I don’t often get a day off from my church. I teach Sunday School every week and play the piano every other week, so I try to take only a few Sundays away from my church family. However, on a recent vacation I decided to visit churches of differing denominations as a learning, and hopefully edifying, experience. On our first Sunday in Hawaii, Kate and I visited an Episcopalian Church. The church building was a beautiful old stone and clapboard building which made my mind wander as I thought back to the stories I’d read of missionaries in Hawaii. A beautiful pipe organ accompanied the congregation in songs that were unfamiliar to me. French doors opened beside each pew and a beautiful breeze kept us cool. The scriptures were read, but the sermon was more about how the priest thought things should be rather than about what the scriptures said. I don’t remember many of the details. The people were friendly, considering we were simply tourists who they would probably never see again.
The second Sunday we attended the United Church of Christ on the north side of the island. Again, it was a beautiful church, with high ceilings, beautiful stained glass windows which opened and let the breeze through, and a Steinway grand piano. The music was beautiful. We sang familiar songs this week, but we sang them in Hawaiian! The visiting preacher got up to speak wearing a Hawaiian shirt and lei. Very different from home. And then he began his talk. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever heard in a church. He spoke about us being in heaven and being bored. So God created a space ship (earth) and put us on it. But the space suits only came in infant sizes and grew with us (our bodies). I’m not sure what the point was except that it wasn’t at all about Truth. In the middle of the talk Kate looked over at me and said, “I miss Roger.” I replied, “I miss Adam.” (For those who don’t know, these are our pastors.)
When I chose these churches, I purposely chose ones that would open my eyes. I felt sad to see people who felt good after the sermons. They don’t know what they are missing! I wondered how they would respond to a Bible-based sermon. I’m thoroughly enjoying the sermons of 2011 in my church as Adam preaches through our doctrinal statement. We are hearing not only what we believe, but why we believe! I am feasting on the Word rather than fasting.
All this brings me to something I read last week. I was startled when I read the following: “Most people choose a church based on the nursery, youth program, music program, etc. They don’t have any idea what the church’s doctrinal positions are, and they don’t really care.” It’s been bothering me ever since I read it.
Could this possibly be true? And if it is true, what exactly does it say about the Church? If we don’t know what we believe, we are not listening to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:14 & 15. “We are no longer to be children tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming, but speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.”
I conducted a very unscientific survey of my friends on Facebook on why people attend the church they do. I was not surprised by their responses. Out of the 12 people who responded, eight referred to Biblical preaching and teaching, supremacy of Scripture, or sound doctrine. I spoke with two people who admitted that they had requested and read the statement of faith of the church they attend before they first visited. All of these responses contradict the statement made above.
Perhaps the conclusion I can draw from this unscientific study is that my circle of friends, or at least the ones who read and respond to my Facebook posts, are more spiritually “grown up” than the people that prompted that statement. As much as I hope the statement refers to a minority of people, I do know that for some it is true. If we don’t look at the church’s doctrinal statement, but attend because they have beautiful stained glass windows, or drums, or a great nursery, then the Church has become just another social engagement in our lives. We have chosen to purchase a house because of the paint color – rather than checking to be sure the foundation is sound. And if what a church believes is not based on Scripture alone, the foundation is not sound. What we believe must not be our personal preference. It must be God’s Word.
Therefore, let us refute the statement above by becoming like the Berean believers in Acts 17:10:
“For they received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”