.

Walk into a typical evangelical church, and it might look like a hotel, a school, office or even a warehouse, but not like a church. There may be a cross somewhere, but there is nothing that sets the building apart as a place of worship.

This is often intentional, part of the "seeker friendly" model. But what are seekers seeking?  If they are seeking something "not of this world," do we want it to look just like the places they hang out in all week? If they are looking for an encounter with the supernatural, will they find it in a lecture or a concert?  Some food for thought.


  1. Hi, Marcia. What an interesting journey you are on now. I'm looking forward to reading more about it.

    You mentioned that many of the people in the Orthodox Church--or at least the one you attend--have an interest in the arts. I know that you and your family tend toward the artistic aspects of life. You talk of the "beauty of the liturgy" and the aesthetics (or lack thereof)in the typical evangelical church.

    It may be due in some part to the "seeker friendly model". But I think the issue is more the clash between the artistic and the practical. Your worship is enhanced by what you see, hear and smell. And you feel you are missing something in the much more sterile worship setting of the typical evangelical auditorium. For me, I tend to be distracted by all the bells and whistles (a weak attempt at a pun) of more traditional services.

    God created each of us with such unique personalities, and He is glorified by the worship of His people. I imagine it makes Him happy to see the number of ways we worship Him--each according to those personalities. And it's exciting to think that in Heaven, the church will be united as one in perfection.

  2. Thanks so much for your comments. Yes, I do think that different people worship God in different ways. Someone suggested I read the book "Sacred Pathways," which talks about that. Yes, we are drawn toward a more traditional form of worship and one that involves all of our senses, partly because of our artistic or mystical tendencies. Others are drawn toward a more practical approach. I do not think that any one church is the only church or the only way to worship.

  3. A lot depends on what we mean by worship - in the earliest Christianity, it means preeminently the people of God gathered together in Eucharistic Communion. That may have many forms of prayer, but in a sense, it is singular. You'll see this borne witness to in the earliest Christian literature (the Didache, which may be earlier than any of the New Testament texts is unambiguous about this, as are the Scriptures themselves - including the Old: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.").

    Paul sets forth the teaching about the Liturgy explicitly in Hebrews. While worth reading end to end, I'll just make a few points:

    Hebrews 8:1 "We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of majesty in heaven, a Liturgist in the sanctuary and true tabernacle which is set up not by man but by the Lord."

    Hebrews 8:6 "now Jesus has been given a Liturgy which is superior to theirs, just as the covenant which He arranged between God and His people is a better one..."

    Before the Father, he serves the Divine Liturgy continuously:

    Hebrews 9:24 "For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence."

    And offers Himself "on behalf of all and For all", since he is "both the Offerer and Offered" (Heb 7:5).

  4. To Cathy and others:

    I often ask evangelicals why they attend Church where they do. I often receive answers such as: "I enjoy the service" or "we have a great pastor". This always baffles me because these reasons are all traditions of men -- not God. These are self-centered reasons behind "worship" in my opinion.

    Christ left us with a Divine Liturgy. His Apostles taught us how to put into practice Christ's lesson we find in Chapter 6 in the Gospel according to John, as well as in the Gospels with the Mystical (Last) Supper. We also find numerous references to Liturgy and the Eucharist in Acts and the Epistles, which sadly often are not properly translated in English versions of the Holy Bible that are influenced by heterodox beliefs, eand often are diminished with phrases like "gave thanks" or "broke bread".

    It is there for all to read. We must "eat His flesh and drink His blood". Christ repeated this more than once and even said His "flesh is food indeed." His "blood is drink indeed". When many of His followers asked for this to be explained or clarified. They wanted this lesson "rationalized" so they could better intellectualize this teaching. Christ let His words stand as "hard things", and they left. Christ did not pursue them saying "wait, wait, what I meant by this is...". He let them go on their way. The Gospel says they "walked with Him no more."

    Somethings we just need to take on faith.

    We worship God in the Divine Liturgy because it is proper and fitting to worship God. We receive our "mana" like we read in John 6, and in so doing are sanctified with Christ's Holy Body and Blood. It is a mystery. A matter of faith in Christ. Doing as Christ commands even though we might not fully understand it or maybe even be a bit "uncomfortable" with it at first.

    Being an Orthodox Christian is not easy. Following Christ's teachings often is difficult.

    It is not for everyone. Many choose not to walk with Christ. They prefer to make Christ into an image they want, rather than make themselves into what Christ wants, even demands.

    May God have mercy on us all.

    God Bless +


  5. "...but interestingly, the Bible never mentions anyone bowing their heads to pray. Jesus lifted His eyes to the heavens."

    Luke 18:13 13 "And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'."

    Exodus 34:8-9 "And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord,..."

  6. "There may be a cross somewhere, but there is nothing that sets the building apart as a place of worship."

    John 4:21-23 "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father....But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him."

    I get the argument that some grand architecture like the temple will make people feel all spiritual. However, the reality is that we need to be able to worship God without those things. If our worship of God is contingent on having a fancy building, then are we really worshiping God or the building? It seems to be one reason God had the temple destroyed in the first captivity. The Jews were no longer worshiping him but the temple instead. The same can happen to us today. And in reality, when I see an Orthodox liturgy, it looks like gold is being worshiped. The priests are censing a bunch of gold objects, offering incense to the gold as if it were God. Its pretty puzzling as to what they think they are even doing.