Monday, August 11, 2008

Communal Religion

The Jewish religion, from which Christianity originated (Christians believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish messianic prophecies and the prophesied Savior from Isaiah 53 and other passages) was primarily a communal relationship with the Lord God (Jehovah). You were born into it, and you were considered a part of that community which had a special relationship with the Creator of the universe. Individuals did not choose to be part of that community – they were part of it by virtue of their birth.

Christianity, on the other hand, is not something you are born into in the same was as you are born a Jew. You may be born into a Christian home, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a Christian in the sense that you consider Jesus is your Lord and Savior (Jesus is your Lord when you have surrendered your will to his, following his guidance for your life and not your own. He is your Savior when you have trusted him for your eternal destiny). Many “Christians” are cultural Christians – born into a Christian household but have little more than a vague faith in God and little or no church involvement.

In Christianity (unlike Judaism), you choose consciously to be a devout follower of Jesus Christ. This can happen at your baptism (believer’s or adult baptism), at your confirmation, at your coming forward in answer to an “altar call”, or even in private (although eventually you should make a public confession of your faith). I believe that if you haven’t consciously made that decision, then you are a cultural Christian, not a devout follower of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, people today seem to forget that Christianity, similar to Judaism, is also a corporate or communal faith. We may make individual decisions regarding belief in Jesus, but once we have committed our lives to Christ, we have become part of a worldwide community of believers called “The Church.” The Church isn’t just a building, a hierarchy, the clergy, bishops, the pope, or an organization, but it is the community of believers throughout the world. Over the centuries we have created a Church of buildings, hierarchies, the clergy, bishops, the pope, and organizations, but those aren’t the heart of The Church. The heart of The Church is you and me, the people.

God created us to be social, and Jesus wants his people to be in fellowship with one another for mutual encouragement, for training, for worship, for ministry and mission, and to enjoy one another’s company. In the first couple of centuries of Christianity, what we call Holy Communion consisted of the Love Feast in which the Christians gathered together for a full meal at which the Last Supper was remembered by the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup. Fellowship and socialization have been a part of the Christian faith since earliest times when groups met in people’s houses for the Love Feast and informal and spontaneous worship together.

Therefore, I encourage you to become part of a church. There should be no “Lone Ranger Christians” out there, but all should gather together at least weekly for worship, training, fellowship, and ministry.

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