Sunday, September 13, 2009

Congregations, and Corporate Worship

There are any number of sites around the web where people are putting forth the idea that they can have a Christian life separate from a community of believers. They counter the criticism implied in the scripture "Forsake not the fellowship of the saints" by noting that they can have fellowship by calling a friend, or communicating online.

There is much to be said for this approach, as it does eliminate much of the distraction and dross of congregational life. Certainly the Desert Fathers must be accounted among the true Christians, whether their approach was correct or not. But even the Desert Fathers moved toward a community life of meals and prayers, leading eventually to monasticism. I doubt it ever got quite like this -

but the joke is closer to the truth than people popularly imagine.

Many also returned to society as well, regarding their time in the desert as one of instruction, much as Paul or John the Baptist had done.

But my question is not directed at those who seek a Christian solitude with such intensity, but those who live in the world as before but absent themselves from formal congregations. How do you expect to have growth if you don't have to deal with bad Christians (either amiable folks whose piety is suspect, or difficult folks who are believers)? And how will you deal with bad Christians without good Christians to support you?


ELC said...

I am reminded of a story told by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He traveled all over, of course, so he celebrated Mass in a large number and wide variety of churches. After a while, he noticed that people tended to congregate (no pun intended) toward the back of the church, even if it was an occasion sparsely attended; which, of course, made it all the more noticeable that people had gravitated, so to speak, towards the back.

He decided to start asking folks why they chose to sit in the back when there were plenty of places up front.

The answer he invariably got, he related, was this: "I don't want to sit up there with the hypocrites."

Just about the worst answer possible.

I wonder why your post made me think of that? :)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, the idea that "because wolves hide in sheep's clothing, everyone who looks like a sheep is really a wolf" has undone the salvation of many in the last hundred years.

karrde said...

I can remember someone telling a short story on this subject.

John had a friend over at his house one evening. As they stood in front of the fireplace, John asked why the friend had not been in church for the past six months.

The friend said something about keeping a regular devotional schedule, spending a little time praying by himself every week, and it seemed enough. He didn't feel the need to spend too much time with other believers.

John nodded sagely, then reached for the poker which was on the hearth. He used the poker to move one of the glowing coals away from the center of the fire. Then he went to get a glass of water. When he returned, he pointed to the coal, which had turned from glowing red to a mixture of ash and blackened wood.

"What do you think?" John asked.

The friend said, "You know, I think I'll see you in church on Sunday, after all."

Retriever said...

Great stories! Was writing about ths recently, around the theme of prayer and carrying each other. Because the Church is a lifeboat, youcant pick your company and yet you can choose to get to safety or ease the pangs of waiting dependin g on how youget along. Gd help theperson who strikes out alone. Church heals in ways therapy never can because the same person who is being prayed for and embraced in the morning may be out reaching out to others that afternoon. We receive as much as we give some days. St Francis put it best of course.

Anna said...

you have just described my father to a tee and I am very concerned for his salvation. He thinks that it is just between God and him and that any "religion" poisons the experience. He thinks that I have "sold out" to the mainstream church. every theological debate ends with him declaring that he won't have anything to do with all that "religious" stuff and that he knows God and that is enough for him. its frustrating. (he also has massive issues with people of all stripes which might explain some of his aversion to church.)

raf said...

Why do people drift away from church? I suspect that, like any other aggregation of humans, a congregation forms cliques. If you perceive yourself as an outsider, it is easy to just go outside. The pastor or other congregational leader needs to create a spirit of belonging for everyone, most especially those who do not fully belong.