We live in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch land, the home of the most Amish in the world, and the “purest” form of them. The Amish here in Lancaster look down on the Amish in Ohio and Indiana as progressives and even liberals. Watch out for those buttons! Since I apparently like to post about the Amish and buggies, I’ve been thinking lately about their specific application to non-Amish church membership and the seriousness of membership vows. This thinking was started by Carl Trueman’s excellent, provocative article on cars and the loss of the seriousness of church membership.
Trueman, with his usual wit and precision, comments on church (s)hopping, discipline, commitment to one’s congregation, and cars:
“In the olden days, mobility was limited. If you crossed the local priest or minister, you could be in trouble because there might be no way you could go to the next town or village for worship on the Lord’s Day. So church discipline could actually mean something: sooner or later you had no choice but to face up to your responsibilities to the church officers…church shopping is one of the things that is weakening Christianity; but that is not simply a function of general human weakness or even consumerism; it is the result of the opportunity provided by the automobile. The thing that allows many of us to attend church is also that which is eroding the power of our membership vows.
“Of course, membership vows are as solemn and as binding as ordination vows. The average member is no less bound by them to the church than I am as a minister. But the car makes them seem so much more negotiable. We have come to believe that even God can be dodged when we are behind the wheel.”
Church membership vows are actually serious, even with what the automobile has done. Taking membership vows means something even if those doing the vowing don’t mean anything by them. We are thankful to have numerous examples over the years of people who take their church membership seriously. One of the first things we’ve learned from them is that there are no perfect churches. When the reality of being in an imperfect church sinks in, that doesn’t mean it’s time to find a new closer-to-perfect church, but to invest even more heavily in your own church and their people (granted, there are biblical times to leave churches, but that’s not the point). And the kicker in all this is that churches aren’t perfect because of you and me. As long as the church is made of sinners like us, there will be imperfect churches. Our tendency is to retreat when we are hurt by others or by the church. But we must fight our insular instincts, and instead force ourselves out of our comfort zones. After all, Jesus said that when you are insultingly slapped, turn the other cheek, not just accept the hurt and pout.
Anyways, check out Trueman’s article. And then while you’re thinking about this, check out my friend Bruce’s photo blog of Lancaster County, including many great shots of the agrarian life.