They’re real, they mean it
Sierra Nevada Church of Christ
Don’t you love a blind shot to the head? You’re just walking around, you think you have some idea of your surroundings and then out of the dark, WHAM! It’s like an electric shock to the noggin. Sort of like Paul, only not so profound.
I’ve been doing this Filet of Soul thing since April of last year. I thought I had a pretty good idea of the waters I swim in for this feature. But somehow, I’d never made it into a Church of Christ service. And yes, I know that one Church of Christ may be utterly different from another, since each church is autonomous—not top-down as with the Catholics, for example—but I found the Sierra Nevada Church of Christ to be a wholly unique thing.
During the Sunday evening 6 p.m. service, I kept having this old R.E.M. song called “Voice of Harold” go through my mind:
Chill bumps appear and I am frozen in the web they weave as they reveal their Innermost selves with the outpouring of their hearts On and on the songs roll on and soon you are caught up In the sermon in each rendition as you come to feel The devotion and dedication that is poured forth Suddenly, you know they’re real, they mean it!
And that’s what I got from this small, 25-person congregation housed in a Masonic Lodge: sincerity. And by the way, the only relationship between the Masons and this church is one of landlord/tenant. I should also point out that while the congregation was small that night, when they said the prayers for the sick and traveling, a large percentage of the congregation had the flu.
Hunter and I were made very welcome. I met at least a third of the people in the room. And before the hour had passed, all the people I’d met performed part of the service—either leading the singing, reading from the Bible, doing the blessing on the bread or the fruit of the vine, the informational Bible study/sermon or the closing prayer.
I’m not going to give my usual step-by-step through the service. All the songs were sung a cappella with robust voices—traditional songs including “On Jordan’s Stormy Bank,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Where Could I Go,” “Come to Jesus Today” and “Beyond the Sunset.” It’s a fairly stripped-down service, with the dramatic climaxes being communion and the sermon.
I found the sermon/Bible study fascinating. It was a scholarly comparison of baptism with the Holy Spirit and baptism with water, given by Ross Triplett. I’d heard many of these concepts advanced before in other churches, but I’d never heard a chapter-and-verse comparison—designed to give a greater, deeper and more intellectual understanding of the scriptures. What I’m trying to explain is that there was a lot less interpreting in the sermon than exposition. I guess it’s not surprising that a word guy like myself might find this appealing.
OK, at the risk of sounding like I know something instead of just a good note-taker, here’s some of what I heard. Baptism by the Holy Spirit was a promise made by Jesus to the apostles; it’s administered by God; it cannot be rejected; it’s not essential to salvation; it was only administered twice; and it’s not for the remission of sins. Baptism by water, on the other hand, is offered to all nations; it’s a command; it can be refused; it’s administered by people; it washes away sins; and it must be received with sincerity in order to remit sin.
Next week’s topic will be what the Holy Spirit does compared to what the Word does. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say people who enjoy a scholarly approach to the Bible, friendly congregants and heartfelt sincerity would enjoy catching a service at the Sierra Nevada Church of Christ.