A major, recent survey reveals that most Americans, including many “Christians,” feel that living one’s faith is primarily a personal matter that doesn’t require gathering with others for weekly worship, communally hearing the word of God, receiving the Sacraments or experiencing meaningful connectedness or accountability. Many who’ve never really considered the issue in a way that is particularly thoughtful, prayerful or Scripturally informed, tend toward this sort of gnostic, even psychopathic way of thinking that now reigns in this broken world.
But intentional, real, live, organic… and yes, institutional community has always been integral to the Judeo-Christian tradition, other major religions, and indeed, being human.
Jesus spent important time in solitude – in the wilderness, the boat, the garden – but He prayed regularly in the Temple and the synagogue. Communal acts such as dinners, the wedding at Cana, and the miraculous feeding of the fishes and loaves were essential to His earthly life and ministry. And in drawing all to Himself on the Cross, distinctions that the world would place between us are obliterated in common prayer, worship and our work together as sheep of one fold. In the time of the writings of the New Testament and class-conscious Romans, the early Church brought together people of different ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic standings, and slave as well as master. In their offering of worship and other joint endeavors as Christians, social convention was transcended by a higher allegiance, keeping with what St. Paul tells us: “Conform not yourselves to this world, but be ye transformed…” Moreover, something wonderful happens when we worship and serve God together week after week, month after month, year after year: we gradually become less like the grim, apathetic individuals like Judas whose solitary deeds led him to withdraw from the Body. We become more Christ-like.
The most effective way to keep us from any and all of the aforementioned is for us to be overly-focused on our selves, our work, selfishness, carnal desires, addictions, so-called “social” networks, anger, scheming, murmuring, smallness… our “conceit, laziness and intellectual snobbery,” in the words of C.S. Lewis. We come together as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ through the Holy Spirit to maintain and build upon our spiritual health and strengths, as well as to be both challenged and better enabled to reach greater heights. The communal activities of the Church, beginning with worship, are meant to be formative, ways of transforming us into whom we really are but have not yet fully realized. As we focus our hearts, minds and souls on God’s holiness, truth, beauty, love and purpose, we ourselves grow in holiness, truth, beauty, love and purpose.
The Church of Christ plays an absolutely necessary role in the life of anyone who would be a follower of Christ. There is no such thing as a Churchless Christianity; there is no such thing as a solitary Christian. Communal life, worship, fellowship and other joint spiritual activities provide the context and foundation for all aspects of Christian life; in fact, such acts in Christ are what make them possible. Everything really emanates from this point. It is from the things we do together that we begin the ascent toward God who has been revealed to us as a communal, Triune (the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost) Deity. We do what we do to glorify God and to become more truly and fully human.