Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Tale of Two Churches

I couldn't believe the difference!

While my wife and I were in Nashville, we attended church with our children. For some reason, unknown to me, we were invited to attend a Baptist Church Sunday morning and an emerging church Sunday evening. The experiences were quite different!

The Baptist Church was like no Baptist Church I've ever attended. Now I've been to a lot of Baptist Churches over the years, but this one was beyond the pale. It met in a small building nestled against a hillside. We went for an early morning breakfast. The folks were friendly, but it was apparent something was different. When I got the bulletin, I noticed two women were listed as ministers. Then we stood while a fully robed choir took their place -- all 9 of them. The worship service was, without a doubt, the dullest most uninteresting service I've ever attended with one exception. This church works with a church in Cuba so there was a Spanish special number in "solidarity" with those in Cuba. That tune was a bit catchy, but that was it. The sermon consisted of one of the "ministers" reading from the lectionary. It was apparent that a liberal social agenda permeated the church. I could only wonder what anyone saw in the pablum (well, it wasn't even that nourishing) dished out there (although the granola at breakfast wasn't too bad).

Sunday evening we attended a church denominated simply as "Village Chapel." The congregation met for worship at 6:00 p.m. This service was their only worship service. They were meeting in a facility that once housed nuns. The group moved there recently after meeting prior to that in a hotel. Since it was still winter, it was dark when we arrived just before 6:00. The congregation gathered in the convent's chapel. Candles graced every window and there was a centerpiece at the front with candles and a banner with a cross. A worship band accompanied the singing of traditional Christian hymns (I'm talking about the old stuff everyone used to sing) and the words were projected on the wall by computer and projector. Young people in their early 20s comprised the greatest majority of the congregation. My wife and I joined about 3 other people with gray hair. Although the preacher was probably in his 30s or 40s, everyone else seemed extremely young. I was surprised by the presentation of the message. I expected the preacher to preach by story, but the message was a conventional evangelical message (exposition followed by points to remember). Although it was not a weekly occurrence, the congregation observed the Lord's Supper at the end of the service. A basket of broken bread (leavened) and a chalice of grape juice was placed in the front and we took a piece of the bread and dipped it into the grape juice as we communed.

The Village Chapel is a congregation trying hard to be a Gen-X Church -- one of the emerging churches. They fit the stereotype pictured in the "emerging church" literature, but I wondered if some of it wasn't a bit overdone. It was fun, though, singing the old hymns with a young group. It was interesting hearing references made to "the ancient Scriptures" and it was good to hear the Scripture explained and applications made.

In my view, I think the emerging church may offer a fertile field for Restoration principles if we are unafraid to make contact whenever possible. Writers describing the emerging church talk of "restoring the ancient practices," "looking for the ancient traditions," and "yearning for the simplicity of the early church." We might be able to teach them something ... and we might learn something in return!

As you might guess, I was far more comfortable in the evening service than the morning service. I even got something to take home with me from the evening message.

It disappoints me that the kids aren't attending Restoration Movement churches but they are grown and make their own decisions these days. I taught them to do that so I can't complain too much when they don't do things the way I'd like them to.

My studies in church history have enabled me to view and analyze different churches and movements within the larger context of Christianity. I guess it is true that the study of history makes one more tolerant. After all, we all have failed to get it right in one way or another. I guess we just have to depend on God's grace!