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Shadows of Divine Things

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Location: Texas, United States

This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Churches in America

Ok, I’m frustrated! My wife and I have been searching for a church home for the last ten months. What frustrates me is that we live an area where there are about 6 million people and there is a church on almost every corner. That being the case you would think we could find a church home fairly quick and close to home. Not so!

Most of the churches in our area are “contemporary.” What I mean by that is these churches exchange choirs for praise bands, they use buildings that look like office spaces, or build buildings that have a “contemporary look” to them; in other words, if they did not have a sign out front you would never know it was a church. Moreover, the sermons are short and shallow at best; most are geared to make the listeners “feel better about themselves.” What is more, this is a “phenomenon” that crosses denominational borders. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Church of Christ, Methodist, all have turned to this type or style of service. Why?

I simply do not understand why churches feel the need to become “contemporary.” Call me a fuddy duddy if you like, but I prefer real sermons with weighty messages preached from the Scriptures which represent the Church Fathers and Church history in its truest sense. I prefer sermons which direct my thoughts toward God, the gospel, and which cause me to desire repentance. I also prefer traditional services, with liturgy (does anyone in this country know what that is any longer?), and a regular practice of the Lord’s Table (the Eucharist); which should be performed every week. Why don't these churches ever have a time for the members to confess their sins? Perhaps they think confession is bad for our self esteem.

Churches have reduce themselves to entertaining their members. Look, if I want to be entertained I'll skip church and go see a movie every Sunday morning. Where did we get this notion that we need to be entertained on Sunday morning at church? Are we not entertained enough during the regular week that we have to entertain ourselves at church as well?

Churches in America have lost a true sense of worship. People no longer, it seems, in this country anyway, attend church services in order to focus their attention on God. The focus of both worship and the sermons are directed to the individual; how you can feel better about yourself, or how you can improve your life because “gosh darn it” you are important. We, in the U.S.A. have what I like to call, “The Joel Osteen” effect. If you have ever heard Joel Osteen preach you will know exactly what I mean. His sermons are entirely “ego-centric, self help, let me tell you how wonderful you are” type sermons. Where is God in all of this? Where is the genuine worship of the Triune God, the crucified Christ, and the resurrected Messiah? Are people that afraid to put their thoughts toward heaven and the things of God?

It should be pointed out that this “epidemic” is not merely indicative of churches in our area. This was also the case when we lived in North Carolina and in Wisconsin. In fact, my wife and I have visited dozens upon dozens of churches in about eight different states in the U.S. and the landscape is practically the same as what I described here in our own area.

Is this typical of America only? Those of you who live in other countries, do you see these same features in the churches in your area? Can you tell that I am bit frustrated about all this? Ok, well, I’ll now get off my soap box, I just had to get that off my back!

12 Comments:

Blogger nelmezzo said...

Is there an AMIA church in your area? Might be worth visiting if you haven't . . .

I sympathize completely with your frustration. When my wife and I realized we need to find a new church, I was filled with dread because I assumed that it would be nearly impossible to find a good one. I live in Chicago and we don't even have the beneft of a church on every corner (well there are a lot of churches, but the vast number of them went the way of liberal Protestantism so long ago that many of them hardly know they are churches any more).

I actually found out about the church where we are now members through some special graciousness of God. My adviser at TEDS, Dr. Carson, told me about it. I hadn't even heard of it. It was an extraordinary answer to prayer (and forstalled months of frustration similar to yours).

Is there some kind of Christian leader who you are in synch with doctrinally and liturgically who knows your area? They may have some good tips . . .

11:12 AM, February 02, 2006  
Blogger Dave said...

Did you just use the phrase, "fuddy duddy?" Who are you, my father!?

As to the the question, "Where did we get this notion that we need to be entertained on Sunday morning at church?": I've come to believe that this entire trend has grown directly from the so-called Second Great Awakening, with it's emphasis on psychological techniques in order to attract people to hear the "gospel" proclaimed, and then to secure "decisions for Christ." Blame it all on Charles Finney!!

11:36 AM, February 02, 2006  
Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Oh my. Is it really so bad and self-centred?

I have a solution:
Start your own church, Todd.

Call it the 'One True and Only Real Church Cos All The Others Are Pants Church'.

I'd come.

12:02 PM, February 02, 2006  
Blogger Jim said...

Todd I sympathize completely. The Church has sold its soul to the devil and accomodated itself to the world to attract people who are shallow and empty headed. So of course such churches are a success! Move to TN. There's nothing in Texas worth grunting at.

12:15 PM, February 02, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Nelmezzo, excuse me for my ignorance but what is the AMIA? Is it Methodist? We have been visiting an OPC church close by that, so far, has been descent. We found a good PCA church but it was just too far away from us (about 70 miles round trip).

David: Yes, I used fuddy duddy, But I am not your dad's age, so give me a break ;-) I agree that Finney had much to do with how American worship services are now performed.

Chris: you know, I've been told I need to start my own church . . .no thanks, I went to seminary for an academic degree not an M.Div. I'll leave the preaching to the more qualified. But if I did start my own church, I would certainly use the name you suggested. However, if I could convince David to start a church, I'd help him, he's more qualified than I am, but I could certainly heckle him if he ever said something wrong from the pulpit.

