More Church Stuff

My recent rambling on “relevance” is far and away the most-read, most-linked-to, most-commented-upon post in Long Pauses history, which is both strange and strangely comforting. The more I search, the more fellow travelers I find. Along those lines, a friend just sent me a link to Charles Moore’s article, “Why I Stopped Going to Church, And Other Acts of Christian Disobedience,” which continues that conversation. Moore’s argument makes me uncomfortable at times. In particular, I think he has too casually ignored the importance of ritual and the sacraments in shaping “Ekklesia”:

Take away the pulpit and the pews, the audio-visual system, the pastor’s salary, the praise band, the bulletin, the tithes and offerings and Sunday school, and what is left of the modern church? Jesus told his critics that the temple would be destroyed, only to be raised up again. But was he thinking in terms of steeples and stadiums, or of a people in whom the Spirit dwells? If the Spirit gives birth to the church, and if genuine worship is “in spirit and in truth”(John 4:24), then where are the edifices, vestments, rituals, and hymnals on that first Pentecost? We won’t find any. Instead we read about fire, wind, power, food, joy, unanimity and sharing — in short, a communism of love (Acts 2 and 4).

I understand and appreciate his point here, but surely the “fire, wind, power, [and] food” of Pentecost are something like the “Ideal” that our contemporary rituals hope to signify. As a lover and defender of the arts as a kind of natural theology, I greatly appreciate the real value of ritual. In fact, as it’s now been several weeks since I last attended a Sunday morning service, I find that I’m most craving those rituals — communion, in particular, but also the creeds and doxologies and ceremonies that bind my particular neighborhood church, with its particular congregation and particular values (both spoken and unspoken), to two thousands years of human history.