I had a very interesting conversation recently with a friend, who told me of a visit made to a London church. He’d gone, not as a member of the church, to see an ennoblement / investiture ceremony for a new bishop.
What made the event worth comment is that, in the five hour ceremony (yes, FIVE hours) there was very little, if anything, that reflected what life within a Pentecostal church in a deprived area should be about.
Let me preface the following with this: I wasn’t there and so can only comment on my friend’s perception, but he felt strongly enough about his experience to tell me about it, and this is what he felt and saw.
There was a 90 minute performance from a gospel choir, followed by many, many speeches as everyone of importance had their moment at the microphone. And two separate collections where it seemed to my friend that people were trying to visibly and publicly out-give each other.
Now I was listening to this with mixed emotions. Having been in ‘low’ or ‘free’ church for many years, I am very aware of the issues that can arise when we put structures and hierarchies in place within a church. Giving people ‘special’ status, with fine robes to wear and privileged positions of power and authority, too often leads to people assuming different ‘levels’ of holiness, goodness, or proximity to God. The truth is that the Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short, and once you have dropped below that perfection, we’re all the same.
Now I’d never really understood that the ‘low’ Pentecostal church, that you associate with the happy-clappy, dancing and singing crowd of Christians, had assumed that level of organisational trappings normally associated with ‘High’ Churches. However, the preceived lack of any real heart-felt faith displays and the very unscriptural way that the offerings were handled surprised and disappointed me more that the robes and the unnecessary ceremonies.
In an area of society where so many people are in need, having ‘good’ people waving their handful of banknotes in the air before placing them onto the collection plate reminds me of the story of the Widow’s Mite from Mark Chapter 12:
‘ Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” ‘
It’s all about attitude – attitude of the heart. God’s not interested in the amount you give, He’s interested in how and why you give. If you give in order to look good to your fellow parishioners, and to display success and wealth, then it’s an empty gesture. But give because you want to help others, and you want to give as an act of sacrifice and devotion to your God, and, as the verse above says, your giving counts for more than any amount of self-important riches.
And God’s not interested in the positions of power and authority in which we place ourselves or our leaders, and He’s not interested in our own self-importance. He’s looking for a Church that makes a difference because His spirit is free to work in our lives without the hindrances of ego, image, or status. Then, we will see Church happening where it actually matters – outside of our four walls and services, and out on the streets of our towns and cities.