In an earlier post I mentioned briefly some of the reasons I felt compelled to leave the Baptist church. Primarily, I focussed on the realization I had that the rationalism inherent in some Baptist beliefs seemed to allow no room for the Spirit and to falsely restrict the miraculous. That said, there were also some other reasons, and reasons why I simply didn’t go to a pentecostal or charismatic or non-denominational church.

Primarily, at least at the time, my reasons for visiting the churches that did–i.e. Methodist, Lutheran, Orthodox and Episcopalian–had to do with a sense that I had that I wanted to find a church that understood the importance of history and respected the faithful who went before. Additionally, while I was inspired to return to church through Young Life, I didn’t feel that the spirituality, the relationship fostered with Christ, was as deep as it might be in other contexts. I had similar reactions when I returned to the Baptist Church. My sense of going to the Baptist church was that I was not so much going to worship or to Church, but instead going to Sunday School with a little singing. I don’t mean to bash the way baptists and non-denominational (mostly Baptists in denial) churches worship, I’m indebted to them, I just didn’t feel like I was really giving god my worship.

In contrast, when i attended liturgical churches–especially once I visited the Episcopal church–I felt like I was truly worshiping God without any interference or distraction. I didn’t have to worry about what someone was going to do next, what soloist was going to jump up and start performing etc… instead, I had the experience of praising God with one voice, as a body using the same words. Far from being dry and dead, the liturgy freed me up, it allowed me to participate in worship while freeing my mind up for internal prayer. When I worship in an Anglican service, I know the responses, and I appreciate the power of the words, the thoughts and images inspired by them–because of the picture they paint, the feelings and sense they evoke, I can move in that world, I can have my private prayers and then I can come back to the liturgy and find the Kingdom Present. And finally, during the Eucharist, we are lifted up to heaven to praise God “with Angels and Archangels and all the companies of heaven…” in worship we come before the throne of God and offer ourselves up–a feeling that I’ve not felt in quite as dramatic a way in a free-church style of worship.

The other realization that has gradually emerged in my thinking has to do with discipline and communion. When I was “shopping” for a church, I intentionally avoided those churches which I felt were too parochial in their view and intentionally looked for those churches that by their very identity felt a strong connection with other Christians throughout the world. Some folks from non-denominational backgrounds may argue that it is the “institutional” church that is disconnected, and in a sense this is true. Yet, in a sense, the connection fostered by non-denominational fellowships (probably loose denominations in all but name), is far too easily set aside. the possitive aspect of denominational structure comes in that it requires interaction with Christians outside the local congregation, rather than making such interaction optional, abstract and frankly, gnostic. The other criticism that is related to this is related to discipline: in a non-denominational structure there is no way to discipline a charismatic pastor except by voting with one’s feet. Granted there are numerous abuses that happen in denominational churches, yet there is a discipline. One only need look at the discipline being enacted on a reluctant Episcopal church, USA which remains in denial to see the truth of this. Discipline is being exercised from an international level, something that would never happen in the world of the non-denominational mega-church.

And if I might be allowed the space to charicature a swath of churches, I worry that many of the mega-churches are so “seeker friendly” that they have sold out to the culture in completely different ways from the moral collapse of the mainline churches. One way to think about it is in the use of completely secular techniques–one might think of the old statement of “The Medium is the Message.”

I think that there are more criticisms than I can possibly fit in this post so I’ll have to post more later.
but briefly, I’ll list my concerns, painting with a broad brush:

1. Mega-churches are often denominations in all but name and in fact many practice a form of episcopacy
2. They tend to lack accountability
3. They tend to lack connections with any possibility of discipline
4. They allow for consumerism and anonymity
5. many have sold their heritage for a bowel of pottage

{more to come}

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