Walk in to any church in the country, and you'll most likely find a group of people who worship with at least one of these things in a place of high importance. For example, there are those denominations that typically use the liturgy in their service. They clearly value tradition. Many people choose a place to worship based on the style of music used in the service....an example of preference. Some churches have choirs, others do not. In those churches with choirs, some wear robes, some do not. Some denominations have national systems of hierarchy and organization, while others run rather simply and independently. Some Christians make the sign of the cross when they pray, others don't. Some people won't set foot in a church without donning the best things hanging in their closets, while others shuffle in in shorts and flip flops. Some churches affiliate with a certain denomination, others are more general. This list goes on and on.
It seems to me, that while nothing is inherently wrong with these things.........they aren't necessary. I find myself more and more keenly aware of things that we do out of tradition or preference that have a way of becoming too important to us.......have a way of becoming prerequisites for worship. I have a litmus test for this. My theory is, the gospel and plan of salvation is very, very simple. It is accessible to everyone. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the peace and joy that brings is something that anyone can attain if they only believe......and none of the aforementioned things can affect that. My litmus test is this: If a person out in the sticks.....in the bush in a foreign land can receive the gospel and worship in full, genuine faith without something....then that something isn't a necessity.....it's a comfort. A tradition. A preference. Let's face it, in the United States and other first world countries, we are extremely fortunate. We have much, and we take it for granted. But all over the world, there are Christians with steadfast, tested faith who worship very differently. Some of them don't have a building in which to worship, let alone a multi-million dollar facility complete with a coffee shop and bookstore. They would give anything just to have four walls and a dirt floor. Some of them don't have instruments to use in worship. Some of them don't even have bibles......because they're not allowed to. No buildings, no praise band, no bibles, no choir robes. They have next to nothing compared to what many of us enjoy.....and yet they worship with a vibrant and genuine faith in the Lord. Having nothing else.....needing nothing else.....wanting nothing else, makes one rich in their desire and pursuit of Jesus.
Having worked in churches for several years, I have heard my share of complaints. I've seen people leave the church and refuse to worship over the smallest of things.....things that meant nothing......things that were matters of tradition, and preference. They allowed these things to become more important to them than worship itself. They reached a place where they, in fact, couldn't worship without these things. The key here, is that worship is integral to our faith, so it's not a huge leap to see how these things affect not only worship, but our faith as a whole.
I recently read this post by blogger, Benjamin L. Corey from his blog, Formerly Fundie, entitled "10 Ways to Determine If Your Christianity Has Been 'Americanized.'" Wow, what a read! It said a lot of the things I think in my head all the time. In case you hadn't noticed, Christianity in America looks differently from Christianity in any other country in the world, largely due to our unique and distorted perception of a marriage between faith, country, and politics.
This may sound strange, but I have this recurring vision. It's nothing earth-shattering or prophetic....nothing like that, but it comes to me often. It's short, but powerful. In it, I am in a dark room.....the room is completely black save for a small ball of swirling, bluish silvery colored light. I am drawn to that ball of light. As it spins and twirls, it cast wisps of light around the room and it has the sound of a hiss......like whispers. In the vision, I walk slowly towards the ball of light, slightly crouched, and with both my hands out in front of me.....like I'm about to pounce on it, but really.......I'm just so drawn to it that I am fixated on it.....I want to hold it.....tightly. I don't know how else to describe what this swirling, hissing mass is other than to say that it is truth.....the truth of Jesus.....the core. Often times, this vision comes to me after I've just experienced something that angered me because of its pettiness or insignificance. I think to myself, "Is this part of the core of Jesus? Does he really care about this?" The answer is usually no, and it doesn't take any time at all to arrive at that conclusion! But all that stuff......it's just noise to me....a distraction from what is actually true. That stuff fades to black in my spirit, and I am simply focused on the light......craving it....cradling it...... In an odd sense, it's very much like the affection Tolkien's Gollum had for his precious. This visual has become my retreat when I hear and see others focusing on things that don't matter, which, sadly, is seemingly more often than not. Each time I find myself retreating to this vision, I feel like a child running to their parent to be shielded from the boogey man. His truth is my safe place.....and I rest there.
I'm no perfect Christian, but I do think that, by and large, we Christians....and dare I say, American Christians, royally muck up what was designed to be the most simple plan ever. I'm so over it. I'm tired of it. Simple is not supposed to be hard. Simple is not supposed to be a cacophony of trivial nonsense that's been blown into false importance. I do not believe that this is what Jesus wants for his church, and because I am his follower, it is not what I want either. But....do you know what I do want?
I want the faith of someone in the bush.
I want a faith that finds its foothold solely in the promise of salvation.
I want a faith that doesn't allow me to get caught up in obnoxious political diatribes and die-hard causes that Jesus wouldn't give one rip about.
I want a faith that doesn't make me look like a cookie-cutter "trendy Christian."
I want a faith that seeks and mirrors only the core of Jesus.
I want a faith that doesn't require that I vote a certain way on hot button political issues to prove just how "Christian" I am.
I want a faith that doesn't care what I wear to church, or that I even go to a church to sit for an hour a week, but acknowledges that I am the church everywhere I happen to be.
I want the faith of someone who has nothing.....nothing but Jesus.
I just. want. Jesus.
That is all.
That, is everything.