Reframing The Church
Historically, most communities of faith dealt with specific populations who were taught clear ideas about what was required to win the favorable approval of the gods, thus ensuring safe passage through this life and beyond. Having a sanctuary where matters of spirit could be learned, rehearsed and expressed became a very important part of each cultural setting.
People, including kings, would be humbled in the presence of a priest because frequently this robed individual was perceived as God’s representative and/or messenger. These holy people were consulted regarding Divine thought patterns and frequently the perception of others gave priests enormous power. Individuals like Elijah and Samuel featured in the Hebrew Bible understood their role and the power that came with it.
As in every generation, true holy people were few. For example, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, the word of God had not been heard in Israel for over 400 years until the arrival of John the Baptist. Many priests had become functionaries of religious practices who performed their historic rituals. No one had trained these members of the professional priesthood to communicate about matters of spirit.
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of churches, temples, synagogues and mosques that populate the landscape of every country. What people do in them varies. Worship centers attract people because they reinforce the historic personal preferences and styles of believers that have been passed down through the centuries of tradition and religious heritage. The theological comfort zones of the faithful are what inspire their faith and loyalty.
Some people, for example, enjoy liturgies, ceremonies and rituals. Some enjoy the charismatic experience with praise music and the employment of electronically controlled environments, e.g., lighting, praise bands and theatrical surround sound, etc. Some enjoy the small gatherings where people in the congregation are known to each other, an experience that reminds them of the church family of their childhood. Still others are more like consumers of experiences filled with emotional ecstasies.
Reframing the meaning of the faith community is essential if we are to keep its significance a central part of our lives. Few if any secular communal settings serve to remind us that there is more to our existence than what our senses observe. Our faith community reminds us of the presence of two worlds, the world of forms and the world of spirit. The latter world has the power to enhance and deeply influence our conduct and attitudes while we live in the world of constant change. As was once said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
We are children who tend to be self-oriented, if not self-absorbed. It matters not that many of us occupy adult bodies. Our respective communities of faith support us with values that often set us apart from people who have become energized by pursuing goals in the material world. The communities of faith also serve to remind us that like all other life forms on earth, what remains essential is within us and needs to be nurtured, developed and expressed. By its nature and design, the external world is filled with pitfalls, illusions and instability.
We must remain clear that matters of spirit will not attract everyone’s interest. Not everyone is curious about the inner world that is directing his or her thought and emotional patterns. They may not believe the theological myths and traditions that have become the storage vehicles of truth as the baton of any religious heritage is passed from one generation to the next. The universe is most accommodating to every soul’s evolutionary choices and patterns.
When sacred sites become spiritual learning centers, the meaning of a church, temple or mosque takes on a much different framework. In such a community, every level of belief or disbelief may be found. What becomes the primary focus is not the teaching of correct beliefs or even the worship and praise of God; the primary emphasis is instructing students to perfect their unique skills of spirit that enable them to create through their loving energy patterns. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is an example. The beatitudes are not a cluster of more commandments, but a listing of qualities that will emerge from those who develop what is within them.
Christianity teaches that we have the power within us to make the Kingdom of God visible. People can praise God for hours, experience euphoria, memorize vast quantities of Scripture, have their salvation theologies thoroughly entwined in their attitude and thought patterns and still remain beings that have not left the starting gates of spiritual growth.
Saul of Tarsus was a prime example of this very life style in the New Testament. He was chief among the Pharisees, brilliant in most respects, but he had not learned the skills associated with radiating his field of loving energy until his awakening on the road to Damascus.
It is very difficult for people to move beyond the religious practices and traditions that for centuries have been represented as the truth. During Jesus’ life his struggle was between having a disciplined obedience to the Hebrew Law that impacted his desire and willingness to allow Divine qualities to radiate through his human spirit. The former was strict and binding and the latter, that was far more subjective and controversial, allowed him to become part of the Divine flow of energy. He invited us to follow him into that vortex of creative energy.
When we look at the condition of the world’s people, we may become hard pressed to see where any religion has made a difference. People have grown more into pursuing individual salvation and praising God than developing a more universal approach to creating community where people holding on to many diverse belief systems may live together in peace. As Jesus once taught, “The gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is invisible, and there are few people who find it.” (Matthew 7:14)