Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Adventures in Church Shopping

One size DOES NOT fit all
Notice: The church names have been changed to protect the innocent (with footnotes!)

When I moved to my current hometown my darling and I decided to get serious and find a church we could feel comfortable in and learn the word of God. My DW* was familiar with one of the local churches and she said she enjoyed the music there and she talked me into giving it a try. I'm going to call this one the Wikiwef Hills Church of Almighty Noise**

Wikiwef Hills is a big church nestled near a new planned community north of Denver, it wasn't the biggest church I've ever been in (not after touring some of the great cathedrals in Europe) but it is a pretty big building and draws a huge crowd. We entered the dark main sanctuary and I was amazed by the stage - I haven't seen that much sound equipment set up since I saw ZZ Top at Texas Tech  (3rd row center!). When the band began to play it was my first exposure to live "Contemporary Christian" music, and I was both delighted and disappointed. The tunes were catchy and we could actually sing along with one or two of them.

As for the disappointment side, these were performance pieces, their primary design is to glorify the band rather than God, and since all of these songs were all being played on contemporary Christian top 10 radio stations the band did all that they could to emulate the popular recording rather than dump the self glorifying riffs and play a key or two lower so the average person could sing along. However my biggest complaint with the music (bigger than the self glorification) is the content - it's bland nothing nonsense. IF (and only IF) Jesus or God is even mentioned in the lyrics, you could easily replace "God" with some girls name and still have a top 10 song, the lyrics are that secular. Otherwise it was 'trance music' where one short phrase is repeated over and over and over and over and over until you can feel it drilling into your head.

Soon one of the pastors took the stage and began to preach. His sermon was rapid fire, bullet driven, boilerplate love-thy-neighbor stuff liberally peppered with lots and lots of bible references. Being hungry for the word of God I whipped out my smart phone, fired up the You Version bible application and started looking up all the references and found that he was mostly using partial verses, and just the small bit of the verse that supported his proposition. When taken in context most of the verses that he was using had nothing to do with his point. It's like he Google searched the bible for key words, grabbed what ever popped up, and edited to meet his message's requirements. I did not like this church. I felt that if the congregation ever gets serious about scripture they should gather in the parking lot with pitchforks and torches and demand the pastor come outside for "a word". Seriously! This is our immortal souls he's playing with.

DW asked me to try it again, but try the Garage, a second massive sanctuary set up for the younger crowd. In the end it turned out that the Garage was the same as the main sanctuary with poorer acoustics. We haven't been back to Wikiwef Hills since, and once we've researched their theology we are positive we'll never be back.

Our next try was Wannabe Fellowship*** which is just up the road from Wikiwef Hills. Like Wikiwef Hills the sanctuary is dark, and when they turn up the lights it only accentuates the darkness. Wannabe had a smaller band which I liked a bit better, they weren't as blaring as the band at Wikiwef Hills, but they played the exact same tunes and like Wikiwef Hills, the music was geared to glorify the lead singer. I mostly enjoyed Wannabe Fellowship, in the year we went there we got to know some of the members, but not too many. Once the band played an "old-school" hymn done to a modern beat, it was well received and I loved it, and the band never did anything like that again. DW didn't like the pastor's sermons, and after a while I had to agree - they sounded like high level theology class lectures rather than sermons. And he asked permission to get a little stern during the sermon. Really? Seriously? He didn't do it a lot, mostly he was very tame.

When we elected to join the pastor mentioned in the class that he didn't believe baptism was necessary. I could almost hear DW completely shut down the moment he mentioned that. I glanced over and she was in complete suspended animation. He lost her. During the class he made introductions to the church staff - the introductions were pretty much the same, almost every church official was introduced as "My wife" or "my daughter" or "my brother-in-law" or "my son"... when the introductions were done DW pointed out to me that there were no deacons, no elders, no church board. Just committee chairs and ministers of this, that, and the other. My decision to acquiesce to DW's desire to keep church shopping came when I thought back over the year we attended service at Wannabe Fellowship only once do I remember receiving communion, but every week without fail we were reminded of how much money we should contribute to cover the building fund costs.

