Sunday, July 3, 2022

Churches of the Silver Valley: Cornerstone Church, Silverton

(Part four in an ongoing series.)

Cornerstone is a self-proclaimed nondenominational church that worships in the former Seventh-Day Adventist building in Silverton, the next town over from Wallace. If you're cruising by on I-90, you'll see the back of the brick church situated right next to the Wallace High School football field.

Knowing what I do of nondenominational churches, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the service. For churches that shy away from formal liturgy, I find that their worship services follow a fairly predictable pattern of singing a few contemporary praise songs and then settling in for the sermon. 

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the worship band leading us in something that wasn't a contemporary praise song that I knew nothing about, but rather an old, familiar spiritual hymn: "Amazing Grace." 

That was one of my adoptive mom's favorite spiritual tunes, and I've always been fond of it for its ties to Chris Squire of Yes, who made it part of his bass solo on a few tours.

Another surprise came during the doxology, when the band led us in singing "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow," a song that's been played in many a Catholic Mass. Again, something I'm familiar with!

I looked through the church's Facebook page before my visit and saw that Cornerstone's pastor, Cody Karst, has been preaching on the first epistle of John for the past month or so. Today, he wrapped up his series with the epilogue of Chapter 5. I always liked 1 John for its emphasis on God as light and love. The letter is hopeful and encouraging rather than preachy, judgy, and glum, and I think it gives Christians a solid basis for centering their religion on things that are good and hopeful and uplifting, rather than focusing their spiritual journey on what's wrong with the world. As an adjunct to the Gospels, 1 John and the epistle of James -- the latter a brilliant but often overlooked piece of New Testament wisdom literature that I think of as a kind of Christianity for Dummies -- are in my view all that a person really needs from the Bible to build a solid foundation of Christian faith. 

Pastor Cody shared a little bit about how he came to his own Christian beliefs, saying that he wasn't raised Christian but was led to the faith through a dogged pursuit of truth, as he examined why one religion would be true while another wouldn't be. The rest of his talk, in its own way, built on how that kind of faith relationship works, with an emphasis on the importance of aligning one's will with God's. I think that's a point a lot of folks miss, inasmuch as many people seem to treat God as a kind of wish-granting genie, unaware that one's relationship with God is not about what we want, but accepting what God wants for us

That perspective, in turn, also means you can't read a Bible verse and ignore it because you dislike its implications for your life. You have to go all in. And one of the things 1 John does well is give struggling believers hope: You will stumble because you're human, but an enduring faith and the prayers of your Christian brethren will help you through the rough spots. 

I liked that Pastor Cody took the time to offer different interpretations of verse 18, in which the author of the epistle encourages people to pray for their brethren caught in sinful ways but adds that "there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not asking you to pray about that." Pastor Cody noted that whether you believe in the theological concept of "once saved, always saved" (i.e., you can never lose your salvation, no matter what) or you have a more Arminian view (i.e., you can lose your salvation, which is not unlike the Catholic and Orthodox viewpoint) will determine how you understand what the author is saying in this verse -- either you believe the person is unsaved and too hardened of heart to reach, or you think he's blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and is therefore a lost cause (see Matthew 12, Mark 3, or Luke 12 for more on the unpardonable sin), or you might even assume that the person is so far gone that God will strike him dead in a matter of time, so there's no point in praying for him anyway. 

The fact that the pastor didn't give a prescriptive view on the verse is, I suppose, something that comes with the territory of being nondenominational, since that means there's no central ecclesiastical hierarchy dictating meanings down to its member churches. That approach also seems to be keeping in the greater spirit of Protestantism and its dedication, to a point, to interpretive flexibility. But naturally, even the churches most lenient on interpretation will draw the line somewhere between orthodox belief and heresy. It's not a free-for-all. If it were, people could find a way to rationalize away all those problematic verses that they don't want to conform their lives to.

