Sunday, February 12, 2006

Four times a day

There used to be a time when I attended four meetings on a Sunday! I think that is a bit over the top for anyone!

It was when I lived in Cyprus. I had moved there in 1982 and stayed for five years. I moved because of a promise of a job teaching the junior department of an English speaking church based school in Limmasol. It turned out that there was not an opening for me teaching juniors, so I joined the senior school staff teaching RE, English and Drama.

The school was funded by the Brethren Church, and as a member of staff I was expected to attend services at the Brethren Church on Sunday - morning and evening. My first year there was quite a struggle. They took the command in the Bible for women to be silent in church quite literally, and I found that quite difficult! I probably didn't want to say anything anyway, but being forbidden to speak made me want to talk! It is like the old "Keep off the Grass" signs - had the sign never been there, the idea of stepping on the grass might not have occurred, but knowing that you couldn't do it, made you want to!

Limmasol was a base for the head quarters of a number of missionary organisations working throughout the Middle East, one of which was Operation Mobilisation. One of the OM families was a member of the Brethren Church, but they also had a meeting later on in the morning at about eleven. It was billed as a time of fellowship and worship. They invited me along to join in.

Remembering those meetings, I think they were times that came closest to the way Paul describes worship meetings in 1 Corinthians. Everyone brought something - a song, a testimony, sometimes a prophecy or a word. Everyone just contributed. The numbers grew steadily and there was a tangible presence of God that I felt was lacking from the Brethren Church. Not being able to contribute anything there, and having the freedom to bring words of encouragement at the OM meetings - it was chalk and cheese. My heart thrived on these meetings.

We got to the stage where we suddenly needed to decide just what exactly we were. If we were a church then we should be a church, and become committed to each other. But if we weren't a church, then perhaps we aught to stop pretending we were, and channel our gifts into the "real" churches that we were members of. I suppose it is like having an affair - not that I have had one. Our own churches should have been meeting our spiritual needs. The fact that we were getting our needs met outside of our own churches felt like we were committing spiritual adultery. Maybe it was that we recognised that did not have a spiritual covering of an apostle, and that no one was willing to take on the role of being an elder or a pastor. The meetings stopped.

My heart was still inclined towards something free and less restricting than the Brethren Church. What was inside was leaking out in the brethren meetings, and although I was supposed to be silent, I couldn't be. There was no place to safely let off steam.

After the evening meeting at the Brethren Church, I began to go along to another meeting. A charismatic church had started up in one of the down town hotels, and I began to attend regularly.

After a few months I was convicted that I was tearing myself in two, that I couldn't have a foot in both camps and that I needed to decide one way or the other. Either I needed to be fully committed to the Brethren Church or to the charismatic church, but not both. It was not an easy decision. Breaking with the Brethren Church also meant that I gave up my teaching post at the school - but that is what I chose to do.

I don't know how Christians can grow the way that God wants if they are not planted in a local church body. My 100% commitment to a specific group of God's children is part and parcel of being a Christian. I don't exist as a Christian just with a network of Christians from various churches, but not joined to one local church body. I don't think it is biblical. That does not men to say that I don't have friends from other churches, who speak into my life because I do.

Church is bigger that the denominations we insist on boxing ourselves into. I think we need to be more flexible and allow movement across the borders that separate us. I sometimes wish that we could borrow a couple of musicians from another church when ours go away for the weekend.

No comments: