I visited a United Methodist Church this morning. I think that this will be the church that I will attend regularly. I have been shopping for churches over the past three weeks, and there are enough churches within walking distance from me that I can probably shop some more, if I wanted to do so, maybe for another month or two. But I want to establish my roots somewhere. I want to know where I will be going each Sunday morning, as opposed to reinventing the wheel every week (i.e., figuring out where a church is and how to get there, going through the process of deciding if I want to keep going, etc.).
There were many things that I liked about the church that I attended this morning. The pastor stands at the door and greets people at the end of the service. The church was relatively small, yet active. It was small enough that I could learn some of the people’s names, and they could learn mine. But it is not a dying church, for a group of teenagers and young adults were confirmed this morning, so that should put to rest the whole evangelical myth that mainline Protestantism is dying off. The church focused a lot on God’s love. The worship style was contemporary. On the one hand, I like traditional hymns because they have more theological meatiness for me to chew on (and blog about). On the other hand, I find contemporary praise songs to be pretty and more conducive to my adoration of the Lord. I do wish that more people this morning lifted up their hands while singing, but that’s probably something I’d find more in holy roller evangelical churches, and their dogmatism turns me off. I may lift my hands in worship next week, and hope nobody says anything, or thinks that I’m showing off or trying to draw attention to myself. There are just some praise songs that make me want to lift up my hands!
My favorite part of the service was when one of the teenagers listed the questions that he still had about God. This communicated to me that it was all right, in this church, to commit to faith and to serving God, while still having doubts and questions. His questions included whether every word of the Bible is true, the problem of evil and whether the free will defense actually solves it, and what God thinks about other religions. I’d like to focus on what he said about the Bible. He asked if he had to accept every word of the Bible, or if he could pick and choose, based on what he identified with. He said that he tended to go with the latter because there are a lot of weird things in the Bible. The congregation chuckled at that.
Earlier in the service, the pastor was talking about how she asked the teens to pick the Scriptures to be read that morning, and she wanted them to find something about God’s unconditional love, since that was the topic that they chose for the Sunday service. They found Scriptures about God transforming people, but she asked them to find something about God loving people where they are, warts and all. The Scriptures that they found were Isaiah 56, which is about the eunuchs being accepted by God, and the story in Acts about Phillip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch. I was impressed that these teens knew the Bible well enough to be aware of those passages!
The authority of the Bible has been on my mind occasionally, as of late. I have been reading Pseudo-Philo, which, as far as I know, no Christian considers to be inspired Scripture. Yet, I have found it to be edifying. This morning, I was thinking about its telling of the Jephthah story, and how Jephthah’s brothers are trying to convince Jephthah to forgive them for throwing him out due to their envy and to help deliver Israel from her oppressors. Jephthah replies that it is difficult for him to forgive—-that he is not God, who can forgive so easily. I thought about how I admired Jephthah’s honesty and humility in this case, and yet about how human frailty should not be totally appeased because it can lead to disaster (envy leading to rejection of others). I also thought about the tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice in Pseudo-Philo. Do I feel compelled to accept Pseudo-Philo as authoritative? No. I disagree with it, even as I try to learn from it. But am I religiously edified and instructed by it? Yes.
Anyway, I can probably write my way into a pit, and I do not want to do that right now. I guess that, overall, I rest in God’s love for me, and, contrary to what some might think after reading my comments above, I do not have a religion in which I am the boss and I can just do what I want. I believe that God wants me to love others, that there is a standard. There is a sense in which people will follow the parts of the Bible that resonate with them—-that is unavoidable—-and yet I also think that people should somehow be challenged by Scripture to live better.
I’ll stop here.