I was thinking the other day what a Progressive Christian church service would look like if it truly reflected my beliefs. I was pretty certain it wouldn’t look like any of the services I have ever attended, but I wasn’t sure what it would look like. This is what I came up with:
- The service wouldn’t necessarily be held on a Sunday. Since I don’t believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus there is no need to tie the service to the day on which the empty tomb was supposedly discovered. Actually, a weekday evening would be more suited for this type of service. It could be an opportunity to share fellowship and a communal meal.
- Anyone would be welcome to the service regardless of their age, color, gender, sexual orientation, eye color, batting and throwing handedness, height, or political affiliation. I’d even welcome Gun Rights advocates as long as they agreed to leave their guns at home.
- The service would not be so much of a ‘worship’ service as it would be an opportunity for meditation and contemplation. Since I don’t believe in an omnipresent, supernatural God there would be no need to “worship” but there is a need for an opportunity to contemplate the blessings of this life and the ways we can improve it for ourselves and our fellow Man. I also don’t foresee a lot of praying going on. If you don’t believe in an omnipresent, supernatural God there is nothing or nobody to pray to.
- The primary focus of the service would be the study of the teachings and life of Jesus. I am struck by the feeling that everyone who came in contact with Jesus saw some aspect of God in him. It would be refreshing to attend a service where the teachings of Jesus were analyzed and discussed without all the baggage that has been piled on over the last two thousand years.
I have to say that there are some aspects of this service that I haven’t worked out. Music is a big question mark in my mind. As I have stated in earlier blogs, I love the old hymns. I love to hear them, and I love to sing them. Unfortunately, they express a theology that I no longer support. I suppose I could cherry-pick a few hymns that do not offend but I suspect they would be few. The other option would be to change the offending lyrics of the hymns I love to sing, but frankly, the efforts to do that I have come in contact with have offended me more than the original lyrics.
Another area I haven’t worked out is exactly how the readings and preaching (teaching? discussion?) would be handled. Since I don’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, the lessons and readings cannot be based solely on portions of the bible as it is printed. I think what I would like to hear first is the reading as it is found in a modern translation of the bible. Then I would like to learn when in the Jewish liturgical calendar this reading was intended for, followed by the reading from the Torah that it would have been read with. This would give some context on which to judge the content of the reading and to determine the real message. Hopefully, it would allow the congregants to read through the Midrashic aspect of the reading to get to this real message.
An example of this might be the relationship between Passover and the crucifixion where a lot of the verbiage in the New Testament comes directly from the Passover story in Exodus. It explains why Jesus is being referred to as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” and some of the other details in the crucifixion story such as the specific point that Jesus’ legs were not broken as was normal in those days. It gives a richer meaning to many of the readings and stories we hear today without knowing the full context. The main point is, however, that the focus of the service would be to gain a fuller understanding of Jesus and his ministry to gain a better understanding of the nature of God.
I’m inclined to agree with Richard Rohr as he stated in his book “The Future of Christianity” when he wrote, “My vision of any future church is much flatter and much more inclusive. Either we see Christ in everyone, or we hardly see Christ in anyone. Frankly, my hope for Christianity is that it becomes less “churchy,” less patriarchal, and more concerned with living its mission statement than with endlessly reciting our heavenly vision and philosophy statement—the Nicene Creed—every Sunday. There seem to be very few actionable items in most Christians’ lives beyond attending worship services, which largely creates a closed and self-validating system.
Simply put, any notion of a future church must be a fully practical church that is concerned about getting the job of love done—and done better and better. Centuries emphasizing art and architecture, music, liturgy, and prescribed roles have their place, but their overemphasis has made us a very top-heavy and decorative church that is constantly concerned with its own in-house salvation.”
I know that I will probably never get to attend a service such as the one I have outlined above but I certainly would if I was given the opportunity. The paradox is that I am sure that many of the ministers and preachers in many of the ‘mainline’ denominations, who preach every Sunday in the old paradigm of “worship” and the rote repetition of rituals that have lost much of their original intent and meaning, would welcome such an opportunity.
The Progressive Christian