Recently, I re-posted a memory from 2017, that I had posted as a New Year message to encourage folks to deepen their journey with Christ.  The first one in 2017 fell on deaf ears, but this one was sent out in a new parish and particularly to a group of people I have been working with in bible study and spiritual mentorship.  I have posted the article below :

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has provided a moment of enlightenment for me this morning. A great start to 2017, I would like to share it with you…”religion is a dead, man-made thing and at the heart of Christianity is something else entirely – God himself!” Christianity is not about religion, about morality, about piety – but about “the person of Christ”.  This is so freeing, something I think I felt in my heart but now I can grasp it in my hand. It reveals so much to me in regard to my problems with the institutional church. I wish I could have had a conversation with this man. Let me know your reaction…I would be so interested to hear from others on this.  God bless.

Let me just say before I get into this dialogue, that I have been trying to get this group of people to break down some of their ‘religion’, to stretch and to explore so that their divine horizons are opened up and they see a whole new world in which Christ is the  central pivot around which their lives revolves. He is not up there in the sky, but right down here in their hearts. He should be their reference point for every decision and every action in their lives. He should be the catalyst for their transformation into Christlike beings who serve and love him and all of his creation.

With this statement by Bonhoeffer,  I clearly pushed some buttons, fortunately not hard enough to cause a revolt, but they started thinking about the post. There was an argument put forward about the importance of the church as a place for fellowship, for encouragement and support. This person loved the Eucharist and the sacred peace she experienced in the service. She loves the beauty of the chance and the music.  It is a place to praise the Lord, it provides discipline. She also mentioned that there was a lack of opportunity to think deeply about spiritual matters. To my horror, she closed her argument by saying that a ‘relationship with Christ’ was the cherry on top!

A second participant was adamant that the church was not a religion, it was the body of Christ! She did not elaborate on what she understands about the concept of religion, but I am assuming that fellowship and support like the earlier argument was important for her.  Another participant described church as a safe place, like a lighthouse and a place to mature and grow. This same participant implied that a relationship with God is represented by the sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit. She loves the beauty of the church building and the music.

My problem? There is nothing substantial here about a relationship with Christ. By that I mean a relationship that goes beyond the warmth of weekly fellowship, support and encouragement. Nothing that is a daily experience of God. I know all these ladies pray daily, but it is mostly intercessory prayer. They do not speak of spending time in the presence of God on a regular basis and this is the only thing that can really establish a strong personal relationship with God.  

So I have questions –

Does the traditional form of a church service provide more than weekly warmth and fellowship?

Does an online service provide an equivalent of a face to face service, given what the participants have said about the value of fellowship?

If not, then what is happening to people’s connection to God and the Church now that we are in lockdown and the Church building is closed?

How many folk are we losing, or have lost their spiritual way, because they no longer experience fellowship?

These questions raised deep concerns for me about the depth of people’s spirituality and the ability of the church, as I know it, to provide meaningful spiritual growth, by that I mean the provision of teaching that will enable a growing relationship with God. 

I understand that fellowship, warmth, support, love and the sacred feeling that comes with beauty but I do believe that that is perhaps a necessary, but certainly not a sufficient premise for a meaningful spiritual life.

Comments will be very welcome….