Onward, Christian Hermits?


And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:46-47 ESV

After church yesterday, a friend and I discussed the reality that for many people, their primary source of human contact is Facebook. Alone at duskIn truth, the discussion was more of a lament for what has been lost.

All the small groups my friend and I were a part of are defunct.

I’ll let that sentence stand by itself because it serves as a testament to where we are in our society today. Social media have been a boon for connecting people who are distant, but it seems to have become detrimental to relationships within driving distance. We no longer meet face to face but instead enjoy the distancing mechanisms of technology. Our high-tech gizmoes help us keep up with others to the level we feel comfortable, and they give us the ability to walk away on our time schedule without feeling bad about disconnecting.

Our time schedule.

The early Church decided that meeting together every day mattered. We envy their closeness to the Holy Spirit. I wonder if there is a connection. Hmm.

The Acts passage above said that the number saved grew rapidly. You wouldn’t think that hanging out together would be evangelistic, but some synergistic sharing of Christ happened nonetheless.

The Acts passage notes that people thought positively about the Church because of its strong emphasis on connecting with others and being obviously friendly and social. How different from the PR the Church in America “enjoys” today.

Of course, there was also that “iron sharpens iron” thing. I guess the modern replacement is flaming each other in an online post’s comment thread. Less a sharpening and more a tempering, I guess. Temper, temper…

I think if you really pressed Christians today, few would be able to give a spiritual reasons why getting together daily is worthwhile. I think most see wisdom only in meeting once a week, twice at most. Wouldn’t want to overdo a good thing.

That reticence makes me wonder, though.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
—2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV

If God is love, and love is the highest expression of a complete Christian life—as noted in the Peter passage above—how is it we can barely stand to be together once a week? What does it say about our effectiveness and fruitfulness in Jesus if meeting together once a week is all we can muster?

Perhaps for all our talk of community and brotherly love and affection, we don’t really like each other all that much. If we truly do, wouldn’t getting together more often be a priority?

More and more Christians think we are in the last days of The Last Days. A verse that speaks to that:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
—Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

How is it then, if the Final Day is indeed drawing near, that we seem to be getting together less often rather than more? Does our reticence to meet actually reflect a willful disobedience? Have we all secretly fallen under the spell of the “powerful delusion” the Bible warns of, with our lack of meeting a physical expression of our mental dissonance?

Talk of mental health issues have dominated the Godblogosphere in the wake of the suicide of the son of noted pastor Rick Warren. I wonder how many mental health cases could be healed without medicine by the simple act of people fellowshipping more regularly.

Can we admit that something is wrong with the way we interact today?

A different friend confessed to me a couple years ago that he felt a greater kinship to the people with whom he plays board games. That affinity group bore each other’s burdens better and dispensed more grace than the Christian small groups he had been part of. What a sad indictment!

I can think of no greater distinguishing mark of the Church than the idea that no collection of individuals exhibits deeper love for its members. So, is this the case?

We wonder why people are increasingly eschewing Church. Perhaps our community and fellowship issues are ground zero for revival.

22 thoughts on “Onward, Christian Hermits?

  1. I think if you really pressed Christians today, few would be able to give a spiritual reasons why getting together daily is worthwhile. I think most see wisdom only in meeting once a week, twice at most. Wouldn’t want to overdo a good thing.

    I think a lot of people are wondering what the real point is of meeting even once a week if all we are going to do is sit mutely for an hour except when singing. We aren’t edifying each other. We aren’t encouraging each other. We aren’t really even talking to each other except for a few minutes before and after “church” and that time is mostly empty platitudes.

    I would gladly trade never again going to Sunday morning “services” for times of life shared with other believers. For me it seems to be a giant waste of time, of effort and money to put on a show once a week so why should I do my part to perpetuate a lie? I so yearn for community in Christ with my brothers and sisters but few Christians seems interested in much more than checking off a box on their checklist before going about their lives with as little interference from the church as possible.

    Sorry to be a downer, this post just resonated with me and struck a raw nerve.

