“Christian and not at church?”

The Radio Ulster magazine programme, ‘Sunday Sequence’, returned to an old chestnut last Sunday.

The main debate, asked the question, ‘Can you be a Christian, and not bother with church.’

The question is one well worth asking, particularly for those who, for one reason or another, have fallen out of love with organised religion.

Hurt and disappointed, they seek to keep the flame of faith alive in their own way.

I recall one man, ‘mighty in the Scriptures’ as the New Testament says of Apollos, who yet asserted that his weekly worship session was on Portstewart Strand, amid the majesty of nature.

There, he told me, he spoke to God and God spoke to him.

I have no right to say that those who fail to join in worship are not Christians.

Being a Christian is an individual response to the grace and mercy of God in Christ, and of that no other person is entitled to be a judge.

As Paul stated, ‘The Lord knows those who are his’(2 Timothy 2; 19).

The New Testament suggests that corporate worship is essential for the soul’s health.

The early Christians were instructed , ‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another’(Hebrews 10;25).

Just as listening to a CD of a favourite singer cannot compare with the exhilaration of attending one of that singer’s concerts, so the chemistry of joint worship stimulates faith.

He will be a better Christian who joins with others, benefiting from their encouragements, and perhaps being rebuked by their insights.

And he will be a more effective Christian when sharing with others.

There are things groups can do to tackle the world’s ills, which one individual cannot do alone.

Thomas Merton, a leading Catholic writer of the twentieth century, put off a girl-friend one week-end and went to church in New York’s Broadway.

The event changed his life.

It was , he said, ‘Like walking into a new world’.

That’s what worship can do.

Why not give it a chance?

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