When you first see Michelangelo’s Pieta at the Vatican in Rome, you can’t help but be a little surprised by it’s seemingly tiny stature. Housed behind bullet-proof glass, the roughly six-foot tall work of art is some distance from the velvet ropes marking the boundary for tourists. And while it almost seems to vanish out there in that distance, you’re still able to steal a glimpse of the incredibly lifelike features cast in marble, which invoke in you two nearly indistinguishable feelings.
The primary one is how this remarkable piece of art has endured for hundreds of years, even after suffering damage during moves and yes, even physical attacks. In the course of history, a few hundred years doesn’t seem long, but you can’t help but feel like the world which created this magnificent piece is now so out of range, it appears itself locked behind some thick wall of crystalline armor. And that’s the second feeling: the Pieta makes you realize how you’re taking in a relic of a past where beauty and truth met in an inexplicable confluence of talent and community, a past now likely unobtainable for us.
Oddly enough, over the past year of trying to find a church not bought into the madness of Covid-19, I began to get the same feelings again. But not in Rome, in the United States. As we visited different denominations, we were met with small, meager crowds; watered-down services often kowtowing to fear and propaganda, and religious leaders eager to get their cut of the PPP loan money doled out by the government. Sometimes there were rather grand halls of worship that were nearly empty. And other times, there were sermons that said the right words but which fell flat spiritually against the worldly concerns of daft pastors.
And like the Pieta, you couldn’t help but feel like you were there yet witnessing something far off in the distance, some remnant of a bygone, nearly forgotten time, a piece of trivia only history buffs were interested in. Aside from the fact that these churches, in their gullibility and naivity, had destroyed their fellowship and discipleship over the past year, no church we visited had retained more than 50% of their original membership from just a year ago. And yet, in many cases, these churches were still catering to the delusional and the hysterical.
But what became apparent to us, as we attended services, was that many of these churches would continue this irresponsibility well into the future until the government, of all people, gave them the go-ahead that it’s safe not to live in fear anymore. It was at once depressing and scary how much Christianity has been intentionally hollowed out by the very congregations that profess Christ as king but who can’t muster the courage to face their most basic fears, let alone disagree with a corrupt government intent on suppressing, directly or indirectly, their right to worship.
Although this all might sound harsh, it’s simply a forthright review of our experience trying to find a new church in an age of panic and disorder. It’s also a stark reminder of the challenges that believers, everyday men and women, are facing in practicing their faith. And these are concerns that religious leaders and elders should take careful note of. Despite pastors excitedly telling us that they thought people were starting to return to church, we felt overwhelmingly like we were visiting dying places. And nothing any pastor or church elder has said to me has made me think that this will change any time soon.
In the end, a handful of standards became our yardstick for making a final decision about what church to attend.
- Our church has to show they actively resist worldly trends, from shopping at Amazon, to using Facebook, as well as from Covid-19 nonsense.
- The men shouldn’t be weak or effeminate. They should value traditionalist ideas that go beyond mere conservative platitudes.
- Our church shouldn’t rely on or look to government handouts or bank loans to make up for dwindling funds.
- The veteran leadership has to show spiritual knowledge but also firm discernment in their decision-making, rather than being influenced by experts or earthly officials.
- The congregation has to meet regularly without fear and with a sense of actually getting to know one another for deeper relationships.
- There should be zero toleration for un-biblical practices and a ban on all-inclusive acceptance of degeneracy or evil.
- It should seek to re-take what it means to live a Godly life as a community of believers, rather than passively accepting whatever secular society defines as civically appropriate.
Needless to say, we’ve found a congregation that nearly meets this benchmark. There’s a bit too much social media for me and you sometimes feel a little like you’re at a rock concert…
But at this point, it’s better than a church that’s so scared they won’t even meet.