Monday, 6 May 2013

Choosing a church - advice from an in-expert

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The most important thing is to become a Christian - that alone is of great benefit; but the second step is to (try to) choose a church - that is difficult, and perhaps more difficult than before.

In general, I suggest choosing a specific congregation rather than a denomination - but of course Christianity is mostly set-up in terms of denominations (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Mormon etc).

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But in choosing a church, what should be the criteria?

Here I offer the lessons of my own experience in hope that it may show the possibilities as well as the great difficulties of church choosing; and perhaps encourage one or two people. 

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So, if we assume that the perfect church for you - one which is nearby and which energizes, inspires, consoles, strengthens and educates - does not exist or is not available, then how do you choose?

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When I became a Christian I simply took up the denomination in which I had been baptized and schooled - Church of England .

However, this turned out to be anything but an easy choice - because the CoE was riven with conflict - and I very soon realized I would have to take sides.

Over a period of time, this made my choice for me.

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The two primary conflicts in the CoE relate to women ministers/bishops and same-sex 'marriage' - and in choosing the Christian side of both these issues, almost all Anglican churches were eliminated from consideration.

Very fortunately, one that remained was nearby, and an exceptionally large and alive family-orientated conservative-evangelical church with good teaching - so it wasn't really difficult for me.

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And, given my views on the use of fertility as a religious evaluation...

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/above-replacement-fertility-necessary.html

I would require that a church to which I make a significant commitment or contribution must have plenty of families, and be orientated towards marriage and children (must at least look as if the standardized fertility rate among devout adherents exceeds two) - otherwise, it is probable that in supporting the specific church, I would be supporting an organization that is net anti-Christian (as is most of the Church of England).

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(What is difficult, and will no doubt remain so - due to my nature - is taking a full and proper part in church life. I am 'not a joiner' and also lazy. So my membership is a semi-detached affair. But that is much better than nothing - much better than trying to be a solo-Christian working only from books...) 

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But in joining this particular church, what was difficult was giving-up several of the aspects of church which had most appealed to me - two things specifically: the traditional Anglican liturgy based upon The Book of Common Prayer and use of the Authorized Version of the Bible - and the frequent Communion (several times a week) in which I used to participate in an Anglo-Catholic Church.

These produced an intense aesthetic and mystical response in me, with high frequency and reliability. 

So this was, and is, a very considerable sacrifice and loss - and it is taking me a while to get used to the absence.

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So, at the end of applying this process of choosing sides, and applying two filters; I find that I have lost a lot - but gained more, in the sense of being associated-with (of not exactly a part of) that rarest of institutions: a 'thriving' Christian church with sound teaching.

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