For most of my life, I have identified with being Christian, a Christ-follower. I have gone to church faithfully (well, except for my college days, but that’s another post) since I was nine, and I rarely had any problems with the experience. Aside from the nosy old biddies that seem to be part and parcel of every congregation regardless of denomination or location,for the most part, church has been enjoyable, peaceful, and uplifting.
Lately, however, I find myself a bit disillusioned and at times disconnected from something that I used to look forward to on a weekly basis. It may have a lot to do with where my family is attending church right now, although I’m not sure if it’s a personality issue, a spiritual issue, or a denominational issue, but I can honestly say that I don’t feel the same about going to church as I once did. And I know I’m not alone. A lot of people seem to feel this disconnect with something that used to be such an integral part of their lives.
I struggle to find a single word to describe my dissatisfaction, but a number of my non-churchgoing friends immediately label it as hypocrisy. I’m not sure that I would label it that strongly, but some things I’ve observed over the past few years have really caused me to question my faith life and organized religion. Let me explain a little of what I mean.
One thing I’m having trouble with is how quick some churchgoing Christians are to re-label things in order to make certain practices more “Christian.” This came to the forefront for me again yesterday, Easter Sunday. Oops, I forgot; we aren’t supposed to call it Easter anymore. This was brought up in my adult Sunday school class last Easter. Oops again. Easter is not a Christian holiday; it is a pagan festival honoring the goddess Ostara, and it focuses on fertility and rebirth. By calling the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection Easter, we are cheapening what Christ did on the Cross and placing our sights on things we should not even acknowledge.
In some ways, I get that. Of course we are not, as Christians, supposed to focus on pagan practices and celebrations, so I understand why some pastors and other believers strive to call the day Resurrection Sunday instead of Easter. Like a lot of other people, a change like that is difficult to make, when I have been calling the day Easter all my life, as a lot of others have done. But it’s not the suggestion to re-label the holiday in itself that irritates me. It’s the attitude that those who still wish others “Happy Easter” are somehow less Christian than those who use the greeting “Happy Resurrection Sunday.” Sounds a bit like the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays quandry, doesn’t it?
That in itself is perplexing enough, but what really made my head throb yesterday was that amid the “Happy Easter” bashing I was still hearing, someone in our Sunday school class bemoaned the fact that her children that morning didn’t come running in all excited about what the Easter bunny left in their Easter baskets. Wait, I thought we weren’t supposed to acknowledge the pagan celebration with its eggs and bunnies?
During the church service, I had another head-scratching moment when someone on the worship team related a story from her childhood. In the early days of her married life, when her daughters were very young, her family had traveled around as evangelists. Once, they got to a point where the money had run out, and they were waiting for God to provide. He did provide, by sending a woman who felt led to purchase a month’s worth of groceries for them. This happened close to Easter–Resurrection Sunday, darn it–and as they wandered through the local Costco, they passed a display of prepackaged Easter baskets, the kind with life-sized stuffed rabbits and tons of candy that cost around $40. The woman footing the grocery bill turned to them and asked, “Do you need Easter baskets for your children?” After a moment’s hesitation, she related that their response was, “Why, yes. Yes, we do.” Maybe I’m being petty or even judgmental, but I had a bit of an issue with that. Again, if Easter, Easter eggs, Easter Bunny, and Easter baskets are part of a pagan observance, then why didn’t they just politely refuse?
A similar beef I have with a lot of Christian churches, not just ours, is the uproar over celebrating Halloween. Again, I understand the desire to avoid the pagan and sometimes sinister associations that the day holds, and for a number of years, I refused to participate, trying very hard to fit in with the church we had recently begun attending. In an effort to show how godly and spiritual I was, I even taught a Bible study in which I spoke out against all the Halloween traditions that were rooted in pagan practices–trick or treating, costumes, pumpkin carving, apple bobbing, etc.
My resolve began wavering and then went completely out the window as I saw more and more churches throwing “Fall Festivals,” “Harvest Celebrations,” or “Hallelujah Parties” instead of traditional Halloween parties. On the surface, that seems like a good idea. But then I looked at the activities done at these parties: trunk or treat, costumes, pumpkin carving, apple bobbing. It struck me as odd that these things were okay when part of a Christian celebration, but not if they were part of a Halloween observance. It’s as though we have sanctified the activities by labeling them as Christian and placing them in a Christian-themed party.
Another aspect of church life that gets to me at times is the focus on the ways different congregations worship–traditional vs. contemporary, liturgical vs. charismatic or free-church. I grew up in a church whose worship was traditional and liturgical. Never did I feel stifled in that setting, and in fact, I often felt very reverent in the presence of God in that setting. The hymns made me think about the deep theology behind many of them, and the tunes often played through my head even outside of church. I loved the different parts of our order of worship–the corporate confessions and prayers, the weekly recitation of the UCC Statement of Faith and the Apostles Creed, the various sacraments, etc.
The church we are attending now is Pentecostal in nature, free of liturgies, a definite altar, robed pastors, and almost no hymns. We have a praise and worship team that performs contemporary music with lights, words on the big screens, and a lot of jumping around. For me, someone with occasional sound sensitivity, it’s very loud and not at all conducive to a worshipful setting. I feel I’m in a rock concert setting instead of a church setting.
Does that mean they’re wrong in their practices? No, I am not saying that. It’s quite obvious that many people do get into a worshipful mood with the songs they sing at our church, but I do not.
Again, here is where problems begin for me. While I have no problem with fellow church members enjoying and declaring their love for this type of worship, I do have a problem when they start putting down liturgical worship, or preferring old traditional hymns over the contemporary music. “If you’re following liturgies, you’re not allowing the Spirit to move in your church.” “How can corporate confessions and prayers really be meaningful and acceptable to God?” “People who worship in those churches aren’t really worshiping; they’re putting God in a box.” Isn’t it putting God in a box to say that He cannot move in a traditional setting?
Sometimes the trappings of my faith make me question more than anything I’ve ever questioned from the Bible. I do not doubt who Christ is or what he did for me. I simply find it harder to be among people who often seem more concerned with elevating themselves and their personal interpretations of Scripture above others who don’t believe exactly as they do.