A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Megachurch madness!

I went to a mega-church for the first time last Sunday. First, let me specify that by "mega-church" I mean "seeker-oriented evangelical church which serves thousands." Actually, the church congregation is probably no larger than a large Catholic parish, and in fact their worship schedule was reminiscent of those Catholic parishes which try to reach student populations: there were two Saturday night services and two or three Sunday morning ones, all of which would be identical. Adult education classes were, as far as I can tell, held mid-week rather than before or after Sunday worship. I'll be honest and say that to me this seems far more civilized than the we're-out-to-steal-your-entire Sunday "all day church" program of Sunday school, morning worship, and afternoon worship which some Protestant traditions encourage. For an introvert, church all day pretty much screws the idea of Sunday as a "day of rest," because being social prevents rest, rather than fostering it. So the mega church got ten points from me for having a sane and convenient worship schedule. (But it's only fair for me to admit that I have a vested interest in Saturday evening services: they make life easier for an interchurch couple which hits both churches every weekend.)

The church lost points for the music and atmosphere, though that wasn't a surprise. The auditorium seating and the choice of music made the first ten minutes of worship seem more like attending a Christian rock concert than like gathering for worship. But I'm pretty sure that that's the effect that the church was going for, and I do understand why. As a seeker oriented church, they are trying to present worship in a way which will appeal to my generation. I'm not sure that I'm opposed to the idea of having seeker-oriented activities arranged this way. I do think I am opposed to the idea that such seeker oriented pop-culture services offer spiritual meat for adult Christians, though. There's more to Christian worship than praise and worship music played on an electric guitar!

What the church lost in its music selections, it more than gained in the sermon. I was surprised to find that I thought the pastor made good use of the visual aids. They didn't distract from the lesson, but encouraged it. As a liturgical Christian, I can't help thinking that this kind of teaching format might be better saved for mid-week classes rather than brought into a worship service, where it might detract from the reverent worship which should be offered- but then, I tend to think that about all sermons which are longer than 20 minutes. I also suspect that this church conceives of their worship service quite differently than I do.

Where the mega church really lost me was in their survey. Yes, they passed out a survey to all attendees. (They don't do this every week: we just happened to be visiting on survey day.) I'm not knocking surveys per se: my own parish recently had a survey about the liturgy which I thought was an excellent idea. This survey, however, was done not to get an idea of what the congregation wanted, but of who the congregation was. Unfortunately, the survey shot itself in the foot by wording the choices in such a way as to exclude honest answers from a rather large category of Christians.

You see, the survey asked a question along the lines of "Can you remember a time in your life before you were as spiritual as you are today/ when you felt farther away from God/ something similar?" The answers (roughly paraphrased, since my memory isn't perfect), were as follows:

- Yes, and it was a long time ago.

- Yes, and it happened recently.

- I'm not sure.

- No, and I want to be closer to God.

- No, spirituality isn't really my thing right now.

Notice what's missing: there's no place for the people William James called the "Once born;" people who have always been in relationship with God. What seems tragic about this omission is that it excludes the vast majority of Christians, since the majority of Christians worldwide are Catholic, Orthodox, or "High Church" Protestant [i.e. Anglican or Lutheran] rather than evangelical or Pentecostal.

Sacramental and covenant theologies, while not denying the need to be born again, arguably encourage a once-born view of the Christian life in that they encourage the idea that children enter a covenant relationship with God at birth or baptism, rather than entering it as adults who make a decision for Christ. There is generally no pressure -or less pressure- in such churches for individuals to point to a specific moment of "becoming Christian," because the actual moment when they "became Christian" is at baptism. Conversion in such churches may be understood to happen gradually, over the course of a lifetime, rather than to be located at a single definable, identifiable moment. Another way to put it is that in such churches, conversion is associatied with sanctification or with a progressive model of justification rather than with a one-time model of justification. (Of course there may be evangelical branches of liturgical churches which put more emphasis on a one-time-decision model of personal conversion; for the moment, let's set that factor aside.)

I don't know whether the survey designers deliberately rejected this covenant concept of spirituality, or whether they really just didn't think of it because they are so used to thinking of the Christian walk in terms of a radical conversion, but either way, the limitation was sad. To me, it spoke eloquently to the problem Catholic Christians may have in trying to articulate their spiritual lives to conversion-oriented Christians, to whom accepting Jesus Christ HAS to be a one time event, rather than a process of growth. It was perhaps this single survey question which showed me just how far away I was from the Christian worldview espoused by the mega-church.

In case you're curious, I didn't check any of the answers they offered for this question. Instead, I scribbled a note below the question: "Other- I have been in a relationship with Jesus as long as I can remember." And that, gratia dei, is the truth. When you come down to it, that is the only testimony I can ever give.


Blogger janeeyreish said...

"I don't know whether the survey designers deliberately rejected this covenant concept of spirituality, or whether they really just didn't think of it because they are so used to thinking of the Christian walk in terms of a radical conversion, but either way, the limitation was sad." Some Protestants would question whether the conversion experience has to be a radical one, especially if the person is baptized and grew up in a practising Christian home, but I believe most Protestants would say there has to come a point when the person accepts Christ as Savior. That would be justification; sanctification comes after that initial point. However, I do like your answer.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Politically Incorrect Mom said...

Great answer.

I've always tried to explain to people (especially to people who are hostile to Christianity or have had a bad experience with it) that most Catholics are kind of "boring" in that way. It's rarely a Catholic that will tell you what a horrible, rotten, drug-addicted, satan-worshipping, blah blah blah he used to be... it's almost always someone who finally "got saved."

I've been a better or worse Catholic at various times in my life (even when I was "fallen away" for a time I was still Catholic and had a relationship -of sorts- with Jesus).

Yesterday the Mormons came to convert me and I said, "I'm not interested, thanks... I'm a bad Catholic girl and I always will be."

It was a joke... but you know, only sort of. Holiness is a process, not an event.

7:14 PM  

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