Saturday, January 12, 2008

Beating the 1 Corinthians 1-4 syndrome - some thoughts

Lisa has written about her recent trip to a catholic church and the catholic service she was involved in. She asked four questions in her blog. I’m going to give some long winded answers to this in my blog. The questions were

How do you view other Churches? Is your view on other Churches influenced by first hand experience/scholarship or by something else? Do you worship in other denominations with ease? What have other church traditions offered your faith journey?

This is my third attempt at writing a response to these questions, I want to write a “generous response” to these questions. Most of my experiences of church traditions have been good. I lean toward certain churches due to my own personal spiritual journeyk, but something that has certainly happened throughout my journey as I have grown more and more appreciative of the different expressions of Christian spirituality. I wrote one time to a mate of mine that I believe that Church and church expressions are like a cake, there are certain ingredients needed to make a cake (I believe that for a good cake we need to be first of all Christ focused – acknowledging that Jesus is our lord and saviour, outward focused - missional, disciple makers, the importance of the apostolic ministries talked about in Ephesians 4:11, the church as an organism etc.) I do believe that the shape, and “flavour” of churches can be different, due to different environments where churches are set up and the history of a church. I believe that we should be kind to those from different denominations or traditions than we are from and should learn to be in diologue with each of them. Personally on my journey I have learned from numerous traditions and wish to learn more from the practices of other traditions.

What I have seen is a disturbing trend within Christianity is what Lisa called in her post the 1 Corinthians 1-4 syndrome. This syndrome usually resembles the “my church tradition is best.” We accentuate the idiosyncrasies of one group and make it seem like there are no flaws in the way we “do church.” I’m not a big fan of this. I cottoned on to the idea when I was younger, and tried to just say Christ follower or Christian. We may worship differently but we are all part of the same family. I’m not very sectarian. One of my best friends (who is also a close family friend) is a staunch Catholic, we may have certain disagreements about certain theological points, but I know that we can share in the fact that we are still part of the same body.

So what do I like about the traditions. I will start of with my catholic brothers and sisters.
I was astounded one day when I heard someone in a cell group I was in say that they believed that Catholicism was a cult. I think I had similar suspicions when I was younger, not for anything my parents taught me, just this weird belief that catholics were less “Christian” than I was. I was mistaken, I have found in Catholicism depth that sometimes seems to be sadly lacking from its protestant cousins. I particularly love the mysticism still present within the catholic faith. I beleivfe one of the reasons why the charismatic movement is so strong in the catholic church is their links with mysticism and spirituality. The imagery and art left by the catholic church which tells our stories is important (I always find it sad how much of the beautiful artwork was lost due to the reformation. I believe that liturgy and discipline can be a good way to focus our faith and focus in on God, or on characteristics of God. I love the focus on having communion in every service. I really believe that communion is one of the most important aspects of Christian faith communities, and I love that the Eucharist is so important to catholic brothers and sisters. The history of the catholic church is long and they have offered some of the most important contributions to Christian theology and spirituality. I am heavily indebted to Catholic figures and theologians – to Brother Lawrence for his meditations on practicing the presence of God, to St Patrick for being the great missionary leader to go to Ireland and change the spiritual landscape there, St Francis of Assisi for the monastic ministry model for reaching and serving the poor, Thomas Aquinas and others. The only things that have made me wary of the catholic church would be the fact that I’m very, very post-institutional. I believe in organic expressions of faith.

Anglican: I havn’t actually spent that much time in Anglican churches over my lifetime, only a couple of services or so. The best memory of an Anglican service that I can remember was at the beginning of the year at St Michaels. What I can remember from this service was a lot of contemplation and focus time. I enjoyed this and found it both spiritually engaging but also intellectually stimulating. I enjoyed the community feel of the church, with it feeling caring and welcoming. I also enjoyed the depth of communion as we past around that wine cup and shared with one another. It was a very special service. Again, I must confess my knowledge of the Anglican church isn’t all that great, but I enjoyed my time with them.

