Is the Church Canceling Christianity?, Part 2

Is the Church Canceling Christianity?, Part 2

…strive first for the kingdom of God and (God’s) righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

Last week I suggested the church may be canceling Christianity by the practices and teachings it has adopted as standard church fare. What I mean is that the church, in its self-proclaimed role as the purveyor of Christianity, may be portraying what it means to be a Christian in ways that actually draw people away from becoming faithful followers of the Christ. I fear the church has fallen into the trap of believing its survival is more important than faithfully following the life and teachings of Jesus, and that in doing so trusting that God will take care of its future. In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount[1], particularly in chapter 6, Jesus instructs his followers not to worry – not to worry about what they are to wear, what they are to eat, or what they are to say – because God takes care of our needs and provides what is needed at the time it is needed. That is a type of faith I do not see most churches modeling. One of my teachers, James Finley says we attempt to exercise what control we think we have over the life we think we are living.

I do not wish to wage criticism without offering alternatives toward what I believe is a more Christ-like path.According to the gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, he divided his waking hours into roughly three parts – prayer, teaching, and service to those in need. It seems reasonable to me that the church, as well as those of us wishing to claim the title of Christian, might consider using Jesus’s life as a template. There is an overriding theme in Jesus’s life that is easily overlooked, even as we examine the activities of prayer, teaching, and service. That overriding theme is one of creating space for God to work in and through us. The gospels record many instances of Jesus going off by himself to pray. Indeed, I believe the foundation of prayer is in creating space for God to work in and through us, to touch us, and to guide our actions. A prayer that creates that sort of space is rarely found in church and rarely taught as a conscious practice even though it fueled and guided everything Jesus said and did. Richard Rohr writes, “…it is not primarily bad will that keeps people spiritually blind, but that they were never taught how to see.”[2] Too often, prayer is relegated to clergy who fill prayer times with words, petitions, and gratitudes, all with good intentions, as they were taught and as they experienced throughout their lives. I question, however, whether prayer that leaves no space for God to fill is actually prayer at all.

There are prayer practices intended to create space for God to enter – centering prayer, silent prayer, guided meditation, and chanting among others. There are non-traditional types of prayer that involve bodily movement like walking meditation, liturgical dance, or other body prayers that can stand alone or that merge body movements with spoken words or music. There are non-intellectual readings that leave space for exploration with God like poetry or other prayerful, heart-piercing writings. Reflective music can open space for God to enter. (There are downloadable instructions for many of these practices on my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com, as well as at other spiritual resource sites.)

Community prayer in church is typically an exercise in sitting quietly while the preacher prays. It is only marginally participative, as when the congregation is invited to recite The Lord’s Prayer. That sort of prayer, while important, asks little of individual worshippers and is not likely to be transformative. In his initial instruction about prayer, Jesus says, “…whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to (God) who is in secret…”[3] That is personal prayer, alone time with God, and that is what I believe most churches fail to teach. Personal prayer can include any number of words and requests, but should always leave plenty of time for listening and resting in the grounding presence of God. As Jesus also says, “…your (God) knows what you need before you ask…”[4] If we model our personal prayers after those we hear in church, we are probably talking too much.

Prayer, in its communal, participative, and personal forms, was a regularly practiced by Jesus. I believe teaching people to create space for God in prayer by exploring new methods of prayer should be near the top of the list of priorities for churches and would-be Christians. Next week I will consider the other two legs of Jesus’s life practices: teaching and service to those in need.

This is the 62nd in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] Matthew 5-7.

[2] Richard Rohr, Things Hidden, Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, OH, 2022, p. 232.

[3] Matthew 6:6.

[4] Matthew 6:8.

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