I went to Pine Baptist this week. Like Cherry Baptist and Tioga Baptist, the Sunday School service was modestly partcipatory. The fellow leading the study seemed to have gotten his insight straight out of a study Bible or two, which is not a fault of itself but is always disappointing to me, as I constantly wish people knew the Bible well enough to have ideas about its meaning on their own. At least it was the Bible we were discussing.
Whenever I am permitted to make comments and I chose to do so, people always compliment me for my knowledge. This reinforces my tendency to feel that I know more theological truth than at least 90% of them all lumped together. I suppose this could even be true–but the quanitity of thelogical truth one knows has no value in itself. (I get the feeling, although on scant evidence please note, that Cherry Baptist has somewhat missed this.) Any one of them likely has more expereince trusting God in times of need and seeing his faithfulness, no matter how little they may know or understand of the record of God’s faithfulness and of his promises in the Bible. God is not a concept to be appreciated by bright minds. The glory of God revealed to the intellect is just one ray of his inapproachable light.
The sermon turned out to be on church discipline. And, as to be expected, it turned out that they had exercised disciplinary action against a (former?) member a few weeks prior. The pastor belabored the typical themes of intention to restore the wayward brother in all discipline, and escalation of discipline only when quieter and more private approaches had failed, and generally nothing that was wrong by the book. In fact, as far as what was stated, it fit my understanding of the scripture much better than the prior week’s sermon in Tioga Baptist that only sins that offended non-Christians actually had to be acted against corporately.
But the sermon also served as notice that the church operated very governmentally, and was very committed to the iron fist hold upright the cross of Christ. If this needed any reinforcement, the special singining (for the non-liturgical members of my audience, that’s when neither the chior nor the assembly sings, but a few people who have some musical talent–and frequently the time when the pass around the main collection, I mean, offering plate) had a patriotic theme and culminated in singing the Star Spangled Banner. I have nothing against respect and appreciation for this country or whatever country a believer may be in, any more than I would condemn appreciation for food, clothing, or housing. It is a great country, by any standard countries are measured on. But it is still a worldly thing, and singing anthems in its praise in an assembly to the Lord is no more appropriate than singing praises to my car, or my employer. It is idolatry, and only pagan ignorance could excuse it.
That is the level of so many churches, though: a general knowledge that God is out there, a general attitude of God-fearing, as of the God-fearing Gentiles, but no understanding of the whole work of God, of the specific meaning of the gospel of God.
I lounged in a pew after the service, loitering around in anticipation of the pastor coming back to size me up more thoroughly than he had before. Yes, I was feeling feisty. But I got invited to lunch instead by an older woman who was clearly very busy in the church, and another man came along with his wife. Over lunch I gave this fellow, H.B., an earful of what I thought about the typical structure of church. I have tried to be restrained and even circumspect in my comments on other occasions, since it is so much my desire to hastily condemn everything and wait brightly for them to ask for my solution, but as I already confessed I was feeling impatient. He listened attentively but without engagement, and offered that the pastor has allowed the church to vote on his subject matter for the summer as some consolation towards my lament over the lack of mutual fellowship. Of course voting on Topic A, B, or C has nothing to do with fellowship, but that is typically how critiques of fundamental church structure are answered: with a different brick from the same row.
A board-game enthusiast, H.B. invited me over to his house and we played two games of Settlers of Cataan. I played one or maybe twice before, but the first game he explained the strategy as we played, and I won. On the second I asked for a square match and lost, but not badly. I enjoyed myself immensely and would look forward to future events, but I am not sure that there will be many as he and his gang usually gather Friday or Saturday evenings, both of which conflict with higher priorities in my schedule.