    • I feel so frustrated going to church and experiencing what you have described. I keep feeling like I should get up and encourage everyone to hold hands, sing, dance, sit in a circle and talk — something. I’d be thrilled just hanging out with folks doing whatever and talking about Jesus. When my friends come over, sometimes we sing and dance as well. Our own “church.” 🙂

  2. boethius

    Having been in and around technology most of my life it’s pretty easy for me to chart both the positive and detrimental effects of virtual vs. actual interaction. Many years ago BBSes were the way I met people in my community. All of my early friendships I struck up when I first moved away to college were through local “chat” BBSes – but honestly the friendships really only started when we unplugged and met “IRL” (In Real Life). The larger BBSes almost always had regular get-togethers at local restaurants and pizza places. The other big 20+ phone line BBS in the region also had somewhat infamous parties and many, many people met and became friends, lovers, and more than a few people ended up married over the years.

    In a substantial way those relationships I formed then got me into the technology business where I ultimately met my wife.

    While part of me is glad I’ve actually reconnected in a meaningful way with some people I lost touch with 20+ years ago on Facebook, I’ve also lost touch with people that were my friends and neighbors much more recently, from church and otherwise. FB creates a very obvious vacuum where you see what your old friends are up to and may occasionally chat and catch up with them, but truly you never really connect with them until you actually see them again (IF you see them again, ever). Of course part of it is we moved away from the small town we had lived in for 10+ years and live where we’ve had to make new friends in and out of church but FB gives you this weird comfort zone where you can maintain minimal ties with people yet simultaneously basically ignore the same people. Real friendship – like marriage – takes work and effort. FB seemingly allows you to put in minimal effort and appear as though you’re doing something to maintain a friendship when you’re not really doing much at all.

    Ultimately I truly believe people crave face-to-face interaction no matter how much technology has seemingly supplanted it. It’s almost shameful how many of us are heads-down into our smartphones. Go to a kid’s playground sometime and I’ll bank 95% of the parents are heads-down into their phones. The dichotomy between the social interaction of the kids playing and the parents off in their own little worlds can be pretty stark.

    • Indeed, Boethius. I don’t carry a cell phone. The flipside is that while I am available for face-to-face conversation because I don’t, everyone else is buried in his/her cell phone. And whereas I once felt comfortable intruding into the personal space of unengaged strangers by talking with them, I am less likely to do so if they are engaged with their tech. Everything feels like an intrusion anymore.

  3. Mr. Poet

    Perhaps we would do well to study the monastics and contemplatives if we have no other choice but that kind of lifestyle in this age? When I look back on my life when I used to go to church five or six days a week, I had very few friends that I hung with outside of each church I attended. I saw them at church, and that was it.

    • Poet,

      That wasn’t the case for me. My church friends were also my “regular” friends, and we did things together a lot. Marriage changed that for all of us. Social media have only worsened it.

  4. Diane R

    I agree with Arthur and Dan. I go to an old people’s Sumday school class in my church (because I am an old person) and they are very frosty and cliquish. I am also in a small group in my church where I am 35-40 years older than the group members. This is because my church is dominated by under-40-somethings, including the entire pastoral staff. The members of my group are very nice and open to me but I don’t see these people becoming my BFF’s. But I must say that they are much more open and loyal to both their married and single friends than the Baby Boomers and even the WWII generation.

    On another note, I feel more loved in my secular memoirs class than I have ever felt in any church I”ve attended. I’ve analyzed why this is so and I believe it’s because we read our stories each week and after a few years we really hear the heart of our class members. Maybe we should have memoirs classes in our churches…..LOL.

    • Diane,

      I hear you. And I’ve witnessed the same thing regarding younger folks and their friends.

      I have hope for the young. A few of them are breaking out of the mold. Honestly, like you observed, I think it’s the Baby Boomers who aren’t doing well in this regard, plus some of the older Gen Xers.

      Will add this: Those older folks who have money are doing better in all aspects of life, particularly socially, than those who don’t have a small fortune tucked away. I see this so often, I’m calling it a rule.

  5. Veronica

    I’m happy to report that not all churches have fallen victim to this. My church (for all of its faults, which I have mentioned here on occasion) still has vibrant small groups, and members are meeting together throughout the week, both for “official” church functions and unofficial fellowship. Many of us are on Facebook, and we use it not only to chat throughout the week, but also to plan in-person get-togethers and spread info about church matters, to post prayer requests, to encourage one another with scripture, etc. I wish I knew what makes the difference between churches like ours and yours, but I have no idea. I guess I just offer this comment as encouragement that the whole picture isn’t as bleak as it may seem.

