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Feeding the Soul or Tending the Body

Eutychus II

It is generally a good thing that Americans have recently become more health conscious. As a graying boomer myself I am giving belated attention to the care of my body. This includes the consumption of nearly all of the recommended daily amount of H2O (which, if you did not know, is a staggering eight to twelve glasses a day). Nature's elixir fights off cancers, flushes out wastes, reduces body aches, and aids digestion. Water, and more of it, is good for the body.

But can't we find two waking hours each week when we limit our intake for higher purposes? Apparently not, according to an increasing number of evangelical Christians, including Reformed worshipers, for whom bottled water is as important to tote to worship as a New Geneva Study Bible. This is but the most conspicuous feature of a spiritually unhealthy trend. It seems that we are making it our duty to become as physically comfortable in worship as possible. Bring some liquid consumable (including coffee for those who can't wait for the fellowship hour that follows), slide the sunglasses to the top of the head, take off your shoes—settle back and worship. All of that and more I have recently witnessed from my OPC back pew.

Cross-bearing in the Christian life may sanctify us through the suffering of our mortal bodies, but apparently not in worship. This seems to be a burden that we will no longer abide. Gone is the sanctifying austerity of hard, wooden pews. I don't mean to suggest that churches must go to lengths to make worship physically taxing. (I happen to like air-conditioning.) But there is some incoherence introduced when one confesses one's only comfort in life and in death all the while maximizing creature comforts.

The problem doesn't end here, of course. Consumption of liquids begets other bodily needs, and I've noticed that the, err, pit stops among parishioners are on the steady increase. Growing up in a sterner age, I was taught to take care of business before you entered the Lord's presence, and as a parent I've learned that you can condition children in this way at a rather young age. But such discipline is dismissed today as "unnatural" and thus repressive. The body must not suffer for the nourishment of the soul.

Even here, I am struck by the spontaneity of these potty breaks. Calls of nature formerly required the artful exercise of a discrete exit that minimized its effects on others' worship. Now the sovereignty of the bladder insists on walking out at any point in the service.

Lest I be confused for a purist, let me confess that I am not above the point of popping a Queen Wilhemina mint. My sojourn in the continental Reformed circles established the ritual of taking a Dutch aspirin in the middle of the sermon. I reckon it a ministry to the folks I will fellowship with after the service. And it seems a far cry from the well-equipped worship tote bag of today that often resembles the aftermath of successful trick or treating. (And while I'm at it, remember too, baby boomer readers, how you could not chew gum in school, much less get away with it in worship?)

Don't get me wrong. I am not accusing of anyone of having their god as their belly (or their bladder). Paul's reference is not to worship slackers. But I do wonder whether the mind can be set on heavenly things when the body beckons for constant care and attention.

Eutychus II continues the tradition of Eutychus I, Ed Clowney's pen name in the initial issues of Christianity Today (1956-1960). As Clowney explained in his later anthology, Eutychus (and His Pin): "Eutychus was summoned to his post as a symbol of Christians nodding, if not on the window-sill, at least in the back pew." Like his namesake, Eutychus II aims at "deflating ecclesiastical pretense, sham and present-day religiosity." This nom de plume will remain a cover for this ecclesiastical sleuth—to maintain his anonymity, and thus his freedom to poke fun.

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