A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Why I do not like to go to church (Part 3)

Lack of meaningful fellowship

One of the major metaphors in Paul’s language to describe the church is the “body of Christ.” He envisions an organic teamwork that fuses together to act as the incarnated Christ in the world since Jesus had ascended.  However, in order to do that, there must be a deep sense of fellowship within the confines of the assembly of Christians.

The problem is, the societal rules and habits that determine our behavior in society in general are also the same rules we tend to live by in the church setting. One principle that holds true in social gatherings for ages where most people are single is that “attractive” people tend to spend time together. Another one is intellectuals gather together.  In other words, the old adage “birds of a feather flock together” describes the primary (though by no means exclusive) determining factor for social groups. Unfortunately, this hold true for the majority of social contact in the church setting.  Commonly known as cliques. But the problem isn’t with cliques per se, but rather it is a symptom of a deeper problem within the context of the church.

I have witnessed one exception to this rule. And it isn’t even really an exception, but it is an uncommon cause of group cohesion. However, it is also witnessed outside of the church in select pockets. Activist minded people also tend to clump together, despite their social, behavioral, and physical features. The thing that is held in common amongst these people is a mission. When this intangible, immaterial thing that does not describe a people directly is the cause of unity, the proverb “opposites attract” seems to play out as true. In reality, there are opposites in many regards, but they are united in their common cause.

And this isn’t truly THAT infrequent. Corporations work under this model. Many person who, at least in theory, work together to research, plan, create, and sell goods and services. These corporations accomplish things that those people could never accomplish apart from them holding a common goal, broadly speaking,  in mind. However, what distinguishes this from activism is that corporations are largely the function of extrinsic motivation, such as a paycheck, whereas group activism is caused by in large by intrinsically motivated persons.

The church as it stands, lacks this cohesive cause to fellowship. Particularly in Protestant churches, the word of unmerited grace stands as a major motivating factor for church attendance. While this notion is certainly biblical, the Bible as a whole in the First Testament and the Second, testifies to God’s reward for the faithful and punishment of the faithless.  However, where preaching emphasizes the unmerited grace pole, the most that tends to be help in common between the majority person in the church is a individualistic reception. Social groups within the church, then, form not because persons perceive they have received grace. Instead, the rules for unity go back to rules and habits they learned in their social upbringing.

The mission of the body of Christ is barely served then. Social pressures from the pulpit and from the pews is a motivator for the occasional service, but it lacks any motivation that is strong enough to give people a strong sense of mission, which leads to a unity with other persons with the mission.

There is no reason, then, for persons in the pews to actively seek other persons, either in finding fellow Christians to serve the living God and in actively seeking places of personal service to others. If they already have a group of persons that serve their other needs, there is little reason for unity across the entirety of the church. There is little in common.

However, the problem goes a bit deeper. Frequently on Sunday mornings, there will be a time alloted to give a little exchange of words to other persons around you.  The average time for these moments of fellowship? A couple of minutes. Partly, this goes back to the pragmatism of trying to finish the service within an allotted amount of time. However, it is also a factor of “social awkwardness” that inevitably results when times go longer with people are rather unfamiliar with each other.

When persons who are not familiar with each other are not talking but yet they stand looking at each other, there is that “awkward” feel to it. While there are many things that go into new people getting to know each other, having a topic where both people will engage each other is a very important consideration. But what do random persons in the church have to talk about when they aren’t there because of commitments to God and the Christian mission? Talk about their own experience of God’s grace, a major reason persons might come? Essential to a certain degree, but topics that revolve around oneself can not serve as the sole foundation of growing fellowship between persons.

Also, in America, due to the overall scientific, analytical mindset, to speak of an unscientific spirituality is very uncomfortable to more intellectual types. Thus Christian talk becomes largely the realm of the more affective types. Unfortunately, they too go to an extreme where emotional considerations largely determine their topics, their speech, and their behavioral patterns in the Christian community, with little critical reflection on cause of the their affective experiences. Personality, in this instance, largely serves to split the two types in the context of Christian fellowship. So intellectual types only reach their own, and emotional types their own. And each group has their own social mores that finds the persons of the other group as being in violation. For instance, “Why does theology matter, as long as you love Jesus?” Or an intellectual temptation, as I am prone to” is to largely exclude the role of emotions in religious life.  Therefore, the divisions are further reinforced. Then emotional types continue in their way unabated with nothing to bring them to live in the entirety of reality, and the same for intellectuals.

This is why talk and expounding upon the Christian story is important. Story begs analysis at some level, and story automatically incites experience at some level. But where church is centered around either overly abstract, denarrativized propositions or a more ecstatic, emotive aspect, unity between different personality types will not happen.

While I could continue for many pages, the essence of this whole post is that fellowship in the church is largely a factor of person having things in common outside of the Christian mission and story and the unwillingness to preach of God’s actual, and not theoretical, punishment of evil and reward of good even for Christians in lieu of an exaggerated message of undeserved grace. Instead, the social logic and rules of the world seep into the church that is called to be a holy, behaviorally separated, body of believers. The fellowship problem is a problem and causes other problems, but it stands as a symptom of a deeper problem.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment