Tuesday, December 16, 2008

the Church

So the promised testimony is still coming... but here's something else in the meantime.

My favourite things about the practice of Christianity in the Church (in no particular order)

1. Christmas and Easter. The happiest times of the year.

2. Hymns. Not all of them. But the best of them are amazing. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee ... My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought - my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to his cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul! ... One with himself I cannot die, my soul is purchased with his blood, my life is hid with Christ on high ... Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone. Etc. I could go on and on.

3. Prayer groups. There's something about meeting with a group of people and all praying together about the world, your country, your city, your church and yourselves that goes so much deeper than ordinary friendship.

4. Charities and social work. Daily proof that Christianity is a real, living faith that propels people towards the good. This, to my mind, is more important than the strictly rational arguments for Christianity. It also is much more powerful than all the arguments combined of Richard Dawkins and his whole crew of Christianity-bashers.

5. Shared meals. :) Mmm, the taste of fellowship.

6. Grassroots Christlikeness. Even though the Church has officially not been especially praiseworthy in some eras of history (for example, Nazi Germany), even though our leaders have failed sometimes, the real Church, Christ's body, independent of its leaders, has risen up in support of the persecuted. Not everyone, sadly, but a significant number.

7. Acceptance no matter where you come from or what you look like. (see #7 in the next list also, though)

8. Awareness of all our needs. Spiritual, physical, monetary, rational, emotional, intellectual, musical! The list could go on.

9. Encouragement to continue. I find that even when I am having a really bad day, or just don't feel like paying much attention, even then I always hear something at church that buoys me up to keep going another week, challenges me, or makes me think.

My least favourite things about the practice of Christianity in the Church

1. Hypocrisy (me included). The obvious objection. To some extent we are all guilty of this, although most of us have never claimed to be perfect. I think the real harm comes when someone has been publicly outspoken about certain moral standards and then is discovered to be breaking them himself. And all of us feel the repercussions.

2. Televangelists. I guess I don't have a blanket dislike of them, but the ones I have seen seem always to be shouting at their congregations, preaching the Bible extremely questionably, preaching self-help while ignoring the Bible except for a pithy quote here or there twisted to suit their purposes, or asking for money.

3. Churches that are like a brandname. Naming no names, but I dislike corporate Christianity. I am not saying these churches do no good - I'm sure they do - but they're not my type of place.

4. Historically embarrassing and permanently damaging things like the Crusades.

5. Slipping standards. To some extent we live in a modern world and have to accomodate this, but we were never told by Christ to try and make everyone happy, to offend no one. Christ himself stepped on a lot of toes, and I don't see why we should alter our core beliefs just to suit the mood of the times.

6. Leaders who give us all a bad name. I guess this links up with #1 - hypocrisy.

7. Exclusion. Although in my experience I have been accepted by Christians wherever I go, I have seen or heard about many others being excluded - whether for their age, their skin colour, their class/socio-economic status, their opinions... Such exclusion makes me sad, angry and incredibly embarrassed.

8. The fact that it is possible to go to church and continue to delude yourself that living a decent life is all that matters. I'm horrified sometimes at how many people think this is okay theology, but it's even more horrifying when you realise that they are not receiving teaching at their churches that makes them rethink this.