Wednesday, October 05, 2005

On "Having Church"

I have a brief comment on the way language shapes our values. If you want to consider differently your life as the Church, and as the Community of God on mission, talk about it accordingly. The Church is the Body of Christ. It is not a package of religious goods and services intended for your consumption.

I know it's the common, easy thing in our culture to "have church." But it's conveys and reinforces some pretty bad ideas when it gets right down to it.

One may "have" dinner. One may "have" a whore. But you may not "have" the Body of Christ.

Unless, perhaps, you are using it as a harlot?

If I am asked if I "liked a worship service" I typically answer that it is none of my business. It would be presumptuous to assume that it was for me, and if it was for me, some people have faulty values. It is God and God alone who may appropriately and unpresumptuously "like" a worship service. Whether I find a particular liturgy helpful in my devotion and worship of God is a separate question, and a valid one. But let's not think that it's a performance for us. If we can call a liturgy a performance, it is for God alone. It is formative to us, and makes us as a people "for God," but it's not for us to enjoy or not.

It's not a question of mere semantics. The language we use derives from and contributes to particular values. So let's stop having Church. Let's stop going to Church. Let's be the Church, the People of God. Worship is a verb, not a noun. It's sure as hell not a commodity.

I prefer to use worship as a verb at all costs. Maybe the phrase "gather with my community" or "pray the liturgy" or "celebrate the Eucharist together." They might sound awkward, but they certainly aren't more mystifying to the people out there than any of the other things Christian folks say. Admittedly, I do talk about "attending services at St. Aldates," or even as shorthand, "attending Aldates" (or whatever) but we need to be teaching ourselves to think in terms of being part of a community and worshipping with that community and sharing our lives with it, rather than consuming religious goods and services.

As a disclaimer, some of my closest friends use that language, and again, I do sometimes as well. We're not bad for doing it. I know that they and I don't think about the Body of Christ in those ways. Some people do. It's not awful and terrible that we talk that way, but I do think it's time we moved on to something healthier that will reinforce a better way of thinking about ourselves as the Church. I think it's something worth thinking about, and perhaps something worth discussing.


+ simonas said...

i agree that language does influence a lot of things as well as it is shaped by our perception of things. so, i agree that as our perception of things (including how we worship - a verb, right) changes, we should be mindful of the language as well. so, we agree on these things, i think.

however, i wonder if it is helpful to "stick it up to people" about the words we use. i think of that book "the celtic way of evangelism", which taught me to speak the language of the people - being incarnational and missional. so, if the people speak the language that conveys misunderstandings, i will speak to people the things they do understand and gently ask them what they think of the things that, in my opinion, need to be corrected.

i've been bad about that though. i am known to be picky with the language - and not just theological things, but simple, everyday things. language is a powerful thing, i'm aware of that. i just need to learn to wield this powerful weapon...

J Hearne said...

Hey. For what it's worth, you're linked to from my blog, today.

I picked one of my favorite quotes.

Rick said...

well said.

Thank you.

Kyle said...

Simonas, I was being gentle. Europeans are too subtle, I think. ;0)

Thanks, Josh and Rick.

+ Alan said...

Well, there's a time for "being gentle," especially with those who are outside the household of the Faith, but I get the impression that you're talking to those inside, Kyle. The Celtic Way is probably more referring to being planted in the culture of those outside the Faith.

Now, there is also time for me to be gentle with my kids (I have 4) and time for me to be firm and yes, gasp, even raise my voice so they know it's time to listen to Daddy now and be serious. Try having 4 creative, active children and speaking softly to them all the time.

On the actual subject, I'm absolutely with you Kyle. I will share, though, that as much as we will try to change our own language and the language of those around us about "church," we will soon realize it is very difficult. That "going to church" thing is hard to shed. People roll their eyes at you as if it doesn't matter what you call it. Well, it does matter. As you said, language not only reflects our thinking, it informs how we think.

So, we give a little. Hell, for the longest time when I planted Vine & Branches, I didn't even want to use the word church! Try getting people to not call you a church. I still try to use Community as much as possible but I have given in a lot on that one. As long as the image you have in your mind of "church" is not what I'm perpetuating, we're good. OK, that's enough.

Hey, you're like almost famous now that you're English - must be that Euro-Pomo vibe.

Jim Online said...

Language is an important element especially when bridging lives and making people know what they ought to know. Language is considered as the tangible existence of things that need to be conveyed. More often than not we make language as the tool in delivering to the people what the world has to offer.