So many people today are searching for what church is supposed to be. As for me, after three years of seminary, I can’t help but sit in a church and think to myself, “It can be done better.” I desperately miss the days of mystery that accompanied pre-seminary church. Previously I was able to enjoy singing along with the worship band and believing unquestionably every word the pastor spoke. I never doubted the authenticity of the liturgy or lack thereof. I didn’t consider whether the sermon had one big idea, was topical or outline format. Now having attended seminary I constantly question what I believe about church and whether my view is right or wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. I had certain styles of worship I preferred over others and my own version of theology (although at the time I never would have called it systematic). But generally speaking I didn’t see the details of church or what it did well or poorly.
It began the first day of seminary. I sat in a general education theology class discussing church culture. Before long, church had lost all mystery. I began to see it more like a business than a God-led ministry. I recognized the “order of service,” I heard pastors talk about sermons they had planned for the next year, I learned about underlying theology that seeped into every nook and cranny of churches, through the songs, the message and the ministries provided. I was forced to wrestle with deep issues, like women in the church, predestination and the assurance of salvation.
Then I began to hear murmurings through the school. They were coming from the students who were learning like me and wanted to take the issue into their own hands. They were going to recapture what the traditional church had “lost.” They were going to start doing church the way Jesus did it (or so they say), before conformity had taken its toll. Some thought house churches were the only way to do it, others thought the emergent church movement with evening services and a come as you are mentality were the way, still others just stopped going and “met” together to discuss issues.
It made me begin to wonder: is this a seminary thing or does everyone go through this sometime in their 20 and 30’s? Or maybe it’s generational or a symptom of our current culture.
As I have begun to gather my thoughts I am making some significant observations. For example, all the groups that meet for “church” really aren’t doing it all that differently. There are still certain elements that must exist—communion, baptism, fellowship, to name a few—no matter how much it is resisted they all end up looking pretty similar and I would argue that is for good reason. It’s about worshipping God. The fact is we can’t have church like Jesus did, because church didn’t really exist when He was alive. Furthermore, the community of believers were forced to worship some of the ways they did because of persecution.
I guess all of this is to say that maybe there is still a little bit of mystery, maybe there is still something to be learned about church. Perhaps I need to remember that the Church is made up of sinners and is imperfect. Perhaps I need to remember that seminary can be biased and I have lot to discover from those in the trenches. Perhaps there is still mystery; it has just become something different for me. The mystery may be “How does Jesus want His Church to look?” or “What is causing the changes?” or even “do the changes really matter that much?”
I am glad to be finished with seminary and be able to reconnect with fellow worshippers in a different context, to be able to come to church with an open and not critical mind. It makes me wonder what church will look like for future generations. In thirty years will church still look the same? If not will we question the biblical accuracy of it? Will it matter? Will we get to heaven and be disciplined because of minute details surrounding the worship of God. I just don’t know. Praise be to God that we can’t understand everything!