Middle Aged Church

As I mentioned before I recently finished and highly recommend “The Forgotten Ways” by Alan Hirsch.  In the book Hirsch argues that there is something more to being a Christian than the way we do church.  That “something more” is discipleship.  With a declining interest in church as it’s currently being represented we’d be wise, and we’d be taking cues from the greatest explosions of Christian growth throughout history, to pursue discipleship first and foremost.

I was recently reading a review of the book from a good friend of mine.  In one section of his multi-part review of the book he says:

The idea of Christendom is that of an established institution of the church that has a geopolitical involvement. Many would point to the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (313 CE) as marking the beginning of Christendom. It was during this time that the church began to build larger buildings, hierarchical power structure became more established and even worship had a resemblance to a Roman emperor processional. It also became a time when the church began to dabble more with the affairs of the state. This trend continued to the point that the church was intrinsically tied to the affairs of the state and relied on its powerful influence on the state. Michael Frost works out how this looked by the middle ages:

“Furthermore, by the end of the twelfth century, everyone in Christendom had been divided into parishes large enough to support a church and a priest but small enough to allow easy access to the parish chapel for services. Tithing became mandatory, so everyone was ‘taxed’ to support the parish church and its priests. It was a brilliant system for ensuring both ecclesiastical administration and pastoral care. The laity was expected to pay its tithe and attend Mass. The clergy were expected to perform sacramental rites such as baptism, marriage, funerals, and weekly Mass, as well as provide for the poor. The result of nearly two centuries of Christendom is that Christiana have become used to the idea that their faith is primarily about attending meetings—worship meetings, weddings, funerals, prayer meetings, and so on. Even today, in our thoroughly post-Christendom world, when the essential work of the church in providing religious, liturgical services has become irrelevant, Christians (including many exiles) can’t separate the idea of Christianity from the weekly Mass or worship service. Even those who have ceased attending church services have great difficulty imagining what it means for a group of believers to church together without picturing a liturgical meeting of some kind.” (Frost, Exiles, 277)

For myself I want there to be so much more to my faith than church attendance.  In fact, church attendance for much of my life has been at the top of the checklist of ways I am known for being a Christian but in reality it should be somewhere at the bottom. This doesn’t at all mean that I think corporate worship can be eschewed. But I don’t want people debating the details of my life and conclude that I was a Christian because I got dressed up and went somewhere on Sunday mornings. “Church-going” should never define discipleship.

To broaden the thought, how can a church be defined .  I hope a church (and my church in particular) is not just known for getting together once a week. But instead for what we do to the community around us as a result of those once a week meetings.


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