It’s not the place that matters – it’s what’s in your heart. It’s an individual action – between you and God. And yet central to Christian belief is being part of a community of people who believe the same – those who can be considered as close as brothers or sisters.
Is one possible without the other? Isn’t church just a Sunday club where people go along out of tradition or hypocrisy?
The answer is no.
Jesus had the hardest time with religious people –
the most respected and religious people of his time, the Pharisees, were the ones who crucified him. Before he died he gave them a hard time too – calling them evil snakes because of the guilt-trips they laid on people, and saying that even though they said and did ‘the right things’ – their hearts were far from God. So religion is something that God doesn’t like – he looks for people who want a relationship with him.
A church can be a perfect place to pray – the peace, the candlelight, the music… But it can also be the worst; we might feel awkward, embarrassed – uncomfortable in our own skin. What God values above all else is that we are truthful and honest with him, and if our experience of church is that we feel like we have to be someone else, then this goes against what Jesus asks of us.
When we pray – it’s not the place, or whether we have our eyes shut and our hands folded that matters – it’s what’s in our hearts. Jesus came so we could be ourselves – the very best versions of who we were created to be. When he died on the cross, a huge curtain in a church was ripped in two. What did this strange event mean?
The curtain was in a temple in Jerusalem (in fact it was a place where Jesus often went to worship). This curtain signified a division – a reminder to everyone that only certain people where considered clean enough to approach God.
Jesus’ death changed that forever. Because of his love for each one of us, he gave his own body as a holy sacrifice; so that all of us have the chance to be considered clean enough to go to God directly – without anything in the way to stop us.
In simple terms it means that we can close our eyes at any time and in any place and we will be in the presence of a powerful and Holy God. No church, priest or special words required. It means you can pray in your bed, out walking, on the bus, on your own, with a crowd, looking at a beautiful sunset – or even while sitting on the toilet.
Church is a bad word for many people. Everyone knows someone who has experienced hypocrisy or worse. There’s also the matter of a history of bloodshed, plus the church’s influence in slavery, apartheid and other systems and rules which damaged the lives of innocent people.
Any time there is an organisation with great power, some people will ensure that evil is done through that movement – and this is what has happened through the ages with the church. It has been hijacked time after time, and this is something, according to the Bible, which God gets extremely angry over.
The Christian church didn’t start out as an institution of power or a big old stone building with everyone standing up, sitting down and singing hymns. It started with Jesus and his followers getting together to work together, to look after each other, to pray to God, to worship God, to listen to Jesus teaching on different subjects, to share the latest news. It was more like a rock band on tour than a Sunday morning at the chapel. They were a group of people who were travelling around with a common purpose – to tell and show everyone about God’s new plan for the world – and they needed to eat together, share their finances and, most importantly, learn how to love one another.
Jesus was not against worship in a formal setting – he was a Jew, and he went to the temple to pray – but he went there with a heart full of love for his father. He knew that many people were only going to church because they had to, or because they wanted to look good. Jesus taught that loving relationships with a Father God and with our friends and family are more important than rituals.
Through the ages, this good version of the church has lived on. This church is where loving relationships exist, where people worship God with honesty, and where vision and purpose has made change possible in the world. Anti-slavery, social and civil rights have all come from groups of believers standing up for change.
If you decide to follow Jesus, God desires that we have other people in our lives who believe the same – people whom we can consider as close as brothers or sisters. You might not think that such friendships are possible or even desirable in the churches which you know about. But Church is changing.
As well as the traditional style of churches that meet on a Sunday morning, there are groups which meet in people’s homes, and groups which meet in cinemas or schools. Some Christians choose to live and work together, sometimes on poor housing estates, and there are even churches which meet in Costa or Starbucks cafes. With a bit of effort you could find like-minded people who will become friends for life.
Follow this link to find a church near you: findachurch.co.uk