For 2014, our family is on a quest to understand how all of humanity views God, and expresses that in the context of church. Through the year we’re visiting churches of all types, and telling about the experience, and sharing a little of their perspective. This is a chapter of our experience.
Today is my birthday and in years past when my birthday fell on a Sunday my birthday wish would be to not go to church. I’ve been so exasperated by how “going to church” has become an obligation of religion instead of a relational experience. I thought of my former birthday wishes and realized that this year is different because we are on a mission to find common denominators of good in every church while holding a mirror to the foolishness that goes with it.
We’re in Cincinnati for my birthday weekend, so we chose a church close to our hotel. It just so happened to be in a charming part of the city surrounded by beautiful historic homes near the Ohio river. Before we walked in I told Daniel that we were going to stick out like a sore thumb. This church was small and no doubt every person knew everyone who went there. As we walked in we were warmly greeted by several many people. OK, not many people. This church was small. It was a Church Of Christ church with maybe 26 parishioners consisting mostly of older folks and a few middle aged people not likely to be city slickers or among the popular crowd in a their high school. The music was a cappella, and not so skillful. It was only slightly painful, like listening to chickens singing, but singing none to less. To paint a clearer picture, this was a small town poor church in what was certainly not a small town. The seats were tattered a bit (maybe a child’s pee stain here or there). The kind of people we met included some of the following interesting observations: someone with glasses that for some reason were foggy and with a yellow cast to the lenses. There was the pastor with a suit that looked like he inherited it from his larger father and a pair of black “dress” shoes with really thick rubber soles (he kind of reminded me of Kip from Napoleon Dynamite). Lastly, there was a nice old lady with frizzy gray hair in a big bun. If you were to cast this church in a movie it would be Napoleon Dynamite, Waiting for Guffman, or A Mighty Wind. (I highly recommend all of those movies)
They Killed it With Hospitality
If hospitality brought you to a church you would never leave this place. The pastor after welcoming everyone to church especially welcomed us from the stage saying “It’s nice to have Daniel and Carrie from Indianapolis here!” and one other visitor by name from the pulpit. This is the part of Jesus’ love that has been lacking in many of the churches that we’ve visited. He also asked the church to pray for Joe and Betty who had evidently had sick kids at home and Ron who was at church this morning but suddenly left to help his wife Claire. This church was a community of people who were living a life of loving one another and it showed. I was very impressed with this.
We’ve researched each denomination and their history. We pour over their website so that we can know what to expect. Only a few months in and I’ve realized that each church with their “cool” mission statement says nothing if you don’t feel the people care if you come or go. It only takes one genuine person to make a church experience a positive one. To all of those churches out there begging people be to on their “greeting team” because they “need” greeters, just stop. I suggest you have friendly people who really care about people to be the ones welcoming people in your church because that goes a lot farther than a person filling a required time slot because you’ve convinced them it’s “for the ministry”.
Don’t Bring Your Tambourine
This church is a “No instruments allowed” church. What we’ve learned about the Church of Christ is that they have introduced a doctrinal practice of prohibiting instruments in worship services based purely on the absence of it’s mention in the new testament. This is disastrous when there are 32 people in the building and only 6 can sing on key and not one on beat. Their stance was confusing to me as the pastor preached heavily from the old testament while trying to tie it into the New Testament – yet they refuse to recognize the scripture in the old testament saying to use stringed instruments and more.
There are several places (including the horses mouth) to find out why they don’t use instruments, however their argument is pretty poor. The way they put it is that there was never a reference from the authority of scriptural permitting the church to use instruments, and that the church did not use instruments until the 1700s. They point out that the groups that DID use instruments were Jewish groups and Pagan groups, both of which must be shameful. If you separate the Old Testament as written for the Jews then I guess it is correct that there is no “permission” in the Bible. And by that same argument, there was never an authorization for Hymnals, Offering trays, pews, suits with buttons, rubber soled shoes, and unfermented grape juice yet all of these things were present in this church. You can read more here and an interesting article here, but you won’t find the rubber soles or regular grape juice mentioned even once!
To be fair, the Church Of Christ’s intention is to restore the New Testament Church practices, however they’ve missed the mark by meeting in a synagogue (church building). According to Acts 2, they met in each others homes, and scripture never permitted us to meet in church buildings. In fact if you look back in history, the people that did meet in church buildings were Jewish groups and Pagan groups, so there’s something to think about.
They Embraced the Journey
The best part of his sermon was when he said he wasn’t completely sure how to proceed about the topic of elders in their church. He said that as a church they would have many discussions on this topic to see if that was something they would want to implement into their church. He was very accepting of other denominations and talked about how we are all on a journey of discovery with Jesus as our savior. While we didn’t agree with his denominations doctrine, we agreed with his apparent position that there is much more to learn. He didn’t give into the pressure to be the biggest, best, or more biblically superior church. They simply loved Jesus and the people around them and it showed.
Just as we we’re leaving quietly and quickly after the service closed, the pastor hurried away from another couple to make sure he thanked us for coming. I walked away smiling because this group of people understood that relationships is what Jesus was about. A week later as I was going through my mail I saw a post card from this tiny little church. It appeared as though every regular member there that day signed it with greetings, thanking us for visiting. I would go there again because they filled up the “love bucket” that each one of us carry around. It’s amazing how a little niceness can help you look past any negatives.