2007December12, Wednesday

What a Covenant People Should Be

Posted in Pet Peeves, Random Thoughts, Worship at 22:59 by Trey Austin

Here’s a Table Talk article from some years ago—back when Steve Schlissel and those who call him friend and brother weren’t persona non-grata among the typical Reformed and Presbyterian circles.

I have to say that Rev. Schlissel expresses one aspect of my own longing with regard to the desire to see a truly Covenantal community in the Church. We are so separated and individualized in our thinking and interaction—whether it is as Presbyterians, as Americans, or as Westerners, i don’t know.

I pastor a congregation of roughly 25-30 people; do you know how very hard it is to plan an event where people are willing or able to attend? Of course, with a congregation our size, it’s no use in trying to go through with an event it if we aren’t sure that more than half our congregation will actually attend. When we have even one family who doesn’t show for church on the Lord’s Day, our worship suffers, and i confess that, in spite of knowing in my heart that i am still ministering to Christians who need the Word, i personally feel very discouraged and empty, just becasue i know that, in some cases, people simply didn’t feel like making it to worship. There is also something very discouraging to me when i have poured my heart and the Word out before the sheep in my care, and i get a handshake, a “Good sermon, preacher,” and a “Yeah, i know what you meant about that” (in reference to an illustration i used), but people all go their own separate ways and don’t want to spend time with one another, or talk about anything except whether the Redskins or the Steelers are going to go all the way this year. I don’t say this because i hope someone in my congregation will read this and do so (i don’t think anyone in my congregation reads this blog), but i feel very discouraged that my own parishioners don’t show me and my family or each other any hospitality—oh, i can go over and visit, and i and my family will always be welcome (no question), but no one ever calls up and says, “We’d love to have you over for dinner this Friday,” or “Would you like to join us for a bite to eat after church Sunday?” Everyone just does their own thing with their own families.

But people just don’t think the way orthodox Jews do, as Schlissel says. I remember in college one of my professors (the class was “Kingdom and Kingship in the OT,” i think) showed Fiddler on the Roof to the class—not to try and get people to understand Jews, become Jews, or even to think that Russian Jews in the late 19th/early 20th century could show us what Israel was like in Saul and David’s time, but to show what it means to live a radically God-centered life. It was really very enlightening in that respect and in the respect that Schlissel speaks of as well. Of course, there are lots of individualistic ideals inserted into the movie and play that make us 21st century viewers who wouldn’t otherwise think about it sympathetic and judgmental of those times and their practices, but for me, the movie illustrates a cohesiveness that the Covenant community can provide to a community that has nothing else and faces uncertainty all around—and if a Christless Covenant can do that, how much more one in which Christ has drawn us all together and made us members of his mystical body.

Alright. Enough of that. (Yes, Tim, those are both fragments.)


  1. Al said,

    I feel ya! (I am hip and sympathetic). One of the things we are constantly teaching on in our little congregation is hospitality. We, David and I, try and lead on this issue, inviting folks over to our houses on Sunday after church or other weekly meals but, we are not where we ought to be by a long shot.
    You may do this already but, I would start having a weekly meal where you invite a family over to your house or just for desert on the Lord’s Day. Cycle through the families and invite some neighbors over as well. This might help form a foundation for your other families to do the same.
    Our church may be a bit different though. We have 16 families (singles in there too) and we intentionally have only one service during the week, this gives us considerably more time to fellowship and build relationships with one another.

    What is the impact of Sabbath view on our post-worship Lord’s Day?

    Al sends

  2. tempe said,

    All, I can say, my friend, is I know what you mean. Your points on hospitality are well-taken. I think the absence of a covenant community has been destructive to the family in American churches, where they/we are functionally “baptistic” (I mean no offense to Baptist brethren, as many are fine family folks in my limited experience) in regard to turning their children over to the church and state rather than rearing them in godliness (technically, I suppose, this is more “American” than it is “baptistic”, as I doubt the English Baptists would have done this with their children).

    I think Al’s comments about the modern day view of the Sabbath also merit some serious consideration.

  3. Amber said,

    I feel your pain.

    I just read a book you’d enjoy called Mudhouse Sabbath. The author was a practicing Jew who converted to Christianity. She gives lots of practical advice on how to desire and work toward community, rather than egalitarianism… each chapter explores a different Jewish custom, including Sabbath-keeping and hospitality, and explains how Christians can use it in a way that is edifying, instead of using it as a means of salvation as the Jews do. We read it for book club last month and spent hours talking about it afterward… I wish I could have that same conversation with the CPC folks…

  4. tempe said,

    Amber, is CPC the name of your church, or are you referring to the Covenant Presbyterian Church denomination?

  5. Trey Austin said,

    Tim, CPC is the name (or initials) of the church i pastor. Amber grew up in this church.

  6. tempe said,

    Oh, good grief. C=Coeburn, duh….

  7. David Gray said,

    Part of it is the way American society is organized. When I lived in England I lived in a modest village of about 9,000. We had between 100-150 for worship most Sunday mornings and a very good percentage of those worshipping walked to church. I lived about two blocks from church and had four houses with members within sight when I would walk to church. I would regularly see people outside service; I can remember one fellow who regularly had car troubles and his neighbor was a retired mechanic. They’d be out working on the car and would greet me. I’d stop by and see what was ailing the car this time. The regular interaction gave the church a more organic feel and I’ve just about despaired of such a thing being possible in the states.

  8. Trey Austin said,

    David, well, our town is only about 1600, but no one walks to church in our town. In fact, more than half the congregation comes from more than five miles away. When i lived in Europe, one thing that i saw was true (like yourself) is that people there live closer together, walk more, and are much more involved in their communities. I would love to see that happen here in the States, and the closest i have seen is in the northeast, but even there, that individualism is still a strong factor, culturally.

    Al, i really do appreciate the advice, and we do try to show a good example in this, though, my wife has difficulty doing it all that often with small children. So, yeah, we could probably do better. The difficulty is that, when we *DO* show hospitality, it is almost as if the attitude is, “Well, he’s the pastor. That’s what he’s *SUPPOSED* to do.” Now, i know that none of my spiritual children have the *OVERT* attitude that he’s the pastor, and we pay him to minister for us, but i think that the culture here instills that attitude in people, even those who know better and see it as wrongheaded to begin with. It shows just how deceptive sinful attitudes and inclinations are.

  9. We had a similar experience at a previous church. Other than one family and one single woman, we were never invited to socialize within the congregation much, nor were they interested in socializing with us with any regularity.

    Currently, even though we’ve only been here a few months, the situation seems better. Members choose to spend time with each other outside of worship, call on each other (and us) in times of need, and we have been invited to partake in several events in the community. After the new year, though, we’ll try inviting folks over again, and I think it will work better here. The previous community had an odd view of being invited to the pastor’s home.

  10. Frank J. Smith said,

    Dear Trey:

    As your predecessor at Coeburn Presbyterian Church, I would welcome you to give me a call or email me sometime. Perhaps I could be of some assistance.

    Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., D.D.
    Pastor, Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church of Sheboygan, Wisconsin
    Stated Clerk, Reformation Presbytery of the Midwest (RPM)
    Editor, Presbyterian International News Service

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