Friday, 31 August 2007

Form and Substance

Thinking further about being in between churches at the moment and ‘visiting’, and struggling with an issue that has bothered me for some time. I know what and whom I believe, finding no problems with my faith as far as that goes. I am finding the whole churchgoing thing a problem however and think I may have put my finger on why.

There is a trend today toward the new, the innovative and much of what used to be ‘mainstream’ church is cast aside and considered ‘traditional’, as though it was merely form and lacked substance. This has resulted in a shallow church experience as people constantly seek God’s immanence through innovative and experimental worship but neglect God's established Word. My argument is that it is the form that gives shape to the substance and that the formless, liquid ambivalent experience that calls itself ‘church’ today is proven insubstantial for the very reason that it lacks form!

As an example, young people seem to have an ‘experience’ of God but haven’t the first idea about how to talk to him. They don’t know the thrill that a developed prayer vocabulary can give you when talking to God, often falling back on the old saw about the Spirit speaking for us when we run out of words (Romans 8:26). I observe that these days they run out of words because they had so few to begin with and, far from needing help from God's Holy Spirit, they need help from God's Holy Word to educate them in the profound language of prayer.

The names of God are not pressed into service, the exploits of God are not recounted, the declared purposes of God are not repeated, the prayers of God's people do not reflect the heart of God as revealed in Scripture.

Worse, when people come into church they are often disillusioned with the world but are often disappointed to find the world in the church! I think of the great cathedral builders who constructed edifices made to reflect the experience of stepping out of the kingdom of this world and stepping into the House of God. Is that our experience today? All too often the answer is no.

1 comment:

Petra said...

I like this a lot; I think there's a comfort and a blessing in ritual and tradition that modern churches have lost, or are beginning to lose. And it's a rare church today that feels like a pure house of God, unspotted from the world.