Baptists: I love the Baptist church, particularly the New Zealand Baptist church and more than the fact that my family are involved in a local Baptist church. There are number of things that impress me about Baptist churches these days. One that the flavours and shapes are different according to different environments and places. I know at our local Baptist church that I’ve enjoyed numerous different shapes and flavours of how worship gatherings can be set up. There are quite traditional services for some Baptist churches in the provinces while in some of the bigger cities there are “emerging style” services as well. I enjoy the focus at my local Baptist church on prayer – with their being a lot of prayer within the service so the focus is put on God. Of course being an evangelical church there is focus on the pulpit as well (something I actually am struggling through with at the moment after reading Kimball’s The Emerging Church – note I believe preaching is important but I believe that Jesus should be the centre of everything – not the pastor, the worship leader or anyone else – the head of the church is Jesus!)
I find the morning church service at my local Baptist church fairly liturgical and do not mind this. The Night church that I have been to on and off is a lot more homely though for the styles I enjoy. It has contemporary music (that I sometimes enjoy if the songs aren’t Jesus is my boyfriend in style – thanks Ben for putting on that song that I love so so much that night! you know what it was!), I enjoy the times of reflection we have there, I enjoy reflecting on art or the lyrics of a song and trying to find what God wants to teach me.

I enjoy the focus on the aims of the Church – that we are part of the mission of God in this world. I love that they keep on coming back to this at the Baptist church. That our life is bigger than the church service but is about being part of Gods mission, to redeem the world and humanity back to himself. I do like the focus on social justice and on the environment as well. I think that as Christians we should be concerned about the poor, comforting and advocating for the oppressed, caring for the needy etc. I also believe that we have a role in caring for the environment and that Christians should be concerned in environmental sustainability because God created this world for his glory.

Charismatic Churches: I have spent most of my life in churches which are either charismatic or Pentecostal churches. I know that they have differences in theological belief and opinion but for this present little piece I will lump them in together. I love Charismatic churches and the people in them. I particularly love the home that I have had in the Vineyard family. I love the organic worship style that is present at vineyard but also the practice of the gifts. I have been blessed by the time I have been involved in these communities. I love the focus on mercy and compassion within the church. I also love the fact that service is uplifted within the vineyard family and that you never really feel that the leadership is above you within the Church. I also have loved the fact that worshipping Jesus is the focus of the church, it has taught me a lot in the last few years. I have been heavily influenced and shaped by those within vineyard and the way in which they honour God with their lives. It is awesome to also see this churches impact around the world with annual mission trips to fiji, a trip to Perm Russia in the past year, and others in permanent mission in other countries around the world. I know that many have been blessed by the ministry of church.

Where am I most comfortable, what has is my worship DNA?

The shape and feel of church I probably lean too are less formal smaller churches – I actually wrestle with this leaning a lot of the time. I love music – many people have heard me rail music and worship being put together but I actually love good music and worship together. I’ve ranted against this for a few reasons – I know how easy it is to get trapped in the opinion that worship and music are synonymous. This is not the case, read Romans 12, Hosea 6:6 and Michah 6:8. Worship is a whole of life activity where seek to love God, following his comands and words and to love people. There is a need to die to ourselves daily, following God.

I enjoy contemplative worship a lot these days. I enjoy it because we need a balance, sometimes I’ve found that in some cases worship leaders can build up a spiritual high in ecstatic worship styles but God might not be present in those highs. God is waiting in the whisper, waiting for us to quietly listen to his gentle spirit, willing to talk if we would listen. I enjoy taking in art, or music, or dance and seeing how others express their love for God in different ways. I enjoy prayer and meditation. I love prayer which is natural and not contrived. Just allowing people to express their needs and to let go in front of God in community.

Personally, I’m a bit of an intellectual when it comes to God. One of my pathways of worship is through thinking and writing and wrestling with God in that way. I know not everyone is like that, but I just love it! I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about God and his awesome love, but also I believe it is highly important to be active not just a blogger or a writer.

I also believe that we need to focus on Jesus. I believe this is the most important thing. That we focus on what Jesus has done for us on the cross and through his life on earth. I believe totally in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and what he has done for us, and we need to talk about this constantly through church. The gospel should be the centre to every message and every time we come together. I learned about Jesus being the centre both from the time I spent at vineyard and also from Mark Driscoll sermons and books. I believe that Jesus is centrally important. Not a watered down message about Jesus and what he has done but the full bodied, fully textured vintage story of Jesus.

