Monday, March 20, 2006

Collectivist Mentality

So, I think I've finally figured out what's been bothering me with church lately. Do you remember the Borg? They're characters in Star Trek: half organic and half cybernetic, possessing a collective consciousness. They think only corporately, and have a very hard time comprehending the concept of individuality.

And that seems to be the conflict that I'm running into at the Baptist church. You see, I'm like the Borg (except, of course, I don't running around trying to assimilate other people, unless you consider this article an attempt at assimilation -- resistance is futile!!). I tend to think of Christianity as a fairly corporate matter, especially when it comes to rituals. My understanding of Baptism is that it is a grafting into the Body of Christ, the Church. Because of that, infant Baptist isn't a problem. But for Baptists, Baptism is a sign of a personal acceptance of Jesus as Lord. It's a very individual thing.

Or take communion. For me, it's another expression of the Body of Christ, something that mysteriously connects us all as the Church. For Baptists, it seems to be more of a remembrance of the saving grace offered by Christ to individuals (who are all equal).

Or ordination. For me, it is a setting aside by the community of certain individuals for a specialized task. If clergy have any sort of special authority, it is because it is granted to them by the community. They are representative of the community. So in our ordination service, the entire Conference is present, and several people are ordained at once, being accepted into membership in the conference. At a Baptist ordination, it's very individualistic. Only one person is ordained. The service is specifically tailored to them and their sensibilities. In fact, very little of the service is the same from one ordination to the next. And ordination is considered a recognition of the individual's ministry, not an acceptance into the overall ministry of the Church. (This is matter of degree of course. I just mean that the emphasis is different, not that the approaches are completely different.)

Methodist pastors are members of the Annual Conference. Baptist pastors are members of the local congregation. Baptist have a great tradition of individual freedom and allowing persons to hammer out their own faith. But I guess I must be a true Methodist (or maybe Anglo-Methodist), because I really long for that more corporate aspect of worship and spirituality.


Anonymous Brett said...

I have a very strong Baptist background. I started attending a Methodist Church about 3 years ago after getting married. I think most Baptist churches are very good at preaching and teaching doctrine, for the most part. This means that there will be a strong group of members who believe the same way. You are exactly right about Communion. Baptists have a closed table (only members of a Baptist Church may participate) because they believe the significance is a reminder of the suffering of Christ on our behalf. If others believe it is means or signifies something different, then there is no unity in communion.
Methodists are a lot more accepting (sometimes I feel at the expense of good biblical doctrine, but that's another post) and tolerant of other beliefs. I think this has led to a very diverse group that has many different beliefs. Take communion as another example. Methodists have an open table (anyone can particpate), which is good in a way, but I'm not sure that it really shows a connection with all believers, since each believer has their own idea of what it means.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me too.


12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baptists seem to believe (from what others describe) that communion is an event just for those who have already chosen Christ. It is an event only for the body of Christ. This is the same position Catholics take (my birth tradition). United Methodists, on the other hand, have an open table. While there are many reasons this could be the case, it seems to me that one of these reasons is the importance that United Methodists have historically placed on turning towards God (conversion). United Methodists believe that an individual can experience conversion during communion. Thus, if we keep people from the table, they may not experience conversion at all.

I think United Methodists get a bad rap about not believing in anything and everyone believing what they want. In reality there are a few ideas that historically Methodists have agreed upon: conversion, a turning towards God; sanctification, a belief that God transforms us so that we can better reflect God's love for us toward others; and social justice, the since that this transformation encourages us to change the injustice in the world. Everything else is mere opinion. Arguing about exactly the point of communion only divides people and distracts us from greater issues such as increased poverty in the world, civil war, famine, and a number of other issues.

David: I understand what you mean about being more corporately focused than Baptists. But keep your head up, you only have a few more months and then you can be United Methodist again!


12:34 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Excellent post, David! I love your community aspect of the Table especially. My last church I served eagerly agreed to celebrate Communion every Sunday. To that end, I tried to be sure that every sermon ultimately led to the Table (the "altar call", as it were). For my way of thinking, it is precisely a moment of conversion - or at least it should be. We are "eating His flesh and drinking His blood"; we are "ingesting" Christ into the essence of our being. If this cannot be a moment of conversion, it then becomes nothing more than a snack (or a break-the-fast after a really long sermon!).

8:02 PM  
Blogger Conrad said...

You are a much braver man than I am. I have not set foot in a Baptist church for anything other than a wedding or funeral since I was 19 which was way back in 1979.

I had heard one too many Hell Fire and brimstone sermons and resolved not to so much as even visit a Baptist Church.

I have heard rumors that Baptists in other parts of the country are a little more tame and kind but down here in the South they are just bizarre.

NOTE: You might be a Methodist if you have never heard a sermon on Hell and you like it that way.

8:40 AM  

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