Last month I wrote this in the Soundings: “Rudolf Otto once said people intersecting with mystery respond in one of two ways: with fear or awe. What he means is that when we bump into what we do not understand, it is both terrifying and awe-inspiring, and we either push it away or lean into it.”
I went on to say: “The same is true for church. We all know people who have run away from the institutional church. They believe the church’s packaged answers no longer satisfy their complex context.” I ended that article with a teaser that we’d bring this conversation back up for more discussion, so here is a bit more.
I’m convinced people want mystery, but for too long church gave them fear. This fear manifested itself by ensuring a theology of certainty and, sadly, missed out on encountering the “holy other” nature of God.
Thriving churches that want to connect and grow have to do what Rudolf Otto describes: stare into the mysteries of the universe (God, theology, hope) with awe and, then, see what happens. They must figure out how not to package, name, or control that moment. It has to remain a mystery.
Faith is not a set of beliefs. It is not a system of theories, conservative or liberal worldviews, nor is it doctrinal creeds. Faith is willingness to stand on the precipice and stare out with a sense of hope that God is there. It’s as Otto says, “. . . awe in the face of mystery.”
And this is where the First Baptist must stand each Sunday morning. We need mystery. We need opportunities to stretch our faith, to look out on to the horizon and believe that God has gone ahead of us. We need church to be the place that instills hope and not fear into our hearts.
One thing we’ve incorporated at First Baptist is a discipline of silence that follows the sermon. We sit for minutes in silence and let the spirit of the living God move. For us, this moment is where we experience awe and are reminded of God’s mystery.
Worship is the best barometer for how a church allows others to experience faith, but it is not the only way. Sunday School curriculum, small group topics, Wednesday night Bible studies, and children’s sermons all reflect how much faith or how much fear we have.
Churches that leave room for mystery, that teach the “holy other” nature of God, are the ones willing to look forward with faith. These churches let go of the fear that says all of life’s questions are answerable. They let go of the lie that says everything we need can be articulated. It, rather, opens its worship, its theology, its doors to a world that is hungry for mystery and transcendence. We are striving to do/be this at First Baptist, so far it’s been awe-some.