Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shopping Signs

Overexposure to the Son
Prevents Burning

Nice way to attract visitors, right? Threaten them with Hellfire in a cute, punny way.

What's funny is that we actually visited this church, which happens to be a Disciples of Christ church. If you follow the link to the Wikipedia page you'll find a mildly propagandistic summary of the Disciples of Christ:
For modern Disciples the one essential is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and obedience to him in baptism. There is no requirement to give assent to any other statement of belief or creed. Nor is there any "official" interpretation of the Bible. Hierarchical doctrine was traditionally rejected by Disciples as human-made and divisive, and subsequently, freedom of belief and scriptural interpretation allows many Disciples to question or even deny beliefs common in doctrinal churches such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, and the Atonement.
Beyond the essential commitment to follow Jesus there is a tremendous freedom of belief and interpretation. As the basic teachings of Jesus are studied and applied to life, there is the freedom to interpret Jesus' teaching in different ways.

As would be expected from such an approach, there is a wide diversity among Disciples in what individuals and congregations believe. It is not uncommon to find individuals who seemingly hold diametrically opposed beliefs within the same congregation affirming one another's journeys of faith as sisters and brothers in Christ.
Ahem...now who was looking for an example that Wikipedia articles might be biased and written by agenda-driven individuals? Exhibit A has been provided above, though it is hardly sinister in its intent, most likely having been written by an ardent, devoted Disciple of Christ.

From their own literature, the only thing that the Disciples of Christ claim to cling to tightly are baptism and communion. Everything else is up for grabs.

One would think that with a description like the one from the Wikipedia article that a Disciple of Christ church might not be very conservative, especially when it comes to invoking the image of eternal fiery torment. I guess that it's OK to be unorthodox as long as you still believe in Hell!

When we visited the church in question we got to hear our first female pastor preach. Personally, I thought her message was OK, though DH found her completely boring and incomprehensible, probably because she said a lot without really saying anything, going back and forth about various opinions on the Scripture reading without proffering an interpretation of her own

We gave this church a try out of my desire to try a more liberal stripe of church. After reading tripe like the Wikipedia article and the Disciples of Christ own webpage, I thought it might be a place that I could feel comfortable as I continue to figure out what's going on with me.

What I found was not what I had thought that I would find. The general atmosphere seemed cloying and very reminiscent of my early Christian faith. The congregation was almost exclusively Southern in origin, or feel; humble people trying to follow Jesus in a very traditional way, in terms of Southern Protestant Christianity.

It's difficult to convey what I mean if you've never lived in the South. The women wore too much perfume and dressed in floral prints, but they were quick to introduce themselves and point out to the congregation that you were visiting...whether you wanted to be recognized or not. The men had mustaches and wavy hair, combed back in Billy Graham-ish style, and sat dutifully next to their wives in their blue jeans and plaid short sleeve shirts (This is Florida. Nobody dresses up in "Sunday clothes".)

Despite the writings I had encountered, the church did not feel very untraditional, or innovative, or liberal...or any of the things I thought might lurk inside a denomination that seemed to define itself so loosely. No, it felt culturally confining and closed off, mostly based on intuitive impressions, the way things were done, the tone of the sermon, the discussions between the congregants. It wasn't bad or wrong, it just wasn't what I was looking for, or expecting.

I realized later that visiting it had helped me discover that part of what I was/am looking for in a church is one that is heavy in the intellectual/thinking area. I didn't feel comfortable in the Disciples of Christ because that particular congregation was practicing a very simple, cultural form of their faith. They didn't attend that church looking for in-depth conversations. They attended because it was a simple way to practice their faith. By allowing such an open-ended doctrinal spectrum, yet keeping the important rituals of baptism and communion, discussion of anything else becomes extraneous.

It served up a strange combination to my senses.

3 comments:

DH said...

Does that mean I need to put away my "Turn or Burn" sign? ;o)

Retriever said...

I love that sign! I tease my agnostic husband and daughters with similar slogans all the time...heheh. Good luck church shopping.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Churches look very different depending on whether you are viewingthem as an observer versus as a potential member. This seems a place I would like to visit on vacation, because it is what is is and seemingly comfortable with that. Long term, I can't see where I would find a place.

Be prepared for oddities, though. When we were first married, Tracy and I were looking at many churches, and visited the one my mother and grandmother had grown up in, still attended by my great aunt, mostly out of politeness to the latter. We didn't especially like the sermon (turns out it was the pastor emeritus filling in that week), and the whole congregation was mostly older Swedish ladies with hats, half of whom had succeeded in dragging their husbands. We were 23. The youngest other couples were all 31-40, and not many of those. As we got into the car, one of us said "I...think...God wants us to go here." The other responded "So do I. But WHY?" Not until we had been there over 8 months did the answer suddenly become clear.

We really hoped God would be so blunt with us this time around. Doesn't look like that's going to happen.