The cruise ship gently makes its way downstream through the European countryside. Bustling cities line the Rhine with industrial complexes reliant on the river for transport and trade. RV parks along the river are full because of the six week summer school break. Small towns dot the countryside. Vineyards drape the hill sides in neat rows of green pleats. Through the middle Rhine region castles sit high atop the river bank signaling a time gone by and a history that is ancient and fascinating.
The major cities are bustling, modern, cosmopolitan metropolises. Even without all the fascinating history, there is something energetic and enthralling about packed cities with bicycles, pedestrians and vehicles clogging the narrow streets and trying to stay out of the way and flow of tourists gawking at each and every thing that might catch their eyes. (We here in NW Florida know what that’s like from the other side.)
In the many villages life is a little slower. Sidewalk cafés are filled with neighbors sharing coffee or a beer under a colorful umbrella. Shoppers make casual progress through the city center shopping district with buildings dating back to the 12th century. It is truly amazing to stand in a small, square courtyard in the middle of huge city and learn the buildings date from the 13th century to the 1990’s. Then to top it off, in the center of the square you can sit on small stone pillar from the time of the Romans and the time of Christ.
With all of this said and experienced, there was one thing that caught the eyes and attention of all the travelers, religious or not – the churches. As river towns and cities drifted by, there was always a comment by someone calling our attention to the churches. From the grand cathedrals of Heidelberg and Cologne to the small but no less grand churches of small towns and villages, all of which have been literally and figuratively the center of the community for centuries dating back to the time of the Apostles Paul and John.
Sadly, the church in Europe has been in a steady, steep state of decline in the past few decades and many are almost empty when it comes to regular worship and church activities. The magnificent structures built for the glory of God while at the same time offering employment for the poor communities for generations have begun to fail in their purpose and vision of ministry. They have ceased to be relevant to a modern society.
But let’s not point arrogant fingers this morning. The same can be said for the American church. We have struggled to remain relevant to a modern society while at the same time keeping our foundations grounded on Christ, His teachings and the teachings of Scripture.
Many have refused to budge from the “way we always did things and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to come” attitude. Many others have completely abandoned the foundations of Scriptural worship and the rich traditions of the “Church” and turned to entertainment and “anything goes” attitude to fill the building on Sunday morning.
I would offer that the “right” answer lies somewhere in the middle. How can we offer relevant worship and spiritual growth opportunities built on a Scriptural foundation and keep the influence of the rich spiritual traditions of the church? The question should always be on our mind and in our vision as a church.