2015: Advent Religion: Smells and Bells

by on December 12, 2015

You’ve probably picked up on the way not every Christian counted as Christian. Shall we pull on some of those threads?

It would be too simplistic to say that anyone outside our denomination was Doing It Wrong. That wasn’t true at all. There were a few inside our tent who didn’t qualify, and a much larger number from outside who did. “Evangelical” wasn’t a denomination unto itself. It was a style of doing things, a theological approach, a set of cultural markers and moral strictures.

Breaching any of those got the same reaction. It was a very narrow world, constrained within religious and cultural walls that we didn’t draw distinctions between. Differing from The One True Way in any particular provoked the same expression – it’s a slight drawing back, a wrinkling of the nose, a closing off in the body language. You like the wrong kind of clothes? You get the same face as ritual cannibalism. Destroying whole communities for profit? Same look of offence as littering. It was an oppressive atmosphere. Any youthful misunderstanding of social norms, and you got looked at like you were a murderer.

The People of the One True Way do not cross themselves. They take Communion from little individual cups passed along the rows, not by going up to the front to drink from a communal goblet. They call it Communion or the Lord’s Supper, never Eucharist or Mass. They use everyday bread, not wafers. The One True People take up a collection for the church at every morning service, evenings optional, and hold a morning and evening service every week. They do not use a call-and-response fixed liturgy. The priests do not wear vestments and are addressed by their first names. Bibles are the NIV, the Good News, or similar; the King James is not used. They stand and sit as directed from the lectern; they do not kneel.

The Right Kind of Church shuns formality. It does not have candles or altar cloths, or an altar. It does have a hall, in which tea and coffee are served after the service. It is led strictly by men and has a music group and a youth pastor. It has weekly bible studies in the homes of the members, which are probably called Home Groups although youth-focused trendy churches might call them Cell Groups. It practices adult baptism by full immersion. It does not use bells or incense, it does not have a procession at the start or end of the service, it does not have a cross carried through the church and it most certainly does not have crucifixes with the figure of Christ on them. All crosses are to be plain.

I could go on. Violate any one of these rules and you are not really a proper Christian. So that would include all the churches with hierarchies – oh yes, bishops are against the rules. And all the progressive churches – changing the rules is against the rules. Your church reveres saints? Then it’s not really Christian. You’re Pentecostal? You might not really be saved.

I spent a lot of time scared that I was incurably depraved and I hadn’t even noticed I wasn’t straight.

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