It's been a while since the last meditation, I know. But I suddenly needed some space and time. The problems of evangelical culture, as opposed to Christ and following Him, stalled me for a bit. I couldn't get my head around any other way to deal with them than just anger. This post is, hopefully, the beginning of moving past this current spiritual growth "wall."
Mostly, I blame John Wesley. When he started what became the Methodist church, but was then just a movement, he needed to carve out time to train and help people live the Christian life. This led to the development of extra meetings beyond Sunday. Class bands were formed for those really serious about spiritual formation and attendance to meetings and bands was mandatory. Not only that but it really helped people learn to follow in Jesus' footsteps.
Then, I blame Robert Raikes. He basically started Sunday school. Of course, it was a real school then. A way for children to have a day off of work and learn to read, write, and do sums. Bible was of course taught for religious instruction.
The last bit of blame goes on all the large tent meetings and evangelists of the 1800's in America. All the hell fire and brimstone messages. All the "you better be at the meeting every night the tent is up" propaganda.
Now, this is a bit tongue in cheek because all of these people in history did much more good than bad - during their time. The problem is that we are living now and we have the dross of what worked then hanging on us. We are trying to continue with what worked then in a whole different world.
I am going to do something that I tend to stay away from. I am going to show quite a bit of scripture. I tend to not do this because it is beyond easy to use scripture to push, beat, and pull people into behavior and a way of thinking that they might not actually agree with but, "if the Bible says it..."
John 5:9b, 16-18 "Now that day was a sabbath..Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because hew as doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, 'My father is still working and I also am working.' For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God."
The Jewish people, mainly their version of our pastors, had developed many rules and guidelines to keeping the sabbath. This was due, in large part, to the exile the endured during 500 BCE. They were disobedient to God and God exiled them from their holy land. They did not want to repeat this (who can blame them? not I), so Sabbath rules were sacred and not to be broken. Until Christ...
And another, "He left that place and entered a synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, 'Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?' so that they might accuse him. He said to them, 'Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.' Then he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and it was restored , as sound as the other. But the Pharisees (pastors, evangelical culture) went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him." Matthew 12: 9-14
Drawing this all together, here is my point: we need to look to our culture and see what we are doing in the name of Christianity that is the same as the Pharisees fussing about Christ breaking the sabbath. Here is the top thing on my list - Sunday night service.
It started out as a good thing, Sunday night, weekly meetings on Wednesday. It started out as food for people's souls. But...
We have come a long way from that. We now have fast busy lives. People work 50, 60, or 70 hours a week. They get two small days off. One of which is usually devoted to house chores or family time. The other which is for church. Church should feed the soul, but sometimes the rushing effort to get there, the song/lecture format that does not reach to everybody's learning style. The lack of spiritual formation exercises, the inability to form community out of a group of people that see each other on Sundays only (because our mobile lifestyle means we pick and choose more than ever instead of living with those around us). Church does not always feed the soul. Or maybe it does in the morning, but then the effort to quickly get home, eat, rest, and get back to church knocks the soul-rest right out of us because then we are rushing home to get ready for another work week.
Christ said, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath..." Mark 2: 27b. This means we need to do that which meets the requirements for filling out soul with God. These are not the same things that we might feel evangelical culture "expects" of us. Like being at church every time the doors are open (unless that is filling your soul, then GO!).
But if you find you are exhausted heading into and out of church. That, if you were really honest with yourself, the idea of going to church makes you want to just hide in bed, or wish you had a cold that day, you may want to look again at what it means to take a sabbath (Richard Foster's book The Celebration of Discipline has a great section on this.)
To those promoting the "standard" of evangelical culture - pastors and lay leaders alike I say this: Feed your sheep. If they are coming, but starving you are doing something wrong. Make the culture of your church one where people come and go and say, "Indeed Christ meant it when he said, "Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30
Use that section as your meditation this week. Only one who loves could want that kind of ease and safety for you.