Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Green church paint and a time that is gone, finale

The previous two posts were a nostalgic look at the church of my childhood.  I didn't even touch on summer bible school, with its massive annual soap collecting project.  Soap and VBS are forever connected in my mind.  Instead, I wanted to end on a slightly more introspective note.

When I was growing up, the church was in the last stages of trying to cling to rules and disciplines from earlier in the century.  At its best, this stemmed from a  high view of church as a voluntary community of the redeemed, who now should strive to live a life visibly different from the world.  At its worst, this devolved into endless wrangling over musical styles, changes in church formats, and above all, dress, particularly the covering. (Someone needs to write a doctoral dissertation about the approximately 100 years of renewed emphasis on plain dress in the Mennonite Church, including how many people it kept in the church and how many people it drove away).

What happens to a church when it puts so much emphasis over so long into certain rules and customs which are then discarded?  I can't forget a random remark from one of the oldest members of our church a few years ago.  We were standing in the pews after church had dismissed, and I don't remember anything specific about the conversation, but it must have dealt in some way with the many changes our church has gone through over the years.  "Yes," he said, with barely suppressed anger "we worked so hard to live by all the rules when we were young, and now they tell us it didn't matter." 

So much pain, conflict and heartache resulted even from the covering question.  I know people left the Mennonite church over it.  I'm just old enough to have experience wearing one, a lace "doily" that I put on only for church.  I stopped wearing it sometime during high school.  Today, it's not even an issue in our church, and I suspect it isn't much of one in the broader conference.  It was so important for so long, and now ... it's not. 

What are the issues that we focus on today that will cause our descendants to look back at us with bemused wonder?  Ordination of women?  (It's just a matter of time before that is accepted by the Conference)  Acceptance of non-celibate homosexuals?   How will the boundary lines be redrawn?

I suspect/hope that most boundary lines evolve out of a genuine attempt to apply the Bible to life.  The application may change, but ideally the principal remains.  If we spend too much time focusing on things that are not genuinely scriptural, might this lead to the theological equivalent of Peter and the Wolf?  After spending so much time on what are later deemed to be nonessentials, will we be able to recognize a genuine threat to the flock?  (Goodness, that sounded preachy).   I don't know, but green paint makes me think about such things occasionally.


  1. And of course I'm curious to know which older person you are referring to. I have a few guesses.

  2. Like the Peter and the Wolf analogy. Thought-provoking.