By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist
It’s getting harder and harder when you’re out traveling to find a church to visit that agrees with you on the fine print of the Christian faith. These days, diversity even between churches whose signs are painted with basically the same denominating words is greater, and the proliferation of “stealth” churches whose signs submerge their brand complicates things even more.
Personally, I enjoy seeing how “the other half” — more like the other 95.5 percent of Christians — worship God. When I’m away, unless I have friends from my tradition I want to worship with, I enjoy the rare opportunity to “taste” worship in a church from a different branch of the Christian tree.
Evidently, not everyone feels that way. Fairly regularly, visitors looking for a place to worship show up at the church where I preach. We like visitors, and, if I may say so, we are good at being nice to them. Most like us. Some even make it a point to come back whenever they’re in our neck of the woods.
But about once or twice a year for the last decade or two, our church has witnessed the same phenomenon. At some point during or even before worship, the visiting individual or couple notices that our worship style or whatever is not exactly what they expected, and they rise up and leave.
I remember one instance years ago when we still read aloud the announcements in the bulletin, when one visiting couple heard we were participating in a community Easter event. That did it. They skedaddled.
Last Sunday, we jumped into our first song, which included taped accompaniment (the vast majority of our songs don’t). That was all it took to send a visiting couple out the door. We counted them for the worship attendance number anyway. They were there. And they were breathing.
It happens. Fairly rarely. But it happens. And that last instance has been bugging me and forcing some thought.
That last skedaddling couple seemed nice enough. Why did they feel such a need to get out? I’d bet they are usually courteous people. By its nature such skedaddling seems a tad impolite. They didn’t “make a scene,” they just left in haste lest they be tainted in any way. So, I genuinely wonder, what’s up with that? Why abandon ship at worship? The “lest I be tainted” logic just is not clear to me. Is it really logical? Right? Even holy?
I was told by several on Sunday not to worry about it, that it’s more a matter for pity than anger that “religion” could so stifle and dwarf spirits.
It was Plato who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. We all bring some large presuppositions with us to worship. They need to be examined from time to time. It would probably be helpful even to make a list of them. To buy into the wrong ones is not only dangerous to the worship of our God, it is dangerous to our spirits, deadly to the relationship God wants with us, and mortally damaging to anything approaching real joy.
If these folks’ presuppositions were right, I suppose they were, too, in their actions. If not, well, that kind of “belief” is as hard, in every sense, as it is sad.
I can’t imagine Jesus doing that or feeling a temptation to do that. In fact, I don’t think he did Sunday.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at