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Sunday, July 09, 2006

What's the point of Sundays?

I am in the midst of reflecting and writing on a few issues when I got to thinking further on an issue that has been bugging me for a while. What is the purpose of church especially as it is demonstrated at the Sunday "service".

Firstly, without getting bogged down in textual arguments the word translated "church" in the New Testament can more correctly be translated as "gathering" or "assembly". The word, as it is actually constituted in Greek, refers to being "called out" so it's secular usage referred to the governmental assembly of Athens who were "called out" from the people in order to organise governmental responsibilities.

The word came to be used of the early Christians who felt "called out" from amongst other people due to their commitment to the message and cause of Jesus Christ. The Encyclopedia Britanica refers to ecclesia as the “gathering of those summoned”. This has fascinating insights for the development of the early Christian gatherings. They were gatherings of those summoned by Jesus to meet in His name and be a part of inaugurating the Kingdom of God.

What has happened? How much can we say, with all honesty and integrity, that the "church" is anywhere close to this? Perhaps Christians in isolation can say that they live with this sense of being called out and serving God but the churches I see around me seem far from this ideal.

In fact, what I see the church being is a place where individuals can, hopefully, receive a positive, affirming, uplifting experience. Many people will have heard comments such as " liked the worship this morning", "it touched me today" or "the message really spoke to me". These are the positive comments! Things get ugly for the pastor if these experiential needs are not sufficiently met at that one, particular meeting.

There are many concerns arising from these brief statements but a couple will suffice at this time. The first is that an enormous amount of pressure is put upon all involved in the Sunday service to "perform". If people are coming for what they can get then the pastor and others are reduced to performers who will be judged for their brief appearance that morning or evening.

Do we go to church as those "called out" from the world to meet with other believers and to be equipped, in part, for the week ahead and to offer praise and glory to the God whom we serve or do we come for an experiential "top-up". If the latter is the case then church must surely be reduced to competing with the media and leisure options for our attention. More often that not, the church is a heavy casualty in such a tussle.

This is by no means to promote the Sunday gathering as a staid affair with no passion or life but it is to speak out against the consumer, entertainment mentality that seeks to judge a performance. I guess the basic question to finish up with at this junction is whether we experiences or whether we experience God. Is God "out-there" waiting to bestow "blessings" and positive experiences upon His people or is God far, far greater and we can but enter into His experience which encompasses the whole of creation.

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