One of the many perils of visiting someone else’s church, compounded when only visiting a church once, is the hazard of being (in a metaphorical sense, mind you) one of the pagans on Mars Hill, endlessly classifying, never engaging, and always wanting to hear something new. It’s a pitfall, and one I try to always be aware of. Most of the time I hear familiar passages of Scripture interpreted in familiar ways, and I sometimes waste the opportunity to hear a sermon trying to predict which of a small number of standard interpretations a preacher is going to use.
So I have to admit I was blown away when I went to church this past Sunday and I heard something that hit me where I live. We were in Lynchburg for Liberty University’s Homecoming weekend, and on the invitation of an old family friend we visited One Community Church [link], a relatively young church that shares a building with a ballet school on Kemper St, in one of the older and less fashionable parts of downtown. And I was blown away when the pastor started his sermon on 1 John 1:8-2:2 thus:
The Word of God will not change your life unless you are willing to confess.
I come from a tradition that takes the assurance of salvation so seriously that we are light on confession (and rarely repent). And one of my great crises of faith can probably be best stated like this: I don’t understand how someone who has been a dedicated, active Christian for a long time, who may even be a professional Christian of some sort, and spends lots of time and effort reading and studying Scripture, can still be a cold/hard/heartless/petty/flat-out evil person. I don’t understand how someone who is supposedly Spirit-filled and has an active prayer life could remain unconvicted about a pattern of sin that causes great and probably permanent damage to other people. And the pull quote above is as good as any I’ve heard so far; confession/repentance is a habit and has to be cultivated.
Because the church is located in a willfully funky downtown location and is stuffed to the rafters with college students, many of them sporting a grunge look, some of them still wearing sock caps in the heat of a Central Virginia Indian Summer, I was expecting some variety of hipster Christianity, for better or worse. Hipsters, lest we forget, tend to be post-ironic authenticity-seekers. They’re a funny mix of studied earnestness and referential irony; and I have a real soft spot for them.
The music was loud but the lyrics were surprisingly unrepetitive and theologically sound. The sermon was thoughtful, practical, and sound. It followed a basic Law-and-Gospel pattern but it didn’t make it sound like algebra. There was a community involvement segment, a music video that fit the sermon thematically, and Communion by intincture.
I really liked this church, and I wish the folks there all the best. It’s tough to sustain a church full of Liberty students, as many of them have been churched to death; they have no money; and they are in town for roughly twenty-eight weeks a year for four years and then they’re gone. So this church more than most will probably face a serious Pareto problem, with a very small fraction of the people contributing the overwhelming majority of the time, effort, and money required to keep the church afloat.
If I ever find myself back in Lynchburg on a Sunday I’d love to visit again; I’d be curious to see where and what they are a year or more from now.