There is a great degree of peace that comes from not only knowing who you are, but also in finding a Christian community that embraces who you are while helping you to improve your obedience to Christ. In my personal journey of faith, I have experienced this peace most poignantly after making a transition from what has come to be known as a “low church” setting to what is called the “high church” setting. Let’s get the formalities out of the way, first. High church most commonly refers to how a church conducts its worship services. They typically incorporate the church calendar into a pre-determined order of service and annual order of services. They typically incorporate some form of worship vestments, ritual, and other such accoutrements. They typically conduct their worship in buildings that one could consider more architecturally sacred or traditional (as much of the liturgy actually plays off the layout of the worship space). All of this informs the “high church’s” ecclesiology and theology as well. Just how that liturgy informs one’s theology is precisely the point of this post.
First, perhaps most importantly, I do not intend to speak pejoratively of the Low Church tradition. I have not come to think of “low church” as meaning unsophisticated or less intellectual, which is often the case when folks use the term. I use the terms low church and high church in their appropriate sense, as described above. Nonetheless, there is an interesting shift in perspective that seems to have taken place in my move to the high church. Indeed, it is the reason making the move has proven so spiritually healthy for me.
Much of the Low Church practices what I like to call “Jesus is my best friend” Christianity. For the sake of clarity, I am not accusing all Low Church Christians of practicing “Jesus is my best friend” Christianity. In fact, I have healthy relationships with a number of people that seem to be able to function within the Low Church tradition without being affected by “Jesus is my best friend” Christianity. Now, in fairness, I have many, many more friends in the Low Church that are completely and irrevocably invested in “Jesus is my best friend” Christianity. And, frankly, it serves them well. Until you have been part of a congregation comprised of the poorest of the poor – the dregs of society, that comes together on Sunday and rejoices that they have a Savior that is friend and brother, I am not sure you can really appreciate the value of the Low Church. However, though I have seen plenty of my own personal poverty, I am not wired like anyone that benefits from “Jesus is my best friend” Christianity.
Here’s the inside track on “Jesus is my best friend” Christianity. These Christians actually have a relational experience with Christ that functions in the place of deep, fulfilling human relationships. However, if you can imagine the relational guilt and frustration that comes from having a close friend snub you, then you can understand how the Low Church brand of “Jesus is my best friend” Christianity became a toxic environment for me.
I have never felt guilt over anything like I did when I would hear friends; pastors or relatives speak of their “relationship” with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t whisper in my ear throughout the day like my bff. He doesn’t greet me in the morning with gentle encouragement like my wife. He doesn’t hold me in his arms and comfort me like a parent when tragedy strikes. Jesus isn’t my best friend. And until I figured out how that played into who I am, I lived a guilt-ridden existence.
I have prayed much penance, and I have performed much personal punishment, and I have cried out in anxiety on many occasions, because I was left thinking that Jesus didn’t want to be my best friend since I didn’t experience those things. You can imagine how distressing that must be since another essential doctrine of the Low Church is how damn much Jesus loves everyone and everything, except apparently (I thought) for me. So, needless to say, once I was able to remove myself from that environment, life got a bit better.
Consequently, the high church seems to fit who I am. I don’t know if I have some raging, uncontrollable ego; if I am incorrigibly greedy or if I am just so stubborn (perhaps none?). Nonetheless, I need God to be bigger than me. I need God to be transcendent and awesome. I need church to be sacred and the things of Christ to be holy. I need there to be deep reverence and ceremony – not because it is “better,” “smarter,” or more “correct.” I need those things, because that is who I am in Christ. It is how my heart worships. I get lost in the wonder and mystery and terror that are the worship of a holy, awesome God in a high church setting. Jesus isn’t my buddy; he is my True Lord, my High Priest, and my Exalted King.