Why regular worship in church is important is not easy to explain. Add to it a sense that denominational differences shouldn’t matter, and it get’s more difficult. I think they do matter. This column tries to address both, and is a revision of a recent article for a local paper
In a nation where church attendance continues to decline, belief in God retrains an important place for most people. Recent studies suggest about 80% of Americans believe in God, but only half of them believe in God as described in the bible. The others are from non-biblical faith traditions, or believe in some kind of higher power. Among those who believe in God as described in the bible, Christians and Jews have different ways of interpreting the text. Among Christians there are differences between those who believe God determines what happens in one’s life, and those who understand God as engaging but not micro managing. Of the nearly 20% who do not believe in God, a healthy subgroup does believe in an undefined higher power.
So what does that have to do with the people here? You’re not that different from the population as a whole, and it means there are a lot of folks wandering around in a fog of unknowing who believe in God in some way but don’t know who God is or how to have a right relationship with God. Participating in the worship life of a congregation is where they will find answers to their questions, and I encourage them to take the risk to discover for themselves how much richer life can be. Moreover, as a Christian pastor I boldly proclaim that it will lead to a fuller, more abundant life not for now only, but for all eternity. Is church really necessary for that? Can’t you do it on your own? God says you can’t. God calls us into community that is the worship life of a congregation. But which one is the right one?
Denominations differ in how they understand and express faith in God, whom we Christians believe is most fully revealed in Christ Jesus. It can get confusing if we think there can be only one right way. Let’s face it, not one size fits all, but in our differences there is a size for every person. Episcopalians proclaim God’s love that heals, restores, nourishes and strengthens. We dedicate a large portion of our services to hearing the bible read and offering prayers. Sermons are biblically focussed and short. We believe Jesus is truly present for us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion that we celebrate each Sunday. All who would meet and be received by Jesus are invited to participate with us in it. We work hard at helping each other understand God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) more thoroughly, more deeply, and more personally, but we don’t demand that everyone believe in exactly the same way. Because we’re a liturgical church with priests and bishops, people often ask whether we’re Protestant or Catholic. We’re a bit of each.
Other denominations have other ways of understanding and expressing faith in God. They’re not wrong, only different. The idea that there has to be one, and only one right way to be Christian seems odd to me. We don’t insist on that with anything else. Is a Ford the only right truck to drive? Is a Nike the only right sneaker to wear? We are a nation that treasures differences and the freedom to discover for one’s self what is right and good. But in all that is right and good, there is one that is highest and best. It comes to us from God because it is God. We Christians are certain the highest right and good is revealed in Jesus Christ, and can be fully experienced only through participation in a worshiping community.
Take a risk. Find a church that fits you.