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September 18, 2013

A Catholic Funeral

The funeral for Mary’s uncle was a reminder of the grace of God in an unexpected way. Jim was a Catholic priest, and died last week at the age of 81. I always dread going back to a Catholic church (weddings and funerals), but I don’t know why, because I have had great worship experiences there. Of course, the Catholic church is the most ritualized, even mysterious, of all the Christian churches. Since I tend to be at the other end, the form doesn’t really suit me. God’s grace is that he allows worship to proceed and to be useful in so many forms. I have been blessed to be familiar with Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Disciple, and now (Cumberland) Presbyterian doctrine and forms of worship. Frankly, I feel sure God is not fully pleased with any of them, but he accepts them for their efforts.
Since Jim was a priest, his funeral was maybe even more ritualized. There were about 40 priests there (only one as young as the thirties, by the way), the Bishop, the ritual communion, etc. But the spirit of God was there, too. The Bishop closed, and he brought into focus the centrality of our belief in Christ. I would think even a Pentecostal would have said amen. But, a Pentecostal, or a Baptist, or a Methodist would not be moved to become Catholic. We have our different ways of doing things; we can tolerate some other expressions, but we may not like them. God may feel the same way.
Sitting in this huge ornate church, it brought to mind our reading in Exodus about the detail for the tabernacle; and the very ritualized communion was reminsicent of the ritualized forms for sacrifices (thankfully communion not so bloody). From Exodus, it would seem the nature of God favors ritual and extravagance. So, the Catholics, Episcopals, Presbyterians are right, yes? Were it not for Christ, yes. Christ and his immediate successors seemed to have no interest in worship ritual, and certainly not extravagance. So the Pentecostals and Baptists are right, yes? Not so fast.
Remember when we prepared to read the Bible through, I suggested the Old Testament reveals God and the New Testament reveals Christ. They are one, actually, but look how different as revealed. Churches too seem so different, but if you can mentally subtract the differences, you see one product. From John 17, we know Christ didn’t want division, but neither is he surprised. The gospel could be more effective if we hadn’t introduced our human biases about worship and doctrine. We did and here we are.
The Catholic church and others are experiencing some of the results of a failure to appear relevant in our day. Forty priests at a mass and maybe two of them less than 50, A large ornate cathedral and it may be lightly populated on Sunday. Most denominations fear change, but people do change. It is the same Christ whether in a Catholic cathedral or an ultracontemporary high-tech church. I happen to think he is not happy with either.
So to “New Wine”: Should we as a church look to change as a way to meet the needs of the young? IF our purpose is to be the gospel and be the church, do we have a choice? The need has not changed; it is the same Christ. It is possible that all else could change; none of our forms is handed down by God; it is all us. IF our willingness to change could reach just a handful for the Lord, how could we not change.
In a year of Bthechurch we have emphasized our ultimate purpose. We have used contemporary and traditional music. We are blessed to have the opportunity to filter out all else and focus on Christ. Highpoint has welcomed a measure of change on Wednesdays. We should continue to use this venue for ourselves, to open our minds to the holy spirit, but we need also to use it for outreach, to bring in others. If our group or our church are not growing we need to be asking those “change” questions. Presumably, increasing numbers means more believers to find their avenue of service.