I recently visited a Salvation Army church centre in one of the poorest parts of London. It was a midweek day and the building was buzzing with various community activities. I met fantastic people doing great work in their neighbourhood: inclusive, deeply committed and fired by a passionate faith in Jesus.
Earlier, I had noticed these words above the inside of the door. Initially, I assumed they were the kind of request you see in churches or cathedrals asking those coming in to show respect for the building. But later, as I was leaving, I read them again and realised what they actually meant.
Its a provocative reminder of the point of attending church.
The true test of religious activities is not how entertaining, beautiful, moving or even powerful they are. All of these can be good qualities, but they are essentially means to an end. The true test of religion is how much it nurtures authentic faith.
How much does the time spent worshipping God inside the building, lead to us worshipping Him outside the building in our everyday lives? How does 2 hours on a Sunday help us follow Jesus in the other 166 hours in the week?
Romans 12:1-2 says:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
What does offering ‘our bodies as a living sacrifice’ mean? How can faith transform the way we live? These are 6 areas to provoke thinking:
- Privately. Authentic faith should change us in ways that only we know about. Through prayer we seek God’s grace to shape and influence our inner lives, to allow divine love to repair, restore and re-orientate us. Real faith makes a difference when no one is watching.
- Personally. Authentic faith influences our small, daily decisions about how we behave, like our attitude when driving and how we treat our families. But it also influences the big choices that we make about our life: the house we buy, how we use our money, where we send our children to school. Faith is expressed in the personal values we live by.
- Practically. Authentic faith is expressed in actions which make it tangible and visible to others – especially those who are poor and suffering. Beliefs only become faith when they are put into action. This is why the Bible continually emphasises the inseparability of loving God and loving our neighbours. We are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others.
- Professionally. Authentic faith has to be expressed in the realms in which we spend most of our time and our energy: for many of us that is in paid employment. In reality there is no sacred/secular divide: the workplace is a key opportunity for us to express our faith and hope in the living God.
- Publicly. Authentic faith can never be relegated to just a private realm. Faith has things to say about how society is ordered and how communities operate. From the start, Christianity was a public movement, described in the New Testament as the Ekklesia which means ‘public assembly.’ Back then, the Christian faith was never seen as a ‘private matter’ and neither is it today.
- Politically. Authentic faith cares about how the structures and powers in the world can be shaped to create greater fairness, justice and peace. The Bible is hugely political because so much of it is about how God wants people to behave towards each other. Policy, economics and law are tools used to build justice.
Of course, this is all far easier to write (even with clever alliterated sub-headings) than to live out.
And different branches of the Church tend to have different strengths and weaknesses in regard to each of these areas. This is why humility and unity among Christians is critical: rather than argue about which ‘P’ is most important, we can work together to show the difference that faith makes.
But the bottom line is that faith must make a difference to how we live. Jesus said ‘a tree is known by its fruit’ (Luke 6:44). Our worship inside a church building must affect how we worship God in our everyday lives.
As Brennan Manning wrote:
“The greatest cause of atheism is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Look up and look around. See the people and place where you are now. You are in a place of worship.