Thursday, 28 February 2013

What makes church valid? post the first

An interesting discussion on the question 'what makes a church valid' soon stretched into what makes a service valid too.

After all, if you put on an evening service and you get six or seven people turn up for it, is this an effective use of the clergy's time?

Does the fact that those who come would not have come to a church service had the evening service not been on offer suddenly make it valid?

What about the same service with only four turning up, where does the line get drawn and how long is it before we perhaps consider the example from the Old Testament (Gen 18: 16 - 33) and find ourselves pleading for our services in the same way that Abraham pleaded before the LORD for the inhabitants of Sodom:

When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?  Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know. The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.

Then Abraham approached him and said: 
“Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”
“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”

Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”
He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”

Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”
He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”

Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

So can we take from this passage some guidance? Do we decide that 'valid' church has to have more than ten in a service?

Do we look at fifty (midi church) as the number that renders a congregation, fellowship or church as valid?

Do we take one hundred (large church) as the critical mass (sorry not knocking high church here, honest!) and the number that confers validity, efficacy and sustainability?

I know of a person for whom, in my view, the existence of a church service is made valid because they cannot do morning services and because there is an evening service provided they can remain part of Church and come alongside others to worship. The fellowship, the provision and the ability to come before the Lord in a church setting all conspire to make this a valid service.

But what of those buildings which see but a handful for their evensongs, should we decide that they are 'no longer to be tolerated' after all, if we stop these services we can stay at home and watch 'Downturn Alley' and the like. To quote a colleague, 'They don't want to come out and I'm happy to let them!"

Are numbers the deciding factor?

Are we merely becoming lazy or downhearted when we resign ourselves to the fact that once of a Sunday (and in the morning) is enough?

Church - How do you like yours (and why and what and how and who and . . . )

How many do we need in a place before we can save it and those within I wonder?


Revsimmy said...

I'm sure we are going to hear your wisdom in subsequent posts, but this does raise a host of issues.
Since the clergyperson is going to be praying the evening office anyway (aren't they?) why not have others along too? Especially if going to the church to do it requires a few steps from vicarage to church. The bigger question than the "use of clergy time" is the justification for keeping buildings maintained, heated, lit and insured for such low numbers.

The only real question of "validity" of worship IMO arises when the evening service is Communion rather than an office, since we don't do private masses in the CofE (do we?), when you will need at least couple of others with you. I don't recall any Christian denominaton having the equivalent of the Jewish minyan to render collective worship "valid".

Sounds like your answering someone else's agenda here.

jante said...

And may the size of the community in which the 'church' exists have some bearing. I'm the curate in a team where one church in a village of 75 people has a regular congregation of 7 people- 10% of the population. If we close that on numbers in the pews are we denying them their local church.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Have used the minyan observation (or should that be lack of) as a parallel with some attitudes and working on the 'two or three' I see this as both minima and corrective from the 'private' side of life and liturgy.

I am also taken up with what makes up the community being served in terms of socio-economic, population and many other factors.

The thing for me is that if I am to help others engage missionally then I need to have clear lines drawn beforehand so I know what I am blurring ;-)

Thanks both,


DrJ said...

Scripturally, surely, the numerical answer is "two or three"?

From a different perspective, I am sure that you will understand my viewing of clergy as a valuable resource for which the church has a responsibility to apply good stewardship. From that perspective, I very much doubt that there is any universally applicable numerical answer. Mustard seeds and all that.

Anonymous said...

Nothing can make the Church of England valid. It is invalid by its very nature, being imposed by force.

Anonymous said...

How is the Church of England imposed by force? No one is forced to attend or be a member. What an idiotic statement!

SoupD said...

This is an issue that I have been struggling with for some time now, and backs onto the question of 'what is church?"

For many in our consumer-led society, church is simply another choice of 'leisure-activity'; a club we join but then choose when and where to attend, which activities to support (those that interest or entertain only), and which can easily be missed if something more pressing, interesting or entertaining comes along.

For me, church attendance has been an immoveable date on my diary. Other things move to fit around church, not the other way around. This because I believe that membership and attendance at church are central to the Christian faith, as well as giving opportunity to grow in relationship with my Christian brothers and sisters and in my own faith; something that is much harder to do in isolation.

I do struggle with the 'tick-the-box once on a Sunday' attitude.