Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:6)

My Jewish wife recently accompanied me to a funeral service at the Episcopal Church I attend in a nearby town.  She was a bit thrown off by all the people standing around beforehand in white surplices.  Unable to distinguish between clergy and acolytes, she asked, "How many priests do you have in this church?"  Clerical robes are standard issue in most mainline Protestant churches; Episcopalians -- particularly the "high church" variety -- can give the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches a run for their money when it comes to pomp and ceremony.  My own parish is somewhat lower down on the liturgical scale but is nonetheless capable of ritual flourishes on special occasions, such as Christmas and visits by the bishop.

As with most people, I suspect, my church affiliation is largely an accident of birth.  I didn't start out with any, but my mother quickly realized her children would wind up as heathen if she didn't pack us off to Sunday school.   She was a lapsed Roman Catholic herself and was drawn to the Episcopal Church's pomp and ceremony, without the heavy dose of authoritarianism.   I always figured she would wind up back in the Catholic Church some day.  This never happened, although she did briefly attend a dissident Anglican church that parted ways with Episcopalians over the ordination of women.  Women priests were never an issue for my mother, but I think she liked all the genuflecting around the altar and the use of an older prayer book in which God was properly addressed in the language of Shakespeare.

It's always fun to speculate about what Jesus might think if he slipped into the back pew of any church and sat through a worship service conducted in his name.  There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest he was big on ceremony -- quite the contrary, in fact.  He criticized those who loved to stand and pray in public places, heaping up their empty phrases.  It was better to pray in private and to give alms secretly, as far as he was concerned.  He told people to beware of religious types who paraded around in long robes.  "Call no man your father on earth," he said, "for you have one Father who is in heaven."

One might deduce from such utterances that Jesus would not be entirely in accord with standard religious practice in many Christian churches, my own included.  In recent years, of course, mainline denominations have lost ground to megachurches and others that have done away with the usual trappings of religious ceremony.  They have exploited the fact that stained-glass windows, ecclesiastical robes and traditional hymns are a turnoff to younger generations of churchgoers.  They play rock-and-roll music, and their ministers might lead services in casual attire.  Yet their state-of-the art sound systems and lighting suggest that these fast-growing congregations have not lost sight of the essentials.  Whatever their style of worship, it's still show business. 

Matthew 6:1-7
Mark 12:38-40
Matthew 23:1-12

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