We are gathered here today

I’ve missed two weeks now of reporting on my sallying out into organized Christianity. Tomorrow I will go to the same church as I did last Sunday, as I am driving neighbor whose car has broken down, so I will describe that church tomorrow or later in the week.

The Sunday prior I went to the other church recommended to me by Dave D., styled Family Christian Church or something like, with a pentecostal bent but less pronounced than the Zion church. I inadvertently arrived late into the Sunday school service and before the main service, and happened to first meet the building manager, who used the intervening time to introduce me to the building. It is an old theater, still mostly in neglect but gradually being converted into a church building by this group. The building’s architecture is grand in a pleasantly old-fashioned way; broad curving staircases, chandeliers and tall sconces. The portion they have restored has some nice gilding surrounding broad round ceiling fixtures and the capitals of the pillars.

One of the patricians of the church assured me that the gilded letters on the (temporary) back wall, “Holiness to the Lord,” were not there just for show; they really meant it in this church. It may be. Nothing that transpired would indicate to me that the gathered folks were any less than sincere in their intention to honor God. But who is to say, when the only one talking is the designated preacher? What hint about the hearts and minds of the gathered could possibly escape from their polite silence?

The pastor delivered a message that was neither insightful nor heretical, but a general admonishment to moral living. His urgings would be hard for anyone to contest, having something to do with that standby, the “three Greek words for love,” and our inability to love as we should, and God as the source we should turn to for developing perfect love in our lives.

But saying what is true is not necessarily saying what is profitable; saying something good is not always saying something needed. Who profited? Who was challenged? Who learned? Any of these things might happen in the secret places of the heart. God’s work need not be plain before our eyes. But let us so order our efforts as not to obscure the needs of his flock, but bring them to light. Let us teach where their is ignorance, encourage where there is despair, admonish where there is sin; and rather than revisit a right principle of God that we heard in our youth and have heard several times a year ever since, let us seek always to learn more about God’s whole work than we knew before.

What can we say to those who have found it their life’s calling to be the sole voice of God on Sunday? What can we say to those who have contended themselves for years with sitting in silence to the same core nuggets and basic precepts, having variety only in the anecdotes that smother every sermon? Shall we oppose those who preach Christ, no matter how thin the substance? Shall we urge those content with their sparse and withered grass to hunger for green pastures?

Why do so many people gather in fancy buildings once or twice a week?