Random Thoughts

Reverance vs. Relevance

(Thanks for the title, Dad)

I haven’t been a regular member or attender of a church in a while, basically since the one I worship led at closed, and I’ve gone to a few different ones since moving to Chicago, both contemporary and traditional, so I feel like I’m in a somewhat interesting objective position, and figured it might be worthwhile to share some of my thoughts.  Ever since I became a Christian, there has been virtually nothing more frustrating than the seemingly meaningless barriers Christians insist on putting between each other.  So in the vein of breaking down barriers, I raise my fist of religious introspection.

Since moving here, I’ve been to a traditional Lutheran service, contemporary Lutheran, Catholic, traditional Methodist, contemporary non-denom, and probably a few others I can’t recall (I spent the first few months here drinking).  After going to several traditional services, I definitely realized that I need my “usual” church to be a contemporary one, as I just spiritually respond to the more emotional experiential style of contemporary services, however, I’ve still very much enjoyed traditional services, even the couple I’ve been to in which I’m one of maybe a dozen people in a giant sanctuary, and I’m the youngest by 30 years easy.  And after experiencing these various service styles, what I think all the little differences and rituals come down to is reverance vs. relevance.

Please forgive me as I generalize a little bit, I’m just basing these thoughts on my own experiences, and I don’t claim to speak for everyone.

The traditional services I’ve gone to have a sacredness embedded in every part of the service.  The building, the music, the sacrament, the benediction, everything.  There’s a comfort in reciting sacred liturgical texts, in performing rituals in the exact same way every time, in singing the tenor part in the hymns, and in the way the building makes you feel so small yet sacred.  It’s all about reverance.

Contemporary services on the other hand are usually acted out in found spaces – strip malls, school cafeterias, old movie theaters.  With contemporary services I often feel an inate sense of God being found everywhere, in all the mundane details of my life.  I go to movie theaters all the time, and in acting out church in an abandoned one, there’s a sense of God being in all aspects of my life.  There’s no space separation.  Contemporary services will often try to use cultural references as well – movies, TV shows, books, music, all in an effort to make God accessible to people who may not understand the rituals of Christianity.  The same rituals are often performed, but usually in inventive and unusual ways.  It’s all about relavence.

Here’s the catch, which seems so obvious to me, but seems to escape some Christians.  Neither of them are wrong!  Both have the benefits I describe above, and both have their shortcomings.  In traditional services, performed rituals can often become mindless and meaningless as they are performed over and over, and also a natural sense of God existing in the church but not outside of it can develop.  Contemporary services can often become very thin because of the intention of making church so acceptable that it loses its spiritual power, and also the services are often emotionally charged, and can lack a sense of intellectual learning and studying, leaving one to associate Christianity solely with an emotional high.  Traditional churches become known as places where just old racist people go to sing hymns in a monotonous drone, and contemporary services are where kids who like crappy emo music go to jump around and cry.

Though I do think that almost everyone tends to have a preference as to what service they will attend regularly, I wish people would not claim that their style is more “right” then the other.  Both are very necessary and powerful for Christianity, and for anyone seeking religious understanding, and they shouldn’t be considered so mutually exclusive.  After having attended a few different churches, I definitely would like to attend both traditional and contemporary services for the rest of my life, as there are different ways that I’m touched by both.

I always get a little agitated when my mother mentions that I’m a specific denomination (“Morgan’s Christian Reformed”) as if it were an ethnicity (sorry Mom).  I grow so tired of people treating their churches like they’re a baseball team.  There’s a certain sense of rooting for your church over another.  The superficial divisions between churches undermine all the power and good that the Church (big C) should be doing in the world.  I really do wish denominations could just be abolished, but I realize this isn’t going to happen.

One thing I’ve really appreciated about the Catholic church I’ve gone to a few times is that you often hear about how all the other Catholic churches in the city are doing and what’s going on in the big picture of the Catholic church.  Imagine if at a Protestant church, you end up hearing about how all the other Protestant churches in the area are doing, regardless of denomination?  Yes, it would be a tremendously long update, but there’s a certain sense of unity there, that the Protestant church (in my experience) just doesn’t have.  “I root for this church and no one else.”

So I guess my message is the one that I have in just about any subject, open-mindedness.  We need to accept this world is gray, no matter how desperately we want to make it black and white.  That includes our own religious rituals.

8 thoughts on “Reverance vs. Relevance”

  1. I hope that the churches in Chicago know that you are currently a free agent, especially if their team is looknig for a good perimeter shooter who still maintains a presence in the paint.

  2. Thanks Chip! And thanks Ryan. One church has been trying to recruit me, but I really want to play for Duke.

    I have no idea where this metaphor has gone. And you’re right, I meant vein. It’s been corrected.

    I appreciate you always pointing out my flaws, Ryan.

  3. We’ve wrestled with some of these same issues after moving to VA, so thanks for sharing. I’ve got a post of my own that I need to finish up, touching on some of the same topics … without the clever title, however.

    You said, “I definitely would like to attend both traditional and contemporary services for the rest of my life, as there are different ways that I’m touched by both.” I’m curious if you believe a single church can meet that need, or if you’re assuming you’ll need to visit multiple worship venues to find that type of enrichment?

  4. Oh no, I’m planning on visiting multiple worship venues. I think ideally for me, I would like my “regular” church to be a contemporary one, and then maybe once a month or so, I visit a traditional church.  There’s no way to expect one church to fulfill both, which is one reason I’m not a big fan of traditional churches that add a contemporary service to clearly just try and fit in (one church in my neighborhood does that).  I’m not expecting a traditional church to do a contemporary service well, and they usually don’t.  I know that’s not the reason they do it, but still, stick with what you do well.

    So going to different services is *kind of* what I’ve been doing in Chicago, but not with any sort of regularity (yet).

  5. I’m just reading this now – great post. Your dilemma is indeed one that a lot of people face. Having grown up in a Protestant church, I still find a lot of meaning in an organized liturgy, and I LOVE many of the old hymns we sung. But at the same time I love some contemporary songs, and sermons that include at least one contemporary reference.

    And, yeah, the big problem is people getting so hung up on HOW they worship that they don’t pay attention to how they’re connecting to God on Sunday. Or they’re simply more focused on what they get OUT of it rather than what they put INTO it.

    And I’m totally convinced that denominations are of the Devil (most of the time); they often bring about more separation than togetherness, especially like you said, within the Church.

    Well said, Morgan. Great post. Thanks for sharing!

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