Jim declares, "The Church has sold its soul to the devil and accomodated itself to the world to attract people who are shallow and empty headed." That is a perfect summation of this post!

12:38 PM, February 02, 2006  
Blogger nelmezzo said...

Hey, Todd. AMIA is Anglican Mission In America. It's a response to the terrible drift of the Episcopal church. It is Anglican, but orthodox. Oversight is with some orthodox bishops in Africa, hence its "mission" status. Although there is a strand of Anglican tradition that is quite Reformed, typically current Anglicans are usually not so. That part might not fit for you. But Anglican liturgy is a treasure and a service without Eucharist is unthinkable for Anglicans. I know several AMIA churches that I highly respect. Before we found our present church it looked like we might try an AMIA startup in Chicago. However, our present church was an even better fit for us.

1:30 PM, February 02, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Nelmezzo, we have actually visited David Piske's church, which is Episcopal (St. Alban's)its ECA if I'm not mistaken, but it is conservative. I love that church, however, for my wife it is a bit too liturgical, so we have agreed to compromise and get something inbetween (the OPC church we have been visiting is pretty much inbetween - although I wish it were a little more liturgical).

I realize there is no perfect church, but if we cannot find a good one soon, I have already decided we will begin attending St. Alban's. However, I will check and see if we have an AMIA church close by. Thanks for the tip.

2:35 PM, February 02, 2006  
Blogger nelmezzo said...

Well, it's really important to find a church for both you. For those making the "leap" to liturgy, it can seem strange at first. However, it's not the kind of thing that can be understood or experienced in an isolated way. Perhaps your wife might be willing to revisit the church you liked. Over a couple of visits, she might grow to like the liturgy. On the other hand maybe you went quite a few times and it is still not to her liking.

Personally, I think we can sometimes be rightly horrified at how schism has produced so many different kinds of churches without being aware of how God in his providences has used the circumstance of schisms to provide church homes for an incredible variety of types of people. Where for one person, a liturgical approach is stifling, for another it is liberating . . .

5:34 PM, February 02, 2006  
Blogger Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

I wonder whether the Church can really sell its soul to the devil. I understand that Jim probably meant that for emphasis, but nevertheless that actual conclusion seems implausible to have realized. Wasn't there something about the gates of Hell not prevailing against the Church?

I think the inexorable tug toward a Church which seems not to have done this will likely remain with you all your days. There probably is a point of no return in the search for the actual Church of Christ. Driven to a church which is ancient in its liturgical celebrations will immediately narrow the list of possibilities greatly.

I wonder if there are any Traditional Anglican Churches (TAC) around you? If not, have your wife go to a "Life Teen" mass (not only teens attend), and she'll probably really enjoy it. Of course, the liturgical norms of Catholicism are present but so is some 'hip' music. A stretch, I know, but worth a shot one day perhaps.

10:09 AM, February 03, 2006  
Blogger T.B. Vick said...

Hey Silvia,

I'm assuming you mean Greek Orthodoxy? Actually, I would probably enjoy a Greek Orthodox church more so than my wife; because of the liturgy and escpecially there views on the first seven ecumenical councils.

However, I have already looked into a Greek Orthodox church in our area and the closest one to us is in Dallas which would be a 45 minute drive from where we are in the metroplex. Thank you for the suggestion thought, I appreciate it.

2:42 PM, February 04, 2006  
Blogger C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Todd,

I thought this was only a problem on the West Coast :-)

I was raised in a contemporary church before it was fashionable. I walked out 30 years ago for all the reasons you mention and a few more. The church was founded in '63.The young, fresh out of Dallas, pastor had interned with Ray Stedman in the SF Bay Area. Within a decade the church was spinning out of control continuously morphing into new shapes without and appreciation for the impact this had on the congregation. Not all contemporary churches are "successful" mega churches.

In the mid 90s I attended a evangelical PCUSA church for about six months because the pastor had a solid education and was a good bible teacher. When I discovered he was launching the "Saddleback" makeover and saw the first phase implemented I just walked out along with hundreds of other people.

For the last several years a young black bible student from central Seattle has been badgering me about his difficulties with finding a decent church. He attended two different Russian Orthodox Churches, had extensive discussions with the priests about theology (e.g., theosis), veneration, kissing Icons ... . I had him over for dinner to meet a Russian Orthodox bible translation consultant and we talked about worship and the veneration of Mary. The Russian scholar was incredulous. He could not figure out why an american baptist would want to attend a Russian Orthodox Church. My friend from Moscow had never attended an evangelical church in America.

The bible student also attend MarsHillChurch (Ballard WA) where the contemporary style is mixed with a high dosage of biblical content. But MarsHillChurch is also in a state of constant change. No a solution. The bible student is now without a church. Spending his spare time at the hip-hop clubs and chasing skirts.

11:37 AM, February 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband and I were called to a Purpose Driven Church several years ago. We know our purpose. It is to be teachers of the Gospel (does anyone really know what that is anymore? Jesus'atoning death, burial, and resurrection) right within the church itself. When our pastor encouraged us to be fishers of men in our community, my husband commented to me, "I know where I am dropping my line ... right in this church."

8:08 PM, February 06, 2006  

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