Here's an interesting article from the Times that juxtaposes the Crystal Cathedral and Robert Schuller and The Gathering (can you get any more cliche?) pastored by Schuller's grandson. The article presents the situation as a generational split with the older generation looking for traditional spectacle and the younger one longing for intimacy and informality. Okay.
I think this is all wrong and in an ironic way, The Gathering is merely replicating the mistakes of the Crystal Cathedral. The most important aspect should be Word and Sacrament. Next, neither church is traditional in any substantial sense of the word. In fact, they are both organizations chasing after cultural trends. The church should be a bulwark against this sort of mentality. Tradition is the meaningful (and biblically informed) appropriation of the heritage left to us by The Church through the ages.
Periodically I get the question of what is important in looking for a church. Let me lay out what I believe are some essential things to look for when trying to find a church. The preaching of the Word (expository or any other way) is a given and this list is in no particular order:
Community. A church should have a friendly atmosphere which is more than skin deep. Hospitality should be ever-present and on-going. Visitors should receive immediate and multiple offers of meals and needy members of the flock should never be without.
Sacraments: The Lord’s Supper should be offered weekly and joyfully with bread and real wine. Baptism should be taken seriously and honored by the church. A church that does not do this has not thought through the sacraments seriously enough. For example, a church that demands those baptized as infants be re-baptized is ignorant of church history. Likewise, a church that serves up grape juice and crackers instead of bread and wine is like a French restaurant that serves you a plastic pudding cup and calls it Crème brûlée.
Historical: A church should see itself in history. Creeds should be recited because they teach us and remind us that we are a church in God’s long continuum of the faith. There is orthodoxy long before us and there will be orthodoxy long after us. Our generation is in the midst of history and is not the apex of history. Every cult in the last two centuries (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shakers, Mormons) have all seen themselves in apocalyptic terms: They are the last generation before the coming of Christ and it’s been an epic fail. Christian groups have done something similar with Dispensationalism. While the Dispensationalist church has been sitting on the roof waiting for the Advent of Christ, the world has carried out a twisted cultural mandate and transformed Western culture for the worse.
I may return to this list to add to it in the future.