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Hamburgers, treasure and cells

September 16, 2011

 

 

In the small chance anyone has been waiting my follow on blog from last time, I have tried to get this post out quickly, so there may be many errors and I will edit and update it next week to ensure it does make sense!

‘Going to McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger!’ is an often used remark to point out that just going to church cannot make you a Christian. However if you are wanting a hamburger, McDonald’s would be a good place to go and so if you are looking for Christians (or finding out about the Christian faith) a church should be the best place to go. In my last blog we began to open up the issue that for many people ‘fitting’ in church weekly is very difficult in our culture and so in this blog I want to explore further the question of  ‘How important is it for Christians to be at church weekly?’

Firstly our tradition has clearly built on the Old Testament/ Jewish observance of weekly worship. Although we argued that we must not be legalistic about a day or time I think we would be foolish to ignore the biblical wisdom of a weekly worship tradition, a tradition from the beginning of creation. We could argue that this tradition is also part of the teaching of scripture. In Acts 2 we see that the believers met daily! and when we do read of times and days when they met it was indicated by a weekly tradition (e.g. Acts 20:7).  Certainly what scripture does teach is to make a regular habit of meeting together to be able to encourage one another (Heb 10:25) whether that is daily or weekly or some other regular habit. We also need to recognise that the biblical understanding of church is a team (the apostle Paul uses the analogy of a body) and if we are missing week by week the team will not fulfil its potential and may cause others to be discouraged and give up (a big issue I perceive in the church in the UK). However the main reason and motivation to come to church is to treasure Christ and as we treasure Christ we will want to worship him, learn about him and meet him in the means he has prescribed (sacraments) as often as we can. If Christ is the treasure that is worth giving up everything for then ‘gathering in his name’ is something that we should look forward to. If we do not look forward to church either we have forgotten how valuable Christ is or our church may not be a church worth joining. (I preached a series on this check it out at www.wallingford.org.uk)

Even if you have kept up with me and agree with my argument we still have not really dealt with Sunday church and our culture. As I said in my last blog actually it is the decision of the community as to when and how often it meets, which traditionally is still  a Sunday service, and  being part of this community means making sacrifices with our time.  The larger the community the harder this becomes to sustain and then the communities decision can appear to be unreasonable or legalistic.  The way I would weave my way through this is to have a wider understanding of what church looks like. In Acts 2 this seemed to include the traditional elements we associate with church but also the more mundane activities such as eating together. In this way I think the initiative known as ‘cell church’ could provide a way forward as it widens our understanding of what church looks like.  There are aspects of a ‘church worth joining’ (for an understanding of what these are check out my sermon series) that can be expressed in a small weekly group (or cell) and this can vary in day and time to meet the needs of specific groups of people, other aspects can be dealt with via other creative methods such as using the internet (like blogging or podcasting sermons) but there are some aspects that can only be met when meeting altogether, ultimately expressed in sharing communion. Some churches that have explored this path have gone for weekly small group meetings and a monthly celebration. As I compare this with the scriptural witness I do not think it provides sufficient means of encouragement. A compromise for me is to ensure that ‘joining a church’ is to join a weekly small group and to join a weekly celebration. For some people one or other of these will prove difficult or hinders other biblical commands (like respecting a spouse) or reduces opportunities to connect with people for Christ. It is at this point that being in community means exploring these things with the community and finding ways to treasure Christ in slightly divergent but accountable ways. For those who find small groups threatening a prayer triplet may be found. For those who find Sunday morning attendance difficult, a commitment to a weekly small group, listening regularly to sermons or reading books could be suggested as well as a genuine effort to share communion with the whole church community monthly.

These are difficult issues we face in our time and culture but ones we must explore as church communities. They are issues people face and more so as those who are exploring and coming to faith come out of our postmodern society. More about that in my next blog.

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