Tag Archives: church

A New Venture

Right now I’m in the process of putting together a short e-book with a compilation of writings from SFL organized by topic. My working title is “Fundamental Flaws: Seven Things Baptist Fundamentalists Get Wrong (And How To Fix Them).”

Some of the new material I’m writing comes in the first section of the book which I’ve entitled simply  “Church”

Communion Isn’t Optional.

The bread. The cup. The Gospel.

For millennia the Eucharist and the Scriptures were the focus of the Christian service as the pageantry of Christ’s sacrifice and the truth of his earthly teachings were played out in both word and ceremony. But fundamentalism has largely stripped from the church the sacredness of the Lord’s Supper, claiming perversely that to remember Christ’s sacrifice too often would somehow make it trivial or trite. A few celebrate the holy meal monthly but many consign it as infrequent as twice a year.

If you can believe that praying a blessing over every meal (including the nachos you had during a ball game) is a meaningful act of thanksgiving but also believe that taking of communion every week makes it somehow an empty ritual then would probably make a good fundamentalist.

Here’s a bit of life-changing news for fundamentalists: Communion Shouldn’t Scare You. It’s about grace not law. It’s about mercy not judgment.  Some fundamentalist pastors have actually told me that the infrequency of the Lord’s Table is for our own protection. After all, God kills people who drink the cup unworthily or flippantly and we are all unworthy creatures full of hidden sin and craven desires. Why take the risk of divine judgment more often than absolutely necessary?

With that they turn Christ’s body and blood into the clenched fist of law not the loving hand of grace. That’s tragic. It’s as if they’re shouting “Sew back again the temple veil and don’t approach the dreaded Mercy Seat if you are not good enough. And you will never be good enough!”

The Gospel Isn’t Optional

The Gospel has met a similar fate to communion in fundamentalism. Perhaps it’s that Christ’s teachings of neighbor-love and self-sacrifice are just too easy to understand without pastoral embellishment. Perhaps there just weren’t enough rules found in the red letters of the Bible to suit the masochistic urges of the perpetual legalists in the pews. Perhaps the pastors just felt like re-telling the old, old story just wasn’t doing enough to fill the pews (or the offering plates). Whatever the case, the fundamentalists sermons got longer, the texts got shorter, and the Gospel itself all but disappeared, in favor of by self-righteous rants, amusing anecdotes, and various calls to moral action.

“Sin and Why I’m Against It” is now the topic of choice in most fundamentalist pulpits because yelling loudly takes little thought or planning. Wherever the Scriptures happen to be found they mainly serve only as a springboard for the pastor to launch into a litany of his favorite political, cultural, and personal gripes. Badmouthing those not present becomes par for the course. Guilt trips to inspire trips down to the “old-fashioned altar” are the mainstay of the service.

Jesus Isn’t Optional

Travel to a fundamentalist church this Sunday and you’ll like as not find a Christianity that has all but forgotten about its Christ. Jesus is not there in sermons. He is barely there in the songs. A survey of whatever religious art and architecture remains in those steel-frame and store-front churches will find Him having completely vanished altogether. A person not familiar with the story of Christianity might sit in such a church and listen to such a service and never really know who Jesus was or what He did.

Jesus has left the building but He is not completely gone. If they would but only listen they would hear Him just outside the door as He whispers in. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

Perhaps someday they will notice He is no longer there and go to look for him.

Lessons In A Barnyard

Painting by Roger Bansemer

The barnyard sat baking in the afternoon sun as the evangelist stood chatting with the old farmer. Farmer Joe, it seemed, had stopped attending the little fundamentalist church down the road and the pastor had sent the evangelist hither to ask the reason why Joe had left the flock.

“So Joe,” the evangelists said with the kind of studied casualness that always harbors a hidden intent, “I was just wondering if we’ll see you back at the church sometime soon.”

Joe said nothing for a minute, hooking calloused finger inside the strap of his overalls and squinting out over the sprawling farm that he called home.

“Well, sir,” he said at last, “I reckon there’s not much need to go all the way down to the church when I’ve got myself a fundamentalist farm right here in front of me.”

The evangelist paused in confusion for a moment then begged him to explain. And so Joe began…

“Right down the way from them you’ll see what I call my “churchy chickens.” They strut around all trying to be the most important one in the bunch and getting their feathers ruffled whenever somebody else tries to get in their spot. And if some poor unfortunately bird happens to get injured or sick those other chickens will gather around it and peck it to death just out of pure spite. I don’t need to go back to that church with them reminding me every day how it was.”

“If you’ll look down there to the hog pen you’ll see my pigs. I call them Potluck and Fellowship. They’ll eat and eat and eat until they make themselves plumb sick but they never seem to feel bad about it at all. No matter how much slop I throw in there they just can’t ever seem to get enough. Why seeing them every day keeps me from ever having to attend another special function or church banquet.”

“And down the hill there you can see my prize bull in the pasture. He spends all day stomping around, bellowing and trying to remind everybody who can see him that he’s the one running the show in these parts while spreading around enough manure to make it a hazard to even try to walk through there. In fact, he only ever stops the bellowing and manure spreading for long enough to try to mount every heifer in the place. With all that going on here every day it keeps me from missing my old pastor at all.”

The evangelist walked slowly back to his car and drove back to the church. “I guess he’s attending somewhere else now,” was all he could think say to the pastor’s inquiries about how the visit went.

Church Defined

All through the years I attended fundamentalist churches I frequently heard the mantra that “the church is not a building” because God lives in the hearts of believers. This was usually followed by a list of things one couldn’t do in “God’s house” such as run, talk to loudly, use pre-recorded music, wear certain types of clothing, and say the words “gee willikers.” God may not live here but apparently He has a bunch of house rules anyway.

It was not until I was an adult that I began to think about what a ‘church’ is to a group of fundamentalists: it is first and foremost where the head pastor rules. I’ve seen fundamentalist churches without choirs and without offering plates and even (as unthinkable as this may be) without blood red carpets but I’ve never seen one without a single man in charge. In fact, it would seem that all three members of the Trinity could very well be missing altogether from the premises but as long as there is that single strong voice present, there can be a fundy church.

From the reserved parking spot outside to the study filled with personal trophies and on to the special throne on the platform, the entire structure screams that church is not a body of believers. It’s not even the home of the believers. It is instead the embodiment of one man’s vision for how things ought to be, from the choice of hymnbooks to the wording of the weekly bulletin. Church is coming to hear him talk, to hear him yell, to hear his plans for what will be your future.

What is a church to a fundamentalist? It may look like a group of people united in a common cause but upon closer inspection that cause almost always turns out to be the fulfillment of one man’s dream at others’ expense.