Church: What is it?
Recently, a Hillsong United worship leader named Marty Samson came out claiming that he is losing his faith, but is apparently not upset by the idea. This, of course, has caused a bit of an uproar in the Christian community— people wonder how a person who has devoted their professional life to worshipping God can suddenly abandon the faith. It doesn’t seem to make sense, and yet it’s happened and continues to happen in much higher numbers. A question arises— Where are things going wrong for Hillsong United?
The problem is actually quite simple: Hillsong United is not a church. Now before you exit the site, please hear me out. Hillsong United is a group that has a lot of Christian elements (some of which may not even be terrible), but what they produce is a feeling—and a powerful one. It is a feeling of acceptance and love, two emotions that are enticing and also overwhelming. The problem is that the message is not an orthodox one. Christ does accept us as we are, but simultaneously as ones who need to be transformed. We cannot simply be a part of Him; we need to be cleansed first— a lesson the apostle Peter needed to learn in John 13:8 when Christ tells him: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Instead of transforming souls to embrace the power and goodness of the liturgy, Hillsong has transformed itself to look like the world. It is a strictly sensory experience that may feel incredible, but is not a Church.
All of this leads me to ask another question: What are we going to church for? In my many conversations about church/denomination preference, everyone has an idea of what they want out of church experience, but very few (if any) considers what Christ, the author of our faith, wants out of church experience. It appears that people care more about going to a church where they feel personally fulfilled or connected than they care about going to the church that God calls them to be in. Theology, liturgy, sacraments, and even scripture are less important in modern churches than production value, catchy tunes, and cool, edgy, politically correct leaders. The focus on numbers, budgets, and statistics has often caused churches to lose site of what is important, and to look for the things that will “bring people in.” This is the first and greatest sign that the church is lost. If a church has it’s focus entirely on Christ with proper reverence and correct liturgy, then it cannot die—in fact it will continue to grow and flourish in the face of terrible strife.
Do we need to go to church? If so, why? If home worship is enough, then it makes little sense to go to church at all—especially for convenience sake. One might say that attendance is to find a community of believers, and yet, communities of believers can be found outside of individual church communities. Others say that it is to worship God, and yet, we can worship God with our entire lives. Still others say that it is to encounter Scripture, but Scripture is supposed to be written on our hearts anyway. My understanding is that we should go to church for all these reasons… and more. We should go to partake of the sacrament of the Eucharist. We should go to confess our sins before God in the way He has commanded. We should go to experience the same liturgy that the saints through the ages have experienced in order that we may be one.
Are you a part of a Hillsong church or a modern equivalent? Has anything I said resonated with your soul? Then may I suggest a change of pace. Attend a Mass or Divine Liturgy. Throw out any preconceived ideas that you may have had about what the Mass or what traditionalists believe or how you may be perceived. Just go, and experience it for yourself—remember, you shouldn’t be going for yourself, you should be going for God. The more traditional and reverent the liturgy, the more you will understand the hearts of the Church fathers. In the Mass, the music may be fantastic (or a little less than fantastic). The sermon may be wonderful (or it may be yawn-inducing). There may be all sorts of ups and downs that take place in each individual Mass, but ultimately it shouldn’t matter to the devout Christian standing in the pew. That person should be there to encounter Christ in the fullest sense, to be in the place where Heaven meets Earth, to embrace the grace being offered in the Eucharist. We are offered such a deep love and grace that our hearts cannot remain as they were in the world. That is the power of Christ’s love working in His body, and will always be the saving power of the Church.
***If you are not Catholic, you should refrain from partaking in the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper). Instead, sit and contemplate and understand what is happening in that moment in the liturgy. If you sense that there is something worth pursuing, do not be afraid to attend RCIA classes for inquiring or message us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.