According to polls by Gallup, Pew and Barna research, the vast majority of Americans STILL say they believe in God and have made a commitment to Jesus Christ. However, a significant portion of those persons seldom or never attend a local church or believe that being an active member of a faith community is important to their spiritual lives. They see their faith as a private matter. They fail to understand that Christian faith is designed by God to be lived out in the context of community—the Church. Scripture clearly establishes that our baptism into the faith connects us to each other as a family. We are bound to each other and pledge to support and care for each other—to work together for the building up of the Church and the betterment of our neighborhoods and our world.
Staying connected to the Church is also essential for our spiritual growth. 1 Thessalonians teaches us to ‘encourage one another and build one another up in the faith’. No matter how diligent you are, separation from the Church, the body of Christ, will lead to a diminished relationship with God. A hot ember pulled from a bed of coals begins to grow cold. In like manner one who is separated from the Church tends to grow less and less intentional in their faith walk. This continued connection is especially vital for families with young children. The old adage, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ was never truer than in our current age. With so many competing voices calling to our young ones luring them away from right choices, they need the nurture and teaching of the Church more than ever.
But, increasingly, parents who profess faith in Christ are choosing to forgo Sunday worship and Church participation for other interests, thus teaching their children that commitment to the Church and to Christ is but ‘one choice among many’. There is no magic formula for raising the ‘perfect’ child or teen, but I believe the very best resource for parents trying to train their children to make good ethical and moral choices is the Church.
Truth is we all need the Church. Life can be difficult and there are times when we struggle with uncertainty or loss and grief. It is a tremendous comfort in those times to have our Church family around us to offer their prayers and acts of service and love. How often have I seen the Church rise to the task of ministering to a fellow member to ease their suffering and surround them with the love of God. John Donne wrote in 1623 these words:
The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; … As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all…No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,… any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
And we are all called to serve. We can only truly serve God when we live in service of one another. Being an active member of the congregation and fulfilling our baptismal vows means gathering with the body of believers on Sunday morning as the Church worships. It means seeking opportunities to serve our congregation and the community by offering our time, our financial support, our talents and skills, and our prayers to build up the Church (the body of Christ). It means making the choice for our families that God comes first and all else is secondary to living out our faith within the community of believers called the Church. It means recognizing that we belong to God and each other above all other claims and ordering our lives accordingly. In this way we please God who has called us to be the united body of Christ for the world.