The “Out of Body” Experience

“I am not in church very often these days, you know how it is. But technology is awesome. When I can’t make it to church there’s tons of great pastors online with sermons!”

“I am not always so keen to hear the sermon. Sometimes my attention wanders. But I’m generally there, week by week, in my home church, listening to my pastor. Okay, he’s not as eloquent as a preaching superstar, but he’s the one who knows me. He prays for me. When he shakes my hand, he has a real interest in me. I think I’d rather listen to him preach the word of God to me.”

A consequence of modernity has been the “out of body experience”. A person shaped by modernity underestimates the importance of the communal spiritual discipline. Modern persons, modern Americans, are individualistic. Over and over again in surveys 80-90% of Americans say “I can be a good Christian, Jew, Muslim without going to a church, a synagogue or a mosque.” “I can be a spiritual person without being part of another institution. I can be a very good spiritual person all by myself.” 80-90%, year after year, say that. And that is totally antithetical to all of Islam, all of Judaism and all of Christianity.

And I have to say it is antithetical to common sense too. How do you know you are right, all by yourself? How can you stay hot, all by yourself? We want to remain as individuals, get our spiritual fix and go. You will not get away with it. Individualism regularly drifts into loneliness and isolation.

This is what will happen. At best you will plateau, as long as your life transitions remain small ones. But if you hit a life transition that is nearer the top ten of the events that cause stress, you will fall into disillusionment with your life as your spirituality washes away in the tidal force of that change. 

Say your transitions remain small, consider another fact of modernity: people are constantly coming and going, coming and going, all the time. Unless you are actively reconstructing your community almost every 2-3 years you are suddenly going to be isolated and alone. You fall into a spiritual wreck because you lose your community. They’re gone. They leave. You must regather your community under the preached word of God.

There’s individual Bible study and then there’s corporate Bible study. There is individual prayer and praise and there is corporate prayer and praise. They are not the same. You need them both. The church was defined by the call of the word of God to gather under and be shaped by the word of God. The normal place for preaching is the gathering of the local church. We are to hear sermons gathered together. The word “church” means an “assembly” of men and women who gather physically together. There is no such thing as a virtual church. A small group is not a church. A small group sits under the authority of the church.

When we listen to a sermon together, we are accountable to each other for our response. You know the message I’ve heard, and I know what message you’ve heard. I’ve heard it. You know I’ve heard it. I know that you know I’ve heard it! And you expect me to respond to the message, just as I hope you will. And so we encourage one another and stir up one another to do what the Bible says. This is how preaching directly challenges the will not only of individuals but of a whole congregation in a way that the more relaxed setting of a group in a living-room cannot. This is why preaching is so vital as it gets under our defensive radar and we hear the unmistakeable voice of God.

We ought to make it a priority to be there to hear the word of God, and to encourage others to come with us so that we can hear the word together. Again, we cannot do this on our own. By nature, we don’t want to hear the word of God corporately, because it is much too uncomfortable. Besides, we might lose face in front of others, having to confess our sin, learn to repent, believe, love God and love them.

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