A kindly old gentleman with a pleasant smile knocked on our door one day and invited us to attend service at the church he was starting up, so we found ourselves at Storefront Baptist Church****. Oh, that man could PREACH! Never having gone to a Baptist church before I never heard such love and passion in one sermon. And when he wanted us to know that God's Wrath was ready to be unleashed, there was no doubt in our minds that God's Wrath was ready to be unleashed. However his associate pastor who was in charge of the music was completely tone deaf. Senior Pastor played the electric piano beautifully while Associate Pastor sang the wonderful old Baptist hymns completely off key all the while 'directing' us with one hand moving mechanically up, down, left, right, up, down, left, right, up, down, left, right. I wonder what he would do if he had a hymn written in three quarter time. Halfway thru the music worship an elderly lady bustled in, obviously late, and sat down at the upright piano and played along in yet another key, I believe one of her own invention. I was hoping the airport would call and complain about the noise, it was that bad. But they were enthusiastic and did it all with love for the glory of God, and I got a taste of what I now know I need.

Next we had two choices, one was the Calvary Chapel which I think is cool because they teach the bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book and I like the founder Chuck Smith, but we tried another church first. We convinced a friend to come with us and we went to the church and sat off to the side. Before the service started the pastor came around and welcomed us and grinned and informed us that we were sitting in the troublemaker's section. We didn't realize it at the time but his wife, daughter, and the church pianist were sitting behind us. Service started and the music was standard old school hymns sang from a standard old school hymnal, I know DW prefers contemporary, but these old hymns... so timeless and beautiful, so many times I have to stifle tears as the meaning of those old lyrics written by saints from days gone by wash over me.

Then the preacher got up and began to speak, his sermon was on angels, both good and bad, and how they interacted with us. I have never heard anything like that before. As he spoke Pastor came out from behind his lectern and he continued his sermon and I noticed he was in his stocking feet, he had kicked his shoes off for comfort. I had never seen that before. The bulletin which unlike the other churches we visited was packed full of news of the happenings of the congregation, contained an outline of his sermon. I had never seen that before. When Pastor mentioned a bible verse I heard a fluttering of pages being turned and I looked around and saw nearly the entire congregation with bibles open, taking notes, highlighting verses. I had never seen that before.

Bereans! We found a church packed full of Bereans! I watched in awe as dozens of people flipped pages, took notes, highlighted passages, and learned the Word of God. I still remember watching an old gentleman (whom I eventually and quickly came to love) grasp a pencil in an arthritis twisted hand and deftly mark notes in his beloved King James. Since that time I've read over his shoulder and every page I've seen in that dear old tome has annotations and underlines. That book is a product of love.

At some point during the sermon Pastor flatly stated something to the effect of "I'm not here to attract people into this church, that's the church boards job. I'm here to teach you and lead you." I have never even heard Monsignor Vesuvius***** the perish pariah of my youth stand up and say something so full of stern conviction. Personally I knew right there and then I had found a home, a church full of Bereans! and a pastor who knows what a pastor's job truly is!

I'm not sure when DW and our friend thought we found a home too, I think it was not very long after I felt that  this place was for me. It most likely came to them as they scanned the bulletin and made plans to attend the classes listed therein. (And these are not 'fluffy nothing' classes, the women's bible study started out in The Book of Revelation) In such a short time so many wonderful things happened, so many laughs, some tears too, even some scary things have happened, but it is all for the better. Thanks to the First Congregational Church of the Bereans****** the center of our lives has shifted centered on God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the wonderful gift they gave us: our new church home.

All of this flashed through my mind Sunday morning as I stood at the lectern and looked down at my notes. Everything, all of it, in a flash. I lifted my head and looked at their faces as they looked at me, waiting. There was Bob, and the Other Bob, Sandy, Rick, oh and Rick brought Deb! It's been a while since I've seen her. Where's Harold and Susy? don't look to the left, Eddy and Wes are going to make faces to make me laugh, don't look to the right, I'll lock on to DW and lose track of what I'm doing. Fighting back real tears of joy I took a deep breath, pulled the microphone closer and began to address the First Congregational Church of the Bereans, my family, for the very first time...

*Dear Wife
**Wikiwef = Wish I Knew It Was Emergent First
***Wannabe just like Wikiwef Hills
****In a real live storefront! It was so cool.
*****Not his real name, but a pretty apt description
******It's not meant to be funny, it's meant to be descriptive

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