In a book called Days of Our Years, Pierre Van Paassen tells the story of a hunchback named Ugolin who lived in the French village of Bourg in the years before World War II. Ugolin was a kind man and a devout Christian. He was also ugly. In fact, he was so ugly that he scared children and stopped traffic. So the villagers mocked him. They stared at his hunched little body and pointed out that Ugolin's hands twitched and hung to his knees. People followed Ugolin as he walked, and sometimes they jeered at him. "Whore's child!" they shouted. "Devil's spawn!"
Marx was wrong. Religion is not "withering away." In fact there are more religions and spiritualities now than a hundred years ago. Major traditions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, continue to flourish. Cults like the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have become mainstream. Novel spiritualities, such as Scientology and the New Age Movement, still proliferate. People have not stopped searching for something deeper than ordinary life.
During the Second World War, Simon Wiesenthal, a Polish Jew imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, was suddenly brought to the bedside of a dying SS soldier. A year earlier, the soldier had participated in a massacre in which perhaps 200 Jews were herded into a three-story building along with some gasoline cans; then grenades were thrown into the building. As people fled or jumped from the burning building, this soldier and his comrades shot them. But now the soldier's actions—in particular his role in killing a mother, father, and small child—tormented him.
Of the many rare Bibles owned by our library one of my favorites is a copy of the Geneva Bible, printed in London in 1609. This Bible version, originally published in 1560 by Reformed Christians living in Geneva, was the most popular English-language Bible for decades, even after the King James Version of 1611 was published. It was the Bible of William Shakespeare's day, and was also the favored version of the early Plymouth and Virginia settlers in the United States.
Can you imagine what would happen today if one of the Old Testament prophets came to one of our churches as the preacher, or even as a visitor? They seem to have a tendency to do things that make people more than a little uncomfortable. How would we react, for example, if Jeremiah showed up for morning worship wearing an ox yoke on his neck (Jer. 27:2)? Or if we found Ezekiel in the parking lot doing strange things with the hair he had just shaved off of his head (Ezek.l 5:1-4)? And it's not only their behavior that is odd.
Consider the walls of your church's worship space. Are they solid, or do they have windows? If they do, are the windows clear and simple, or do they depict biblical scenes in stained glass? Perhaps banners brighten up the vast stretches of stone. Few consider the role of the walls themselves in worship. After all, the seating arrangement often encourages your eyes to focus on the pulpit and the sacramental furniture, or perhaps an enormous pipe organ. Walls, it seems, have little, if any, impact on our worship experience.
The Geography of Worship in Christ
Praise God that Christian worship doesn't have to happen in a certain type of space.
Leadership in church plant settings requires deep conviction, passion, and vision. But church-planting leaders today point out that articulating the vision is usually not as challenging as finding the convergence of that vision, with this pastor, with this group and its particular gifts, in this community, at this time.