Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fellowship Of The Saints

It has never been easy or comfortable.  Peoples is peoples. It doesn't take much reading of the Gospels to find instances of the apostles arguing over dumb stuff - with Jesus right there, which you'd think would slow them down - and many of Paul's Epistles are his encouragement, admonition, and discipline of congregations which don't seem to have gotten this members of one body down pat.

I read the advice years ago, but after I was committed to a congregation and then a denomination, that it might be best for Christians to simply attend the church nearest them.  That is the Roman Catholic parish model.  It keeps us from standing in judgement of whether that congregation is doing things right.  It removes much of the expectation that we will be worshiping with people of like mind and attitude.

For us, that would mean St Lawrence Parish Community, where we have worshiped on occasion and like reasonably well. There are two other congregations almost equally close, and as we lived nearer the center of town years ago we might have ended up at either of those just as easily. Even if we had elected to apply that rule beginning in 1976, we would have been unlikely to switch churches over a hundred-yard difference in 1987. I try to imagine what life would have been like had we applied the closest-church rule right from the start.

We now go to a church in the next circle out.  It is one of less than a dozen in the range of 5-9 miles away. It is part of a denomination that we are now committed to, the Evangelical Covenant Church. I don't have any report for you whether it would have been better the other way.  It seems to have worked for many centuries, but then, people didn't move that often until recently.  Even the Roman Catholics seem to find the model fraying at the edges now.

I do however, have some evidence that the opposite extreme does not work.  In between joining the Bedford church in 1987 and being there today, almost half the intervening time was spent in an ECC church plant in Concord, 35 minutes away. Most of the central figures in the congregation were from equally far away, and seldom in the same direction. Only a very few were from Concord at the end, and even those were from the other side of the city. It emphatically did not work. It was extremely difficult, especially for families, to get together for prayer, study, or fellowship events, or to visit the sick or make meals for them. We didn't attend the games and performances of each other's children* or use their teenagers as babysitters.  We didn't get to meet visiting grandparents for more than a coffee hour after service. There were a thousand little community builders that never occurred.

It wasn't just us.  We rented from a Seventh-Day Adventist church, and that is a denomination whose members are very uncomfortable with worshiping with other denominations, and they will travel far to stay with their own.  That congregation was at least 50% people from over 30 minutes away, and some were an hour.  They also did not grow the entire time we knew them.  I think such distance is sometimes sustainable if there is both an ethnic/family and a doctrinal component - I have heard of such things. I'm betting there aren't many. Our current church has people from many surrounding towns,  especially bordering towns, but it has a solid core of people who live in Bedford. It matters.

*Well, some of us did, but only the fanatics. Not many.


james said...

Who serves my Father as a son is surely kin to me. Though some churches get pretty far out there. And, long term, attending a church where I cannot participate isn't a wonderful option.

Texan99 said...

There's only one Episcopalian church in this little town. It would be quite a drive to find the next nearest one. I've honestly attended very few services in any other denomination in my life. A seasonal liturgy combined with scriptural readings and frequent communion--they all suit me. Of course, it might do me good to attend services that were a bit more spontaneous and personal, as uncomfortable as I would be.

This church is small enough that I can get to know many of my co-parishioners well. We tend to run into each other in town pretty often. There are more opportunities for me to be involved in church affairs, and even interdenominational things like the community suppers, than I take advantage of as it is.

jaynie said...

In CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters, the mentor, Screwtape, is giving the young demon, Wormwood, lessons in how to bring about the fall of a man. I had seemed to recall, though never understood, that one of the lessons encouraged the demon to have his man shop around for church. Well, I found this brilliant summary PDF, and cannot copy the related passage, at point #16. He seems to say that by seeking the best church the man becomes a critic rather than a worshipper and learner. And then they discuss the vacuousness of some church leaders, so, I think maybe negating the advice. Confusing.


Texan99 said...

Right, Screwtape recommends encouraging the patient to be as picky as possible about the social or incidental stylistic aspects of the church, but to be completely indifferent to its rigor of doctrine ("about those questions the more lukewarm the better").

Armed Texan said...

Having moved around a little and shopped for churches, I have to agree with you. In Texas, we were about 15 minutes from our church down the freeway, but we might as well have been a days travel as our congregation was spread all over Allen, Plano, Richardson, Wylie, and other surrounding cities (most of which will easily swallow Manchester). We had great participation at church wide social events, but we had to be careful to not make them too frequent lest attendance and comity declined.

Then we moved to far southern Arizona. There was only one "city" with surrounding towns (and Fort Huachuca). Everyone was constantly going into Sierra Vista to do shopping, sports, entertainment, & c. So, it was easier to get together and build a community through out church.

Now we live just East of you, in Chester. When we moved up here, we had three criteria in this order: Sound doctrine, near to home, and a strong effort to raise children in the church. We found that at Bethany in Raymond, but the pickings were slim. I no longer criticize or work to change my church. I strive to be part of it and only offer my help and advice (regarding improvements) when asked.