The Imaginary Obligation That Rules Our Faith, Or Why Sermons Are So 1677 (Part 3)

I’m continuing my weekly series (is there some irony there?) about sermons. Let me say from the start that this particular critique isn’t necessarily a direct fault of the sermon. If anything, it actually says more about the theology we are subconsciously teaching…

As a child I fought going to church hard. I’d play asleep in my bed when it’d be impossible in light of my mother’s shaking. I’d complain about the uncomfortable clothes they put on me. On a few occasions I tried to convince them that I was going to do church from home by doing a personal Bible study. I’d also try to drag my parents into a bigger debate as to why we go at all.

The answer I received to the whiny question of “why do we have to go to church?” was always “God has done so much for you it’s the least you can do to go to church for an hour.” It’s almost the same reason why we go to funerals – to pay our respect, as if we owe them. And so we went to church – to pay our respect to God. So we could say we did, and so we could say we’re done.

The sermon fulfills some imaginary obligation in many minds that they’ve done their service to God for the week, that they’re off the hook. I think attending a service, more specifically hearing a sermon, does something to us psychologically. It fulfills a commitment we’ve created, and in this way I think hearing a sermon (largely a passive act) can take away from Christians acting upon their faith.

As I’ve said this is less a problem with sermons and more a troubling symptom within the church. Imagine Christians gathering and not relying on a sermon (and therefore a crutch excusing them from acting out their faith) and instead focused more on fellowship, discipleship and servanthood. I see the potential for tremendous growth that sermons have a limited ability to provide.

The larger critique here is that the modern idea of a church services encourage passive participation. The most participating we do is singing and laughing at the pastor’s cute pop culture reference. Undeniably it is possible to involve the greater church congregation in the service,  however it takes much effort to do so, and is nearly impossible in churches of any substantial size. Instead the service and the sermon are designed by a few (the church leadership team) intended for the masses. And so therefore we consume, and then we go home.

What would we do to fulfill that imaginary obligation to God if we didn’t sit through a sermon each week? How do we make church a more active experience (as opposed to being a passive one)? Is it ironic to do a weekly series on why sermons are bad? 

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12 Responses to The Imaginary Obligation That Rules Our Faith, Or Why Sermons Are So 1677 (Part 3)

  1. David says:

    Oh well, I lost my comment when my browser crashed…. here are the bullets.

    There are 3 types of church:
    -1 The large gathering such as Jesus did on the hillside with thousands, and Peter did on the day of Pentecost.
    -2 The 1 Corinthian 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. sort of thing
    -3 And the woman at the well, Peter at Cornelius’ house type of thing.

    All are valid if they are God.

    The weekly sort of thing comes fro the Sabbath thinking of the Old Testament. But we are no under the law if we are under grace.

    I hate religious sermons, and laughed about your hour at church. Our services are 2 or 3 hours sometimes, other Sundays 45 minutes. It’s got to be God, or why bother!

    Boring sermons suck. I am glad th cafe at our church is open during the service!

    • the church I grew up in didn’t serve coffee – come on you gotta know your audience! and don’t give yourself too much credit that you can entertain a crowd for an hour. 🙂 I’d be down for a 3 hour service, but as you say, it’s gotta be God. Otherwise no chance there’s too many lakes to paddle. I’ll do communion up there.

  2. Carolyn says:

    Hebrews 10:23- 25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (ESV)

    That is the text for my sermon today. 🙂 BTW, yes, it is ironic that you are doing a weekly series, but if your good with it, so am I.

    I had to go look at the verses from Hebrews because I am used to people misquoting them and I did not want to be guilty of the same.

    I don’t think that gathering and fellowship are imaginary obligations. Of course, I don’t look at them so much as obligations as a response. But it does seem that we have put all of the work off on one man – to confess our hope, stir up one another to love and good works, and encourage each other. Seems like we have put all of that off on the preacher, so that we can sit passively. And maybe it does come from the old Sabbath gatherings. I don’t know. Started long before I got here.

    I have read about current gatherings of Quakers (is it the Society of Friends?) where they all sit quietly until the Spirit moves someone to talk and then they share what is on their heart. I have never been to one of their meetings but it sounds interesting.

