Alpha Course Day 11: What About the Church?
You know, one of the problems with being crazy busy at work is that you don't get a chance to finish up what you've been writing about on your blog. This leads to over half a year passing since the last post in the Alpha series. This leads to the unfortunate fact that I can't recall all the details anymore, and by this point when I was taking the classes my enthusiasm had dropped-off tremendously so I was taking less detailed notes. Apologies. I'll do my best.
This sermon was the last official session that we held. The last sermon in the course manual is "How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life," which we did at the end of the Alpha Retreat. The final day of this fall's Alpha Course was the Christmas dinner, which had the same generic Christmas sermon that I've mentioned before.
Dinner: You know, I can't remember. Usually, I wrote down what dinner was. This day I neglected to do so.
Part 1: Sermon
I think this sermon wasn't so much a discussion or an argument for a particular point of view. Alpha is in large part a tune-up for Christians and a bootcamp for new Christians, so in that way, this sermon can be viewed as a briefing for leaving the course and joining the active Christian community, which, as Gumbel emphasizes at the beginning of this sermon, is what 'church' in the broader context means. Of course, he just can't come out and say that, he has to drone on for about 20 minutes to do so. (Actually, I might be being harsh on him for this. I went to a Catholic highschool and the point that 'church' was the whole community of people - not the building or the services or the clergy - was drilled into me incessantly, so this is old hat for me but might be new for some people.)
At least Gumbel started off with a good joke. A quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "If all the people who well asleep in church were laid-out end to end, they'd be a lot more comfortable."
Gumbel talked a bit about baptism, how it was "a visible mark of being a member of the church," though how a temporary activity can be a 'visible mark' is beyond me. He also said that baptism signifies "cleansing from sin," "incorporation into Christ's death," and "sealing of the Spirit," among other collections of words that don't really make any sense when strung together in sentence form.
He said that there were about 1.9 billion Christians in the world today (I don't know if he includes Mormons, Catholics, etc., and it's hard to tell what to do with people who pay lip-service to being Christian, but as far as I know the number is in the generally accepted ballpark). He mentioned how the church is growing in the developing world while in the civilized west it's shrinking. Told of 3 Ugandan missionaries who came to Gumbel's university (Cambridge) to convert the English heathens. Disappointingly, he did not address why large numbers of people in the civilized world were letting go of God. He just wanted us to be more like the Ugandans.
The middle of sermon just talked of trivial things like how the church provides local communities with small tight groups that provide support of people, or is the center of celebration services, or that the church is a mechanism for bonding the community into a 'family.'
Gumbel does mention in passing that there are a lot of denominations and sects. He calls this disunity 'absurd' as there is only "one spirit." "The church has split for every conceivable reason, and every inconceivable reason, too." Again, when a problem is encountered, he brings it up but just says something to the effect of "we really should be better," says something humourous and proceeds on his way, never caring about it again. Understandable given his goals, but disappointing from my perspective.
By this point, Gumbel was talking about how the church was "a Holy Temple, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone and indwelt by God's Spirit." Which is another way for me to say that at this point I nodded-off for a while.
Then he said something creepy about the church being "the Bride of Christ" and I woke up. Seriously, what's with all these churchmen wanting to marry Jesus?
Part 2: Small Groups
Discussion time was cut short by a short talk from a "special guest," who had been much hyped before dinner. He turned out to be the church's small groups pastor. Which surprised absolutely no one. Especially since we had noticed him lurking outside in the hallway. He mainly talked about opportunities in the church, what services they provide, etc.
The real discussion just focused on the feelings of each person in our small group regarding what they learned/realized/found important in the course re: Christianity/the church/themselves. Surprisingly shallow actually, again all regarding feelings, or blanket statements about how important it was to love God and let him control your life. When pressed, I said I learned that Christians cry a lot. Seriously, that was the best thing I could say; everything else I learned was more negative than that.
I'm very glad the course is almost done.