“One way to inoculate ourselves against part of worship’s power is to think of going to church in superstitious terms, as if we are hedging our bets with God. If we participate in worship and simply hope that our being there will cause God to bless us, what we are doing in church really amounts to practicing something other than Christianity. We are practicing superstition, or hypocrisy- in which we sometimes even intentionally learn to say things to God that we do not mean. Spiritually speaking, the sin of hypocrisy is one of the most vexing antidotes to formation. In hypocrisy, our external actions are cut off from internal attitudes. We may even become well practiced at not meaning what we say or do.
– John D. Witvliet
I’ve been riding this train for a while it seems. It’s all being confirmed as I read through James KA Smith’s work (which these two quotes are from) and understanding what forms us into the kinds of people we are. I am just becoming more fascinated with how we as Christians live nothing like they say they should. We show up at church every single week and yet we still look no better than even those that don’t talk about it. There is something seriously wrong. I think what is worse, is that it is us who show up at church on Sundays who love to talk about change and what we ought to be doing and we love to hear stories of people doing amazing things so there is this kind of heightened expectation when you are part of a church community that things are going to be different. You expect at the very least a group of people who see a goal of what we are to become and then make a plan to get there. This just doesn’t seem to be the case. Of course I’m generalizing, but the hope is that I shouldn’t have to and that it should be obvious. Churches should be breeding grounds for transformative life change where people submit to the lordship of Jesus and are brought into a way of life that will transform them into disciples of Christ.
Yet it seems that churches are more breeding grounds for people to learn how to speak about their understanding of reality and encourage them in minor transitions around pop religion. Maybe a church will get behind a 30 hour famine, or send some money to a missionary, or even volunteer at a soup kitchen, make a small group or run youth events, create some really meaningful values or tackle an important subject in a sermon series. But there doesn’t seems to be an overwhelmingly amount of transformation done in our churches in actually making disciples and people who are more like Jesus when they started.
Maybe we’ve made it just to easy to be part of a church. Or if easy isn’t the word, maybe we have just been lying. Maybe we have perfected the art of hypocrisy so that we don’t even know we are doing it anymore. Church is just kind of this place you show up at to talk (or listen) about spiritual issues and getting your life back on track and some nice steps to take to fix it. It’s not really pitched as a transformative decision or environment so I guess it never becomes one.
…seeing through Calvin’s eyes, we may describe what ails many Protestant churches today as follows: having inherited a treasury of formative exercises, we practice them only here and there, now and then- and still expect and even claim to be getting in shape. Or we expect no such thing, instead interpreting the treasury as a collection not of exercises meant to form us, but rather of activities meant to express, demonstrate, or symbolically establish ourselves as believing Christian beliefs, belonging to a Christian crowd.”
– Matthew Boulton