Church #55, Terra Nova Church

Date: 4/13/14

Church name/type: Terra Nova Church in Troy, a nondenominational variety of Evangelical, affiliated with Acts 29

Pastor: Ed Marcelle

Style of worship: not overlong, sermon bookended by praise, communion is possibly every week

Useful takeaways:
I liked the way we were given the option to choose either juice or wine as the sacrament. The individual holding the cup actually held two cups. They were clearly labeled ‘juice’ and ‘wine’. No big deal, no explanation needed, take the one you prefer. Perfect!

Crowd- This church has a mostly young demographic. This is important because it helps the probability that the church will stay vital and alive. I’ve seen churches struggle with aging membership. To not have to worry about it on an immediate ongoing basis is nice.

I had some real issues with several of the things said in the sermon. I tried to write the pastor’s words down as faithfully as possible, but in many cases I’ll have to paraphrase. The sermon was in regards to verses from Luke 13: 18-21 and 22-30. The first bit is a couple of metaphors about the Kingdom of God. First it’s compared to a mustard seed which grows to an enormous tree that birds may roost in. Next it’s compared to a small bit of yeast which makes a ball of dough rise. Neither metaphor for growth is really a problem as such, but it becomes important to know just what the Kingdom of God means. I always took it to mean heaven. In my interpretation, heaven is given an expansive quality. Maybe it keeps growing as more people enter? Heaven will never be full!

The pastor seemed to go in a different direction. Eventually it was clear he saw the Kingdom of God in terms of people on earth who are getting it right- the correct type of Christians bound for heaven. He went on what felt like a tangent about how important it is to get the Christian message out. Conversion. He seemed adamant that we basically become obsessed with our Christianity, that we need to never lose sight of it and always seek to spread the word to others. He even used the metaphor of a virus spreading from person to person, which, is a little weird, right? Should we really think of Christianity as something that invades us without our permission and makes us ill? But it sounds like what we actually want isn’t important. The pastor made a point of saying we need to stop shying away from the word submission. He then immediately followed up by reminding us that “Men are called to be the head of their household.” These two things are both issues that deserve their own posts, but I’ll try to be brief. The idea of submission is tricky. Who or what are we submitting to? Anyone can claim we ought to submit to them. Anyone can claim it’s because God says so. But submission is another way of saying, stop questioning. That’s just not something I’m in favor of. Maybe as a theme there’s a good way to use submission…but I haven’t found it yet. This coupled with the immediate reminder that wives submit to husbands suggests a hierarchy common to Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches. Namely that women answer to men, who answer to the male pastor, who answers to God. It is foolish to suggest that all men will know better about spiritual things than all women. At least with a pastor there is some training that had to happen first.

Taking things back to the Kingdom and it’s growth, pastor said this is hard for us to see because the Kingdom in Anerica is not that big. He said- there’s maybe 1%-3% Evagelicals here? So right away that excludes me, as I don’t self identify as Evangelical. Thanks for leaving me out of the kingdom, dude! The pastor went on to describe incorrect ways of looking at the Kingdom, including pluralism and universalism. I found his descriptions of pluralism and universalism to be rather shallow. He described people who say all religions are right and that there’s no difference between a Christian and a Muslim or a Buddhist and a Christian. Then he challenged us to put these pairs of people together and tell them they are exactly the same, to see how well it goes over. That strikes me as a very flawed understanding of what is meant by universalism and pluralism. I don’t place myself in either category, so maybe I can’t speak to this fully, but as I understand it, neither of those schools of thought claim that everyone is identical. It’s about where the focus lies. Is the focus on our differences or our similarities? Pluralists and universalists seem more about seeing similarities and understanding that decent people can come from any religion, not just one special brand of Christianity.

And finally there’s the assertion the pastor made about an inclusive heaven. He said that there are people out there who think everyone gets to go to heaven. Ok, that’s true. But he followed by saying, “if all go to heaven, there is no good and evil, no consequences.” This is blatantly false. Does this pastor actually think that God is the only thing stopping humans from killing and stealing from one another? Does he see all atheists of incapable of self-restraint? Of course there are consequences for evil here on earth. If I punch someone in the face, I can’t just tell people, “I recently became an atheist so it’s fine!” I’m going to need to face an angry bruised person and probably the police. There are actual secular reasons for the things we do on earth, and I’m surprised the pastor can ignore this so nonchalantly.

The entire sermon was one I had very little use for. It seems like the pastor hasn’t actually met any of the groups he criticized. If he has then he clearly hasn’t gotten a true understanding of where they are coming from. That strikes me as an important piece of knowledge for one who wishes to convince others.

Overall: Actually this was one of my favorite weeks. I met someone through the blog who invited me to this very thought provoking church and then stayed around to talk with me afterwards. It’s clear we don’t agree about some stuff, but the talk was good. I like meeting people invested in their faith, and hearing what they have to say.

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