    I don’t know what else we would do. I’ve never tried it. I don’t seem to have the adverse reaction to sermons that you do. I will say that I must of been going to a different flavor of CoC than you because if our preacher-man ever went on for a whole 45 minutes, there would have been a revolt. As I said before, cutting into football watching is bad juju…

    • all the pressure on one man is a serious flaw in so many ways. Not to mention we only let trained people up there.

      and I’ve never actually been to a Church of Christ – I merely use it for humor’s sake as my blog name. I’ve been in non-denoms all my life.

      I like the idea of the Quaker meeting – I could see some natural flaws of only extroverts taking the risk to talk, but nonetheless we’re not only hearing from one person and it gives non-seminary folk a chance to share.

      Oh and may it be known that on the west coast we get screwed over because on the east coast football starts right as church ends – whereas over here with the time difference football starts just as church begins. Hello Saturday night service (oh wait, we like pubs)

  3. Larry Hughes says:

    I have similar feelings about the structured and ritual church service every Sunday. Being one that got a large dose tent revivals as a child sneaking into them with out my parents knowledge sometimes and over the years, I find that is when I felt close to God more so than at a structured church services of today.

    There is this one church that hosted what they call “The Encounter” once a month on a Sunday evening . There was no structure, and it was 100% spontaneous allowing the Holy Spirit to freely envelope the attendes with out a time limit. Usually lasted over two hours. There was singing, praying, healing, prophesy, and dancing in the aisles praising God. The only time I have ever felt I was back in the old tent revivals of yester year and close to the Trinity. The sad part is this was only once a month and the services are usually canceled during the summer months.

    In my view this was certainly the one service that should have been given more frequency year round as the attendance averaged over 200 at each service. Now if I could only find a church that did this regularly and weekly, I might even consider leaving the desert and making a church my faith home again.

  4. I love the idea of an unstructured time – I suspect that’s actually too scary for many churches. Out of safety they load it with structure. And to me that’s just all the more stuff God’s gotta break through. I haven’t even been to anything like that, I’m not aware of one near me either.

    • maybe part of the “magic” of the once a month thing was it being spaced out – it wasn’t turning into a structured regularly cycling thing – it doesn’t feel routine.

      • Larry Hughes says:

        That is possibly true Charlie as far as the magic. Many can’t wait for each Encounter to happen just as I was. This happening was in a Vineyard Church here in Cincinnati. I don’t know if all host such a service but this one does.

        One of the ministers of the church started the Encounters as there had been some interest from members wanting a special time with out limitations to worship God and pray.

        I guess the best classification and description of the encounter is a mini revival with seat belts.

    • David says:

      It is common in Association of Vineyard Christian Fellowship churches. The basic formula for Sunday is love of worship (about an hour), engaging and challenging teaching that is related to societal trends in each local region. This service is the “celebration.” All end with an opportunity for a trained ministry team to pray for any needs that you have. Small groups are the place to get to know one another, try out your spiritual gifts, and learn pray using the 5-part prayer model. It can be a microcosm of Sunday morning, but it is meant to be a place to share your stuff, learn something about the Bible, have a little worship time and hang out. (In the old Vineyard days, they had fellowship time between that worship music and the sermon, ending with the ministry time.

      The Encounter is meant to be a more corporate time of expression one’s spiritual gifts, and very often a time of training in the use of healing, prophecy and the word of knowledge.

      Please note, these are generalizations and do not hold true for all VCFs.

  5. theoldadam says:

    We need the external Word.

    And we need to be kept in faith. This doesn’t just happen. The external Word (Christ Jesus) comes to us in preaching and teaching about Himself and in the sacraments. It may not be what we’d rather be doing be it is the Bread of Life that comes down from Heaven for us and for our salvation.

    My 2 cents.

    Thanks, Charlie.

    • thanks for commenting. I can see where you are coming from, and I suppose my critique is more relevant to the evangelical model of preaching. I think we need to be taught about Jesus and his way, though I think we teach lots of extras and we teach too much by relying on speeches.

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