In an earlier post I included an article that looked at various ways people said they could experience God outside of the Church. While those other ways are certainly viable alternatives, I believe Jesus established the Church as the main vehicle for people to experience God and exercise their faith.
Jesus was referring, I believe, to the Church when he said to the Samaritan women in John 4:21: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” (NRSV) The Church is not a building or a particular location (such as the Temple in Jerusalem), but an active, living, breathing Body of Christ’s believers in many different locations throughout the world, working under the power of the Holy Spirit (or at least they should be).
The Church is not an organization or a hierarchy. It isn’t just the clergy, the bishops, or the Pope. First and foremost, it is the Body of Christ made up of the people who have decided to follow Jesus – his disciples. As a body of disciples, I believe we all have the five purposes that Rick Warren mentioned in his popular book, The Purpose-Driven Life. All people have those five purposes, which have been given by God, and which I believe can be best accomplished in and through the Church. These purposes are:
·Worship (that one of the main things the Church does);
·Fellowship (the best place to be with fellow believers;
·Discipleship (a good place to grow spiritually – difficult to do on your own);
·Ministry/Service (plenty of opportunities for laity in most churches);
·Mission/Evangelism (plenty of opportunities for laity in most churches).
I believe that people can’t fully express or exercise their faith outside of the Church, and they usually aren’t able to grow spiritually on their own (mainly because of a lack of self-discipline, something I can identify with). There are para-church ministries that are quite effective and do many worthwhile things, but all of them will admit that they are not substitutes for the Church, but they are adjuncts to the work of the Church. But we also have to remember: it isn’t the Church for the Church’s sake, but we are to be active in a church for the sake of Christ. The Church is a vehicle, a way of fulfilling these five purposes, not an end in itself.
If you haven’t been part of a church, please reconsider your position. No church is perfect, and the Church as a whole is far from perfect. Nevertheless, Jesus established it for a purpose, and we as his followers should be active participants in it.
Although I am writing this as a Christian and don’t claim to be speaking for any other religions, I do believe what I wrote in this post could be a guiding principle for any religion. For example, I would think being a part of a synagogue or mosque is very important to a person’s spiritual development and fulfilling G-d’s or Allah’s purposes for his or her life. So if you haven’t been as active in your place of worship as you perhaps should be, you may want to consider getting re-established with that body.