The church that I started attending after I made the decision to become a Christian was a Pentecostal church. That of course meant nothing to me at the time but I quickly learned that who a church is along with what a church is – is very important. This is followed quite closely by where a church is, when a church is, and that famous sixth ‘w’ – how a church is. Unfortunately, most churches tend to forget about why a church is.
But I digress.
After spending some time with this ‘home-base’ church I left feeling quite lost still, unsettled even in my relationship with God. Although this is the place where I received that ‘hug’ from God, what was preached from the pulpit every Sunday was this uncertainty over our future plans – so-to-speak. It was the idea that if you screw up once, if you step out of line, if you forget to dot an ‘i’ or cross a ‘t’ that you go straight to jail and you do not pass Go. You could live a righteous life but if lying on your death bed and the nurse pisses you off so you tell her to fuck off because you are in a really bad mood – you know, because you’re dying, then in that moment, you are screwed, and better pack light, because hell isn’t going to be a party.
I enjoyed the music though.
This, then, lead me into the world of Vineyard churches or perhaps a more common term being Charismatic. What this meant in my world was a very disproportionate amount of time spent on singing, and dancing, and well, um, barking like dogs, waving flags around, and generally trying to interrupt another person’s enjoyment of the music and singing. Come to think of it, I don’t recall a single sermon from all my time in these churches. I am sure someone said something at some time but perhaps we were all jumping up and down, staring at the ceiling at the time.
When my wife and I got married and started out on our own we talked about where we wanted to go to church. After some discussion, we agreed to go hang out at the local Baptist Church. It was in these ‘all about the Word because nothing else matters’ places, where my wife and I began to notice the way churches tend to name themselves – and in particular Baptist Churches. It is worse then finding an electrician in the phone book, A-1 Electrical, AAA Electrical, We’re Number One Electrical, and so-on and so-on. With Baptist Churches and others similar in thinking, their names of First Baptist, Cornerstone…, Faith…, Grace…, I’m The Best…, it becomes all very confusing about which club you needed to be a part of in order to get closer to the Big Guy In The Sky.
I am most thankful for churches that name themselves after the street they are on for that helps in trying to locate them. Only up until they have decided to move because they have now raised enough money in their building fund to build that larger building but because they have so much marketing tied into their address’d name, the wisdom of the elders is that they keep the name, lest anyone leave and they are unable to pay the mortgage on the new building. So for newcomers looking for Sunnydale Road Church, all they will end up finding is an old church building converted into a bingo hall, or community building of some sort.
I have often wondered what it might look like if a church decided to take a more biblical viewpoint to naming themselves – calling themselves the “Last Baptist Church” as an example. It would capture everyone’s attention, and have the appearance of being humble and meek, but everyone inside would be snickering, understanding the ‘inside joke’.
But I digress.
In Genesis (the first book of the Bible) God is walking in the Garden of Eden and he calls out, “Where Art Thou, Adam?” Adam, as the reader already knows, is hanging out in the bushes, naked, with Eve, full of shame for just having eaten the forbidden fruit and realizing, among other things, that they were naked. Not a big deal for them, until God shows up and they realize that they are naked and that’s a bad thing, completely overlooking the fact that perhaps the issue wasn’t the nakedness but the eating of the forbidden fruit.
This calling out to Adam from God is a rhetorical question, of course, since God, who knows all, clearly knew what was going on. The question then, is a loving gesture, reaching out in grace to His creation. This is similar to a police officer who has stopped someone during a routine traffic stop and upon coming to the driver’s side window and looking in, notices the illegal drug paraphernalia laying out on the seat next to the driver. The first question that the officer asks is, “What is that on the seat next to you?” This is a loving gesture, reaching out in grace to this driver. What happens next is entirely determined by what Adam and this driver says.
But I fear that something worse has happened now with the state of these churches. According to my experiences over these last twenty-five plus years I fear that this first question of the bible has become the last one, except now it is us asking it of Him. Nothing has changed though. God is still God and we are still Adam, in all our nakedness. Nothing has changed, except, perhaps, now it is God who is hiding in the bushes, filled with shame for His creation, as Adam, in all his nakedness, comes staggering down the garden path, slurring his words, bottle of forbidden fruit in one hand, calling out, “Where art thou, Lord?”
But I digress.