Sunday, March 8, 2009

The fall of orthodoxy

In Quebec, as throughout Europe, churches are falling silent - relics of a more pious time. Few sermons are given from these pulpits, few prayers offered from these pews.

It might be quite beautiful, with its golden cross next to the steeple, its triumphal arches inside, its extraordinary Casavant organ presiding, but that hasn't stopped Notre-Dame-du-Perp├ętuel-Secours from steadily becoming abandoned. Barely 100 seats in its pews built for 1,000 are taken on Sundays, and that's on a good day.

...

The fire sale of Catholic churches in Quebec continues unabated; they are victims of a population that, more than elsewhere in Canada, has turned its back on organized religion.

[source]

Quebec has changed, Europe has changed, and the church has not kept pace. I recall a story, told by a minister at my own church, whereby he took his family on a vacation to Europe. On Sunday, they went to a beautiful, traditional church only to find nobody there - no pastor, no worshippers, nothing but empty halls. Dejected, he stepped up to the podium and preached to his own family. After all, God belonged there in that house.

What do I mean that the church has not kept pace? What I do not mean is that the church ought to bend its moral backbone to the liking of society. The gospel message of salvation, the Christian journey toward becoming more like God, and the attitude of giving glory to the Lord are not flexible. What I am referring to is tradition and ceremony.

Traditional churches are quiet and respectful places of worship. They hold fast to set and proper ways - choral music, stained glass windows, fancy priesthood. This is not bad nor wrong. Many people enjoy these things, and where there is a heart to participate in such worship, such worship is appropriate. Each individual has different needs, and if a traditional church can meet these needs - if a traditional church has a thriving congregation - then God is being glorified in that place.

Yet in many places, the fabric of society has fallen away from God. It is the role of the church to engage the people. We should not forget that though we perceive older churches with their grand and Gothic architecture as "traditional", at one time these churches were very much in tune with society. Artists such as Bach and Handel found great inspiration through these institutions of faith.

Today, classical music is not the music of the times. Suits and dresses are not the fashion of the day. If a change in style is what is needed to draw people back into churches, then perhaps the church needs to transform itself. It is the sharing of the gospel message that is of utmost import.

1 CORINTHIANS 9 (ESV)

19For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

For many of the older generation, it seems unconscionable to turn the dignified tradition of the church into a place of rock music, clapping, and dancing. While such people are entitled to worship the Lord in their own way, let us remember that it is not the form of worship that is of consequence, but the heart of worship. God never demanded that worship to be him be solemn and serious.

1 SAMUEL 10 (NIV)

5 "After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.

2 SAMUEL 6 (NIV)

14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!"

21 David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor."

It is indeed distressing to see the House of the Lord vacant. The church must do what it can to engage today's people, to spread the gospel message of God's love and galvanize the people back into a personal relationship with Him - even if it means becoming more undignified than this.

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