Hopefully this gives a summary of thoughts on this subject. As I said, I think we should be able to learn humbly from different traditions from ourselves. I believe that the different ways we do worship are legitimate and none are more legitimate than others. Of course there are limitations on this and you are free to discuss these in the comments on this blog.


qwandor said...

Wow, that is rather a long post. Thanks for sharing your experiences and views, Nathaniel. I am currently trying to work out what sort of church service is best (both in general, and for me personally), and I think that I will find your summaries of the best points of different church traditions useful. I am trying to visit some different churches to experience for myself what variations there are, but have so for only visited one church which was fairly similar to my usual church. Are there any churches in Wellington that you would particularly recommend visiting?

qwandor said...

Oops, sorry for misspelling your name. There does not seem to be any way for me to edit my comment.

Nathanael Baker said...

Yeah the post is rather long and I should have split it up. But I wanted to get down some points and explain what I was thinking, looking at both traditional and comtemporary models of church. Some of it is my own opinion.

I don't know what type of church you go to so I'll just go through some.

Go to St Michaels in Kelburn and join their community for the evening, they are really kind and hospitable, lots of students at thier evening service.

Try any of your local baptist churches - warning they are not all the same and can differ from service to service within thier own church. My family attends the morning service and the night service - which mixes it up a little.

Capital Vineyard. A charismatic church which is lively with some really really good people there. It has been my home for the last four years. Theres a number of students who go there as well. It has a number of church plants going on also

The Street. The night church is a typical contemporary evangelical church service. Loud music, forty minute sermon, with preaching points. Good church.

The community that I'm part of is called Mosaic. We are a community of faith love and hope. We are still planning what we will do for the coming year, but I'll aim is to engage in what matters to God, to honour him with our lives and love people.

We beleive that the mission of God is why the church exists

That love is the context of mission

That Stucture must be submitted to spirit

Relevance to culture is not optional

Creativity is the natural outcoming of spirituality

These church communities are all good groups of people. They are all seeking to honour God with thier lives and see peope come to know him. Seek out the Lord and seek out his calling, his heart. Its different for everyone. I beleive that is good becuase we are all unique. As long as we remember to honour God with our whole lives and seek to be intentional in this.

lisa said...

Hi Nathanael, Thank you so much for your thoughtful post it is a fantastic read and I wish all people put as much thought into their faith as yourself.

Yay for the intellectual pathway!

obviously the others are very valuable too ....but was good to see a response that highlighted this)

Nathanael Baker said...

Thanks for the comments Lisa, its always good to get good feedback.

Yeah it seems that in christendom there seems to be a stigma to intellectualism and faith. I don't know exactly why this is?

I wonder if sometimes those who consider themselves intellectual can become kind of arrogant in the way they portray themselves. I don't know? Or the langauge we use puts off those who don't like the intellectual pathway as much? I

What do you reckon Lisa?

I think its true that we are called to love Gods with all our 0Minds, Soul and Spirit so I'll attempt to do all. My whole being worshipping God, becuase he is good, he is holy and is worthy to be praised.

lisa said...


Yes there is a stigma to intellectualism. It is very annoying and highly frustrating.

This is due to a variety of things and is perpetuated in part due to the evangelistic churches need to make churches more 'inviting' or 'seeker friendly' so catering more to the 'feelings' of people so turning away from in depth conversations etc. Ironically this is often what is needed for many feelings to be put into perspective.

Of course some intellectuals have an unfortunate habit of not being able to worship God without over analysing the church situation and pulling apart other peoples spiritual experiences .

Sometimes intellectuals just don't realise that not everyone has analysed the nicene creed, apostles creed and read this weeks relevant bit from internet monk/Mark Driscoll which means that they can alienate others in their conversation.

Nonetheless there is a substantial part of Evangelicalism that as intellectuals worship God alongside their brothers and sisters but despite their best attempts to integrate their type of faith with those around them are still patronised, misunderstood or categorised as geeks or are purely not catered for in church settings.

Nathanael Baker said...

Hey Lisa.

Good thoughts. The overanalysing of church services is something I have to watch out for in myself and not alienating everyone around me off the cuff comments.