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Most Americans no longer identify with a religion. Most still believe in God. Many acknowledge the power of prayer. It’s popular, even acceptable to be “spiritual”. But more and more people check “none” when asked about religion.

Easter Sunday people of wavering religious commitment will make an appearance in church. I’m always heartened to see them.

~ Adapted from a piece by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York ~

Most who are distant from church hold a personal faith. Following Christ does require a personal commitment, but it cannot be private. Christianity is communal. A congregation is a spiritual family, members voluntarily obligate themselves to connect and remain.

That isn’t an opinion. In the Scriptures it’s clear God is about gathering a people—forming a community, not just collecting individuals. Biblical faith must be internalized and personal. Yet it is always expressed, strengthened and lived out with others.

The resurrected Jesus launched the
ekklesia a Greek term meaning gathering, assembly, community. Translators of the King James Bible chose to translate ekklesia as church, a German name for sacred space. Names aside, Jesus called and gathered a people, not by race but by His blood.

People today want to believe but not belong; they want faith but not religion; they prefer spirituality to community. They want God as their Father but to be an only child. They want a God for themselves, Christ without His church.

Sorry, but that’s not how God works.

The 20th-century historian Winthrop Hudson conjectured that the American Revolution really began in the 1740s, during the Great Awakening. Thousands who were attracted by belief and prayer, looked around and found they were no longer alone—they were part of something ancient and beautiful. The fall of Soviet oppression began when two-thirds of Poland’s people came together in June 1979 to welcome home Pope John Paul II and proclaim their faith in God.

Our Constitution’s framers, living in the afterglow of the Great Awakening, respected religion. The First Amendment guarantees both the right to exercise one’s religion freely and the right of the people freely to assemble together. To practice religion means little if its practitioners are secluded. Remaining true to religious convictions is always a challenge. To do it alone is nearly impossible. To join with others is a boost.

Easter visitors may not comprehend it, but they visit church out of a sense to commemorate the day on which the Son of God broke the power of death.

Gathering with spiritual family—people with whom one shares a mysterious and wonderful connection—is liberating and fulfilling. There are very few social gatherings in which ordinary people can enter and not feel critical eyes assessing their status and guessing their motives. There are even fewer in which every participant sings, recites creeds and listens to ancient wisdom in a spirit of humility and charity.

In authentic Christian gatherings judgment and criticism is suppressed, participation and charity encouraged, time is set aside for reflection and prayer. That’s why it’s called worship. When Christians worship in spirit and truth—humbly and honestly, their gatherings become attractive and refreshing, and can be life-changing.

He is risen!
Dan Nygaard