“Real” pumpkins and “real” churches

About this time every year, social media explodes with the same “news” — your canned pumpkin is actually squash!  It has no pumpkin in it at all!  You’re buying into a lie, then baking it at 375 degrees for an hour and putting it on your Thanksgiving Day table!

 The truth is considerably less exciting.  You might grab a cup of coffee for the next part of this article.

“Pumpkin,” as it turns out, is a rather meaningless term — legally, agriculturally, and culinarily.  The gourd family provides a large number of edible fruits that generally fall into the American squash category.  Some are big, round, and (usually) orange.  We call these pumpkins.  The folks at Libby’s have found that a particular strain known as the Dickenson cultivar makes for a particularly tasty pie.  The future jack-o-lanterns you see in the grocery store and Hobby Lobby this season are too stringy and watery.  The Dickenson cultivar, which most people say more resembles a butternut squash, works far better.

First takeaway: All you ladies who have been frustrated with your efforts at making “real” pumpkin pie with actual, fresh pumpkin — take heart.  It’s not your fault.  Blame the pumpkin.

Second, and more important, takeaway: Labels do not always reflect reality, and sometimes may even interfere with it.  They are useful, and sometimes even needful — granted; however, they should be applied carefully, used wisely, and reconsidered frequently.

Our frustrations at the state of the local church are often rooted in doctrine.  And we must take these issues seriously.  The New Testament is quite clear with the pattern laid out for the church’s organization, function and ultimate goal.  Some of the practical applications are vague, granted.  We have to dig a bit to discover what an elder is, or what a worship assembly should include.  We have to dig even more to determine matters such as what actually constitutes worship, how congregations should interact with one another (if at all), and how much cultural evolution should be allowed to affect the church.  The solution in such matters, though, is clear and consistent: read the Bible dutifully and prayerfully, and commit to putting the will of God to work in our lives individually and collectively.

But often our greatest frustrations with the church are not doctrinal in nature.  We are frustrated because the church is changing with the times (or not changing).  What we have come to recognize as a “good church” over decades of service is being rejected.  A few examples come immediately to my mind:

· We have fewer and shorter gospel meetings, and the attendance at these meetings by members, area brethren and interested neighbors is considerably down.

· Many churches have canceled the decades-long practice of coming back to the church building for a second worship service on Sunday evenings, citing “inconvenience” most often as the main factor.

· Members plan fewer opportunities to socialize with one another.

· In-depth Bible preaching and teaching is supplemented, and sometimes (in the short term, at least) replaced, by topical studies that younger Christians and families will find “more relevant.”

But changing the way things have always been is not necessarily the same as changing the gospel.  Indeed, such matters have not “always been” any particular way; the “holy kisses” and other cultural norms of the early church would horrify most modern Christians.  It was not so long ago that PowerPoint presentations were thought to be a sop to Christians who could not concentrate on spiritual things for an hour without “gimmicks.”  It could be that the essentials of life in Jesus are still being attended, just in different ways and means.  That may not satisfy you, but you must acknowledge that is different from not satisfying the Lord.

We absolutely should be true to our heritage in Jesus Christ.  But to do that, we must determine what our heritage truly is.  It is what Jesus taught, not what granddad taught.  It is what the apostles practiced, not what the local church has always practiced.  It is what pleases Him, not what pleases us.  We seek to preserve the “standard of sound words” and “treasure which has been entrusted to you” to which Paul alludes in 2 Timothy 1:13-14.  Perhaps that means leaving things the way they are.  Perhaps that means returning to practices of the past.  Or perhaps it is best done by finding new ways to express an ancient faith.

At any rate, make sure you know what a “real pumpkin pie” is before you criticize your brother or sister’s attempt at making one.