Pastor’s MessageWritten by Barbara F. Aspinall on Apr 21, 2013
There is a brief article in the newest issue of The Christian Century which reminds me of the distressing phrase I sometimes hear from people I meet who are unconnected to a church. When they find out I am a pastor, they get a little uncomfortable and say, “I don’t really believe in institutional religion,” and then in a pious and reassuring tone, “but I am a very spiritual person.”
I suspect that there are a whole host of reasons for people to say this, and I suspect the institutional church is to blame for some of it. When the church and its people appear to be rigid, judgmental and cold, it is no wonder that folks choose to stay home on Sunday mornings. I don’t think our church is anything like this, but the reputation, or a caricature of the reputation of the church in general, makes people understandably reluctant to risk coming through our door.
We human beings however, were created in the image of God. And this means, in part, being created with “the ability and the need to live in relationship with God and with other people. In the Bible, a relationship with God always includes relationships to other people. God does address individuals, but primarily God addresses and shapes a community – the people of Israel, and the church.”* Even when God speaks with individuals it is about relationships – that individual’s relationship with God or with others.
Collections of individuals are necessarily institutions of some kind – perhaps connected to one another only loosely, but as soon as there is any kind of organization, it is an institution. And these institutions are invariably flawed; they are made up of human beings after all. But it is through institutions that we human beings make progress in this world – whether it is teaching and learning about the Good News of Jesus Christ, or general education or looking after the poor or making strides in science and technology or making peace.
Institutions also provide us with good company, friends, the support of shared experiences. Then as folk in the Reform tradition, we also believe that God’s Spirit is present with us as we gather together. Solitude and silence may help us to hear God speaking to us, but the only way we know it was indeed the Spirit of God is by “testing” that voice with the tempering influence of other people in a community. And finally, as individuals, we cannot be the body of Christ in the world. We are Christ’s body only as we are gathered in his name.
“Spiritual” and “religious” have somehow come to be thought of as different things. But it is together as an institution, a religious community, that our spiritual selves can hear the voice of God, can participate in life of the body of Christ, can be connected to God and to fellow travelers, can be part of bringing Good News and peace to the world
Yours in Christ,
Barbara F. Aspinall