I read the oddest thing today: a story reporting on how some of those who’ve fled Christian denominations have wound up gathering at a place called Sunday Assembly.
It’s a “God-free” community that meets monthly, reports The Wall Street Journal:
The gatherings of 150 to 250 feature music, secular talks and coffee, and members hold volunteer events to help the homeless and clean up beaches, as well as game nights and Mother’s Day brunches. The group keeps “all the best bits of church,” [says one of its co-directors].
I found the story odd, because it sounds to me like the members have in fact discovered the Body of Christ in their assembly.
Fleeing “church,” the community still seems to find value in breaking bread and becoming ‘one in spirit’ (1Cor 6:17); the participants appear drawn to the notion of performing selfless deeds, ‘no longer living solely for oneself’ (Rom 14:7).
Clearly, “all the best bits of church,” are important to these folks. They’re working to fill a hole in their hearts—a hole that can’t be filled by sitting at home with loved ones and lingering over Sunday brunch.
So why the aversion to “church”?
I suspect at least part of the answer has to do with their encounters with a flawed notion of salvation. Actually, I got that idea from my son—who recently shared with me the thesis he wrote for his licentiate in sacred theology. Much of the thesis addresses topics that are well above my paygrade. But I found its opening lines rather intriguing:
The language of salvation has become understood by many Christians in a North American popular context as simply a ticket to heaven. This contributes to a disconnect between their felt existential situation and what is arguably the primary goal of Christian faith. Why should they worry about a heaven they have never seen? Why would God tie admittance to heaven to belief in a certain religion? What difference does such a thinly conceived salvation make for their lives here and now? In many corners, Christianity has become the answer to a question nobody is asking.
Chris is on to something, I think. We North American Christians do tend to have a thinly-conceived notion of salvation at times. Within our Christian assemblies – that is to say, within ‘the church’ – members tend to regard salvation primarily (or perhaps solely) as a personal endeavor: How do I get past the Pearly Gates? What must I do to avoid eternal damnation?
Certainly, there’s an element of truth to this notion of personal salvation. But the God-spark in us is bigger than that, it seems to me.
It’s as big as all of us, put together.
Remarkably, the God-spark is big enough to animate even so-called ‘God-free communities,’ making Christ’s presence obvious in them—even if their members don’t choose (or know) to call Christ by name.
And isn’t that a wonder?
Salvation comes, almost despite our flawed human efforts to form ‘church.’
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.