By Ken Bradbury
It’s just a theory, but I think that God likes simple. Just my opinion, but things keep popping up that seem to prove the theory to be true.
Did you know … I didn’t … that there are two churches within easy driving distance of Jacksonville that have no electricity? One of them holds regular services and the other two occasionally host gatherings, all without so much as a light bulb. A cousin of mine was recently married at Zion Lutheran, a tiny little chapel on route 107 between Perry and Mt. Sterling. The church has never been electrified and I assume that whoever is in charge of the church has no intention of doing so. Still, they held the wedding there. There’s also a good-sized church on the blacktop road between Griggsville and Detroit that has never been graced by anything Thomas Edison ever invented; yet Bethel Church continues to hold revivals and special services as long as there is daylight. There’s even a barely-heated church very near Jacksonville; just head north out of town on route 78 and turn west on the Literberry Road to find Arcadia Cemetery Church with electricity but no heat except a pot-bellied stove and no air conditioning. They hold one service there a year.
Simplicity. Although I’ve been blown away by some of the great cathedrals of the world, there’s something about wooden benches and a woodstove that lights a holy fire in me that the Rose Window of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris can’t quite match. My favorite among the big-name churches is St. Peter’s in Rome and it proudly boasts being the biggest with a plaque in the floor stating, “St. Paul’s would begin here.” So much for the little place that Christopher Wren built in London. There’s no doubt that big is impressive and huge means powerful, but when I think of a lowly carpenter from Nazareth there’s something about a ton of gold filigree that seems a bit incongruous. Out of place. Over the top. A good friend of mine has been to Paris many times but refuses to enter Notre Dame Cathedral because of the taxes that were levied upon the Parisian poor to build the thing. King Louis VII didn’t exactly have God in mind when he ordered it to be built. The guy just wanted to show off.
When I think back upon the most meaningful services I’ve experienced my mind immediately goes to a hotel bar in Dublin. I couldn’t find a Protestant church for my young Lutheran travelers to attend that Sunday, but a Baptist preacher from New Jersey was roaming with us along with six of his parishioners. We commandeered a corner of the tavern, he brought out his traveling communion set and I banged out “Amazing Grace” on a decrepit old Irish piano. It was about as close to heaven as I’ve been in a long time.
I’ll omit the names here to protect the innocent, but I once sat at a campfire gathering when the subject of Holy Communion came up. The little gathering of campers had prayed together and then wanted to partake in the bread and the cup but the only victuals available were Dr. Pepper and a package of Twinkies – and that, my friends, became our communion. The high school boy who distributed the elements on the chilly autumn evening is now the minister in one of our area’s largest churches. I doubt that he uses soft drink and cream-filled rolls to serve communion, but I truly wonder if he’s had a more meaningful experience since that campfire.
Historic Reformed churches strip worship of anything extraneous including ceremonies, festivals, crucifixes, processions, incense, images, vestments, altars and anything other than the world of God. Some Reformed congregations don’t allow singing. Okay, that’s going one pasture too far for this cowboy. As Patrick Henry said, “Give me music or show me the door.” Maybe that’s not exactly the way he put it, but I can’t imagine worship without music. I realize that some local churches avoid musical instruments, but the result is usually a congregation that really knows how to sing. Side bar: when I was in high school, I provided the music for a wedding in a church that banned musical instruments. I stood outside the front door, pointed the bell of my trumpet inside, and played the “Wedding March.” The fact that this church was struck by lightning a few years ago has real meaning for me and I feel at least partly responsible.
Without doubt, the simplest and most beautiful service I ever attended was called a “Cave” or “Underground” service based upon the gatherings of Christians in ancient Rome who had to meet secretly. In the present-day version, the lights are turned off and the worshippers will alternately say a prayer, quote a scripture or sing a song … all in the darkness. Pretty darned cool. Pretty darned simple. Back to the basics. ‘Tis a gift to be simple.