Lastly, I appreciated that Pastor Cody talked about the idolatry that the author of 1 John warns about in the letter's final verse. I've run across religious people who have a very narrow view of idolatry, one that usually has something to do with specific forms of Catholic worship, seemingly unaware of how idolatry might affect their own lives in ways that are not always so obvious. I've always contended that anything a religious person places above God is idolatry, whether it's money, celebrities, sensual pleasures, or what have you. In his own way, Pastor Cody was in agreement with that view. Idolatry isn't just about religious statues or icons; it's a state of mind. As he put it, everyone has a hierarchy of values, and whatever is at the top of that hierarchy is what you worship. So if you're a Christian, you'd better make sure that God is at the top of your personal pyramid. 

Pascal made the point long ago about the God-shaped vacuum that longs to be filled, and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt made a similar observation much more recently that we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. That hole will always be filled with something. Far better, then, to fill it with something that directs us toward the good and uplifting -- which is a big part of the reason I'm doing this series on local churches and why I encourage religious belief in general. Despite the occasional shortcomings of religion, I think that religious belief is a net good for both us and our society.     

Moving on to some general observations: The congregation in attendance today numbered somewhere between 70 and 80, with a vibrant mix of young and old. There were lots of kids present, as well as a few babes in arms. That was quite a contrast to, say, the UCC church in Wallace, which had only a handful of folks in attendance when I visited and a minister on the verge of retirement. The difference, even here locally, reflects the greater trends in American Christianity, whereby mainline Protestantism is in steep decline while Catholic and evangelical numbers are holding more or less steady, and in some cases slightly rising. I think that says something about the kind of church Christians want -- or at least what those want who haven't given up on church and belief altogether: They either gravitate toward ancient reverent tradition or want a vibrant faith that isn't watered down to cater to contemporary social and cultural trends. There's something to be said for either, even if the overarching Christian belief structure isn't something I can embrace anymore.

One thing I will say is that old liturgical churches like the Catholics could take some pointers from more contemporary churches on how to make people feel welcome. My daughter and I were warmly welcomed today by Linda, Cornerstone's greeter. We had a nice talk about the Valley, homeschooling, and some of the events taking place at the church, including an ongoing youth group and an upcoming vacation Bible school. She even gave me a little welcome bag. 

I can't emphasize how important things like this are to make people feel welcome. Aside from one person who in the end couldn't do much to help, I was completely ignored at the Byzantine Catholic church in Spokane Valley when I asked if I could change my canonical status from Latin (Roman) Catholic to Byzantine and get my daughter baptized there. I was excited about becoming part of the community, and for all my efforts I was treated as if I were a leper. It was a depressing and shockingly negative experience, and I would never set foot in that church again. Cornerstone, in sharp contrast, made me want to come back, even if it's probably not a faith community I could ever personally call home.

Out front there was self-serve coffee...

Inside the sanctuary were Independence Day-themed doughnuts... 

And there was even a little merchandise stand where you could buy hats, shirts, and other items emblazoned with the church's logo. 

For those who want to follow along with Pastor Cody and didn't bring a Bible, Cornerstone even has you covered there, with ESV Bibles tucked under the chairs in front of you. 

I'd brought along my Third Millennium Bible, to try to fit in with the Protestant vibe. (I figured it best to leave my thoroughly Catholic Word on Fire collection of Acts, the epistles, and Revelation at home.) But with the Cornerstone-provided Bibles, it turned out I didn't need it. This church covers all the bases and does it all very well.

We happened to show up during the week Cornerstone was celebrating communion. Unlike the Catholic church, where communion is the central focal point of every Mass, it's something observed only occasionally in most Protestant churches, sometimes monthly or quarterly. Pastor Cody says Cornerstone celebrates communion so that we don't become complacent about the sacrifice Christ made for believers -- and also because Christ did ask us to partake of bread and wine in his memory. 

However, as I expected when the ushers passed around the tray, communion consisted not of bread and wine but a tiny cracker and some grape juice. 

I've been there and done that in past Protestant communion services, and honestly, I think it's a little weird. But on the other hand, Pastor Cody went out of his way to point out that Cornerstone's communion was open to everyone, which is exactly as it should be, not fenced off the way it is in the Catholic church until you meet the proper requirements for receiving. I'll take an oyster cracker and a shot of Welch's that's offered to everyone over transubstantiated bread and wine that's off limits to all but "properly disposed" Catholics. 

Overall, I was impressed by Cornerstone, and I can see why the church is, by all appearances, doing well in this Valley.

No comments:

Post a Comment