    • You are blessed, Veronica. “Bowling alone syndrome” is affecting even Christian small groups. What causes this is legion, and a one-size-fits-all postmortem will not work. If you’re a consistent reader of the blog, though, you will have read enough to know who the usual suspects might be.

  6. Oh my goodness, yes. Your idea about mental health and healing. My son has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. I’ve read a zillion studies trying to figure out how to help him, and I pray for him, of course. I’ve found that sunlight helps. Singing and praying to God helps. Besides those things, nothing. Except for socializing with people who accept him. Sadly, that has not been found in a typical church. In fact, I think it is incredibly damaging for him to attend a youth group and hear about God when those youth do not display accepting behaviors. So right now he is not going to one. He hangs out with me and my awesome friends, mostly. I sure wish things were a bit different, though.

    Thank you for the amazing points you make on this blog. I always enjoy reading your posts.

    • Michelle,

      We have more in common than you know. I feel for your son and his situation. And I can envision exactly what he is encountering in his youth group that makes it all seem so “un-right.”

  7. linda

    Hello Mr. Edelen,
    If it is possible (and I believe it certainly could be), there is a concerted effort in most churches to keep zealous Christian saints apart by teaching fear and suspicion of the motives of these kinds of Christians, by the church leaders, and by the influencial and controlling members of these kinds of congregations.

    The reason? The leaders do not want true fellowship of believers to occur unless it is all controlled and governed by themselves. This controls who has influence in these churches. They teach that they are the spiritually correct source of God’s authority and direction. They teach that other believers who are zealous are trying to subtly take over the leadership. These leaders are truly fearful, jealous, and full of guile.

    I know when I even just pray for someone at the end of service I have the leader pacing back and forth at the pulpit so concerned about what can be happening without their full permission and ok. We need permission to minister in the church and only those are of no real concern or possible threat in these leaders’minds are allowed to minister.

    It is so bad it is pathetic. I had one pentecostal leader in my area of Canada tell me that if there was going to a prophet in his church it would be his wife. This is the most ludicrous thing I have heard. He’s going to assign who the prophet is? This is just laughable and inexcusable and utterly astounding as to his arrogance and thinking.

    His worship leader ( a woman who should be relieved of her duties in this church) prayed one time in the service and stated to God that ‘you owe us God’. We have been faithful’. I just about couldn’t believe it. God owes us? For what? He’s already given us all things freely.

    It’s just a cancer that has spread into even the smallest of churches. In fact the smaller churches are even more territorial and guarded. Where does this come from? Mostly from the leaders in the church.

    There’s a saying that ‘you never know what goes on behind closed doors’ and this is a true saying of church in our day. There are the godly saints captivated with the idea and teachers that there leaders know what they are doing. Jesus declared men and women such as these ‘blind leaders of the blind’ I think this is the situation we have in many churches today in North America.

    • Fear, Linda. That’s the source of all of it. Fear of the loss of power. Fear of loss of control. Fear of the future. Fear of moving down the hierarchy instead of up. Fear of others. Fear of self. Fear.

      And yes, fear is a cancer.

      The Bible says that perfect love casts out all fear. Love is the counter to fear. And the funny thing is that people who love overwhelming have a habit of exposing other people’s fear for all to see. Just by loving.

      So love. Love even the fearful. And let that love cast out fear.

      • linda

        Hi Mr.Edelen,
        I agree with you in essence. Love conguers fear. However, Paul was not loving toward those who were endangering the church. He was fervent in his condemnation. These leaders who are fearful are a danger to the church. They are not functioning with God. That’s why they are afraid. They have too much to lose (in their minds) to ever let this go willingly.

        My situation now is that I find when I go to ‘church’ my desire to read and pray seems to diminish considerably. There isn’t enough to ‘eat’ in church services. The saints are being brow beat by these types of leaders because they (the saints) are not inviting enough unsaved people to services. This happened at a Thanksgiving Service recently. We should have all got up and walked out on the pastor.

        • Linda,

          If we were to look at bad leaders in churches, I suspect the reality is that 90% are truly trying to do the right thing and simply not doing it correctly or wisely. I think the number of true connivers and manipulators is low. Still, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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