Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Life

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2009

The Gift of the Community of Faith

I turned on NPR the other day and Peg Chamberlain, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches and new president of the National Council of Churches, and Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, were talking about faith and its role in public life. During the call-in portion of the show, someone asked “I have my own faith, my own spiritual practices, but am not part of any religious tradition. Why should I join one?” Joel had a wonderful answer. He said that it is good to have your own faith and your own personal relationship with God, it is good to have your own personal spiritual practices, but fundamentally, Christianity is a communal endeavor. We join together in a church to, in part, broaden our perspective and invite others to reflect with us on the faith journey and to bring in their perspectives to enrich our own.

There are many reasons to join a church, but I think Joel Hunter lifted up something we often forget. As part of a community of faith we are reminded that our own view or perspective on faith, the world, love, neighbor, justice, etc., is limited, and we need the views of others to broaden our understanding and our vision, to more fully encompass the God who is so much more than we can ever define.

The danger of relying only on our understandings of God and God’s work in the world and claim on our lives is that we run the risk of putting God in a box of our own making, and all that challenges the boundaries of that box are dismissed. The beauty of inviting others to actively be a part of our faith journey, especially others who have different ideas and positions than ourselves, is that the box keeps getting bigger and bigger, and we begin to see more and more of the vastness of God who truly is beyond our complete understanding. As the box keeps getting bigger, it challenges us to examine more and more closely the way we live our lives, the way we act on our faith, the way we bring honor and glory to God, and how we live up to the responsibility that comes with all the graces God has given us.

This Christmas season we are once again reminded that God is so much bigger than our own ideas of God, as we celebrate the God who did the unthinkable and become one of us through the life of a tiny baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. May we gather together in our various churches on Christmas Eve as one community of faith, to worship this God who is bigger than any box we can construct. As we worship, may we commit ourselves to use this next year to share the gift of our own understanding of who this God is and the life God calls us to, and open ourselves up to receive the gift of the different understandings of our brothers and sisters in faith. Together, may our vision grow broader and our faith grow deeper, to the glory of God.

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