Ponderings on the Church as an Orchard (Part 2)
“I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?” (Isa. 5:1-4 NIV)
In the previous post, Ponderings on the Church as an Orchard (Part 1), I explored by way of analogy the dangers inherent in applying the same principles used in the industrialization of farming to the church, which is, as it were, an orchard. However, those aren’t the only dangers in the modern practice of farming that, by way of analogy, apply to the church as an orchard. When the church imports a consumeristic mindset into its practices, something else rides in on the leaves of that consumerism.
The Dangers of Importing
Those of us in Florida are likely familiar with the devastating effect of citrus canker. Trees and whole orchards have to be burned (in a recent epidemic, over 2 million trees were burned). Livelihoods are impacted. How did it get here? In about 1912, it was imported on seedlings from Japan (no fault of the Japanese, to be sure). This is the kind of risk that always comes with importing plants from other places.
Likewise, in the church, when we import a consumeristic mindset into the church, the disease of secularization comes on its leaves. Because we are oriented to the consumer, we begin to seek to create a church which sinners would love to come to. Pretty soon there is no distinction between the church and the world—both become contexts for helping us each achieve our personal goals.
In the church, when we import a consumeristic mindset into the church, the disease of secularization comes on its leaves.
The Effects of Importing
In pursuing an attractional model for church, we soon remove religious symbols (especially the cross) and create plain, secular décor. By secular, I simply mean that there is nothing in décor or design to draw one’s attention Godward, or upward. The venue feels much more like a concert hall or theatre rather than a place for worship where a family gathers. While the former ways were formative in shaping a religious (spiritual) worldview in our children and adults, these modern ways are formative in creating a secular worldview.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with worshipping in a plain environment, whether that be a warehouse, a home, or some other place where the church gathers to worship. My concern, however, is with purposely making a place plain as a means to attract. A plain environment often speaks about resources or priorities. However, sometimes as much money, time, and effort as one might put into an ostentatious environment is put into making a place plain in order to attract by eliminating “religious” messaging.
For whom is Christ building the church? If we answer, “for the world,” since we live in a culture in which people want to be entertained, we reason, the church needs to be entertaining if it is going to win adherents. The church, then, must entertain to attract.
However, Christ is building His church as a living, spiritual temple, the gathering of his people where he walks and dwells among us, in this orchard, by His Spirit once again as He did in the original orchard, Eden. Just as Eden was distinct from the rest of the world, the church must also have an aspect of being distinct. To borrow from Bonhoeffer, in speaking about the body of Christ in the world (the visible church community), “A body lacking differentiation is in the process of decomposition” (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 230). In other words, a dead body is in the process of becoming dust again. It is becoming indistinguishable from the earth itself. A church without distinction is dead. A church without distinction, entertaining as it is, is easier to sell. It feels like what we do the rest of the week (when we can).
Just as Eden was distinct from the rest of the world, the church must also have an aspect of being distinct.
The truth is, if we seek to entertain or to merely uplift, we are still importing something which has consequences. The result of altering our worship in this way might be that instead of broadening worship into all of life, we condense our non-religious life into all of worship. The industrialization of the church with its consequent consumerism dangerously imports secularization into the church.
The secularization of the church is increasingly a real and present danger for us all. We are all part of the modern age and naturally think according to its reasoning. In such a world, faith is gradually being choked of its life-giving nourishment.
Maybe the better picture is that faith, like the brain or a muscle if it is unused, begins to atrophy. Our gathered worship service must always put the “muscle of faith” through its paces in order to strengthen it. This is accomplished as we turn our hearts upward, partake of the Lord’s supper, and reorient our thoughts and desires into those of faith.
Our gathered worship service must always put the “muscle of faith” through its paces in order to strengthen it.
When we gather for worship, our practices are intended to orient our lives to that which is spiritual… the life of faith. Therefore, for example, we sing together expressing the glories of God, we pray together orienting our hearts toward what we seek from God, and we physically act out our faith in Christ as we partake of the Lord’s supper. We give the “kiss of peace” in our greeting of one another as family with genuine affection. Why? Because we actually are family in Christ forever.
Photo by Sokmean Nou on Unsplash