In this new millennium, seven in ten Americans say that they can be religious without going to services in a community of faith. What's wrong with that picture? Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "run off by yourself and become a Christian." Christianity is a faith designed in terms of community - groups of people seeking to live out God's call for them together. A certain amount of private prayer time is essential for a healthy faith life, but private spirituality is not a cornerstone of Christianity. Christianity is a faith expression lived in community.
The nature of the Christian church is connectedness, community and interrelatedness. We have all been warmed by fires we didn't build and enjoyed the fruit of trees we didn't plant.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" explains how he was driven by his faith to go where injustice was, and to be in community with those who were suffering. He insisted that ultimately all communities are related: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
I was glad this week that nine Christian denominations decided after 40 years of "consulting" that it was time to start living their unity more fully. On Jan. 20, they agreed to inaugurate a new relationship to be known as "Churches Uniting in Christ." They agreed that this new relationship would transcend the divisions imbedded in worship, doctrine, polity, language, race and communion.
The nine denominations (Christian Methodist Episcopal, Episcopal, International Council of Community Churches, Presbyterian USA, Christian Church - Disciples of Christ, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church) include two African American denominations. In addition to "Growing Together, Worshipping Together, Pursuing Wholeness Together and Being Church Together," one of the goals is "Combating Racism Together."
Christians know that we belong together and every time churches agree to live in relationship with one another, it is a reason to celebrate. I'm grateful for the way these churches have modeled for us what it means to be the Body of Christ, and what it means to fight injustice, racism and other forms of inhumanity together. My hope is, we will become more as a community of faith than we could ever hope to be alone.
Greg Lindsay is pastor at Northern Light United Church