Thursday, May 8, 2014

Does Your "Sunday Best" Hide Your "Monday Worst"? Does Mine?



If you are a regular attender of worship services, your scenario is probably much like mine and others in most congregations in the developed world. You wake up and you make sure that you are prepared, wearing your very best clothes. Your hair and make-up (if you're female) are in place. You go in on your best behavior, and with your finest smile for all. If you are raising a family, you wake up, wake them up, get yourself and them all ready to you, dressed up and acting your best. Never mind that you may be coming from an environment full of chaos or strife, or may have yelled at each other on your way to the service. After the service, you may meet others for coffee, hot cocoa, doughnuts, or bagels. We make small talk and act like things are rosy in our lives. Never mind that after the service, we may return to a home of strife, instability or even abuse.

What Is Wrong With This Scenario?

This weekly scene is so woven into cultural Christianity that we see nothing wrong with it, do we? Think of it. Even as Christians, we have our lives packed into boxes. Compartmentalized. "Going to church" is just one part of our lives that we tend to keep tightly separate from the rest of our lives. We attend worship services and our fellow parishioners see us at our best. They see our finest attire and our nicest behavior. If we are able to attend Bible studies or fellowship groups, we get to know some parishioners better but still tend to "keep things light." So, brothers and sisters in Jesus, we often speak of our "church friends," and we normally have little contact with them outside of the worship environment or, at best, in fellowship gatherings. What is wrong with this? So many of us have, because of these unwritten rules, absorbed the idea that our place of worship is a "museum for saints" where we attend and feel a need, a burden, to keep up appearances. Once, very recently, I expressed my frustration to my mom about this. "That is just how church is; everyone goes to be on their best behavior." But is this how God meant it to be?

The Scriptural Model
In the Bible, the model of the faith family looked quite different from today. Yes, that was a different time and a different culture. But even taking that into consideration, what does that model tell us today? First of all, the first followers of Jesus were outcasts, including the "tax collectors and sinners" Jesus hung out with, common fishermen, and women, people who were usually not seen as high-status converts. When the believers officially became the Christian Church, and grew, they still met in each other's homes and on a regular basis. I do not see that they compartmentalized their lives. Their faith was not a cultural faith; it was countercultural. So many have said that Constantine, by making Christianity legal, has proved to be the worst thing that has happened to the Church of Jesus Christ. His actions opened the door to cultural Christianity. With it came a watered-down faith that has allowed so many people to join local churches where the emphasis seems to be on keeping up appearances, acting more holy and sanctified than we really are. In the past, the Church drew people of all backgrounds, poor as well as wealthy, working-class as well as business people, and outcasts as well as Establishment citizens. Today, however, many congregations seem to draw more affluent or wealthy people, white collar workers or professionals, and Establishment people. How did we get away from the Biblical model?

My Experience

When I was growing up, in the 1960s and 1970s, we lived next door to my late maternal grandmother. She attended the local Lutheran worship services regularly. When our family attended, she would come over and inspect us to make sure that we were "perfectly attired." We dared not leave the house and enter our house of worship in any other way. This instilled in me the notion that we attend our place of worship to keep up appearances. The rest of the week was separated from Sunday morning worship. "Church is just about your soul," I was often told. I often wondered, What is the point? God is omniscient and already knows us inside and out. Surely we were not doing all this and keeping up appearances, for Him! Who were we doing it for then? The answer was obvious. Ourselves. Even as an adult, it has been tough to get over this notion of the "Sunday best." I'm not against our "Sunday best," but my experience and abundant research have shown me one thing, over and over: Our "Sunday best" so often hides our "Monday worst." I wonder how many of us attend worship services and act like all is rosy in our lives and in our families when this is not the case at all. I so often have hated the superficiality of our fellowship gatherings, which I know are typical of many such gatherings. Yes, it is so much easier to be safe and to stay in my comfort zone in such settings! I think this is true for most of us. I fear that so many of us are conditioned to attend worship to look good for people there, not for the God Whom we go to worship. Because of this, most of us have subconsciously absorbed the idea that the worship service is a "museum for saints." This was all my experience, though my Bible makes it clear that Jesus hung out with "the bad guys" and reserved his opposition for the religious leaders of His day. Today is so much different. We attend worship on our "best behavior" and go home to families in homes that may be full of debt, strife, dysfunctions, secrets, or abuse. Is this what God intended?

What Can Be Done?

The things I have been describing are so much a part of our culture that we have come to embrace them, no questions asked. But we serve a God Who transcends all culture, and Who demands that we do the same if we follow Him. Yes, we should keep up our "Sunday best" and show God reverence, but maybe we can add to that "Sunday best" more practices that let the Church be what it was intended to be, a "hospital for sinners." If you can, find a person in your local church and ask him or her out for lunch or dinner and get to know this person as someone other than a "church friend." If you belong to a Bible study or fellowship group, you can find such a person out of those prospects. You can suggest that your church, if open and able to do it, can develop a voluntary program for members to pair up as "prayer partners" who will get to know each other well over a period of time. Is "keeping up appearances" at a once a week "observance" what God in Christ came and gave His life for?

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