Another weekend came and went with no church to attend. Has this had any impact on your Saturday evening or Sunday morning schedule? If you were not a church-goer pre-crisis, likely not. If you did attend church before the pandemic, the crisis has had a huge impact on your weekend schedule. Online services are helping but it is not the same. What are you missing the most? Who are you missing the most? Are there sacred elements of worship that you hunger for? This time can be especially challenging for people who place a high value on the experience of holy communion.
Flip the coin. What impact has the crisis and church-closings had on your faith life? What about your personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Closed doors have forced the question: is there a difference between the elements of church and the qualities of Christ? Put another way, can we experience the qualities of Christ when we are unable to personally attend church?
The record of church history includes the development of specific theological positions, doctrinal statements, and liturgical traditions. It is fascinating to study the different worship elements of the Catholic Church, for instance, where my spirituality is rooted, and how they compare to those of other Christian denominations. Such an investigation reveals elements of church: the way we worship, the kind of music played in church, the number of times you celebrate communion in a month.
There is great majesty and ceremony in the Catholic Church. Some of my closest moments to Jesus have come while engaged in the sacred elements of Mass. We would be hard-pressed to identify a faith tradition with more elements of church. We would also be equally challenged to find another tradition with more potential distractions. If we are not careful, we can get caught up in the elements of church and be distracted from the qualities of Christ.
In my book, Caught Up in Christ-Spiritual First Aid for Believers and Seekers, I highlight five qualities of Christ and how they can make a measurable difference in how you experience the world and how the world experiences you. We explore the peace of Christ, the powerful partnership with Christ in which believers can invest, and the benefits of a godly perspective. We also look at pure thoughts from the teachings of Christ which help us avoid the consequences of bad thinking. Lastly, we look at how the Holy Spirit persuades our hearts and minds, and then often works through us to reach others.
Looking back over my life, I now see that I spent many years caught up in the elements of church and not the qualities of Christ. Mike, a dear friend who helped me pull this book together, captured this reality in his life. “I had an allegiance to the church before I had an allegiance to Christ.”
Elements of church can certainly bring us closer to Christ. But they can also put us at risk of being distant from Christ. We can get caught up in the elements of church and miss out totally on the qualities of Christ. We need to be careful to keep sacred things in proper perspective. Are you among the many who are experiencing a crisis of faith during these challenging times? Has a lack of church participation left you unsettled, unsure, and full of questions? I, too, miss elements of church, including my connection with special people. But, what about your relationship with Christ?
Our personal relationship with Jesus, and our salvation is not determined by the number of times we attend church. St. Paul tells us, “If you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Believers take great comfort knowing this simple, yet profound and life-changing truth. Have you made such a confession? If you are a believer, I invite you to do so now. If you are a seeker, I invite you to do so now. Perhaps quietly, perhaps loudly, it’s up to you and where you find yourself at this moment, say out loud, “Jesus is Lord.” And again, “Jesus is Lord.” How does that feel? If that is the first time you’ve recited that, praise the Lord!
These are challenging times, indeed. How long will they go on? Who knows. How long will churches remain closed? I am not sure. Churches are beginning to reopen in many areas but others, while having governmental support to do so, are remaining closed for the safety of their members and staff. Regardless of how the world moves forward, we can take great comfort in knowing that the qualities of Christ are only a breath away. Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)