Word Magazine October 1967 Page 9/12
By Rev. Father Michael Baroudy
Pastor Emeritus, St. George’s Church, Vicksburg, Mississippi
One of the great affirmations relative to the holy institution of the church is given by St. Paul to his spiritual son, Timothy, who said, that the church is the ground and the pillar of the truth.
When we speak of the church, we don’t merely mean the building, but rather the members who are in agreement and unity of a faith, a belief which they profess, a fellowship which lends every effort toward propagating a way of life which assures them of happiness, security and of heaven as the ultimate goal.
From the earliest of times, we find people in dead earnest about worship, desiring to express allegiance to a Force present in the world worthy of love and reverence. Consequently, they set out to propagate and to publish their belief and to build places of worship where they could assemble and give expression to prayer and praise as tokens of their love to God.
The idea of worship is as old as man himself. Two thousand three hundred forty-nine years before Christ, Noah, after getting out of the Ark, felt the urge to build an altar where upon he offered sacrifices unto God. Later, worship became more organized. Moses made a Tabernacle, a portable tent which the people carried on their journeys through the wilderness and which symbolized God’s presence with them. One thousand fourteen years before Christ, Solomon built the temple at Jerusalem which was destroyed time and again and then rebuilt. This temple at Jerusalem had always been considered a matter of vital importance to the people because it was the symbol of God’s presence with them, as it also was a unifying element to God’s people. This continued until the day of Christ when they had a temple which took forty-six years to build. There are some questions relative to the church to which we want to give proper answers. The first is, how important is the church to the life of the community.
The importance of the church to the life of the community cannot be measured in dollars and cents, because the church is an institution that concerns itself with life’s higher values, deals in matters that are sacred. The primary purpose in building an edifice we call “church” is to express our heartfelt devotion, loyalty and love to a God of love, who made the world and everything in it for the good and the benefit of man. It is important because it represents the highest, holiest and best in life. It is important because it points out to us the proper direction, molds our thoughts in such a manner that we become God-conscious, loving what He loves, hating what He hates, whose primal purpose is to make the will of God the will of men.
We would be in a better position to know the importance of the church to the life of the community if each of us asks himself, “How much does it mean to me? Do we feel a sense of loss if we happen to miss coming to the services? Does it influence me to do good and to shun evil? Do we realize that the church’s first business is to be the light of the world, and the salt of the earth, an institution that treasures the truth of God, a ship whose pilot is the Lord Jesus Christ and whose banner is love?” If we can only give affirmative answers, a ringing yes to these questions, then do we actually understand and appreciate the church’s value to our lives and that of the community.
Second, what are some of the ways by which we can become a strong church? One of the first, and I should say the most indispensable, principles for having a strong church is unity, loyalty and devotion. We have Christ’s word for it that nothing divided against itself shall stand. Only as the members of a church are united, as they work together harmoniously and move toward a definite objective can they hope to accomplish anything. Members of the church, who are members of one great body, having for their Head and Leader the Lord Jesus, cannot afford the luxury of being divided, at loggerhead with one another. Differences of opinion can always be resolved by the knowledge that his followers are the banner-bearers of Christ whose banner is love, loyalty, devotion and self-denial. Only whenever and wherever his followers can, for His sake, forget themselves in His service, can they hope that nothing can prevail against His church.
Religion can never become a power in any person’s life as long as it is one of his secondary interests. Our interests in the church become vital and inspiring when we associate them with Christ’s Kingdom, when we heartily realize that we are promoting God’s Kingdom in the world. We are the successors of the Apostles, and of the Fathers of the Church whose lives were a beacon light diffusing and affirming that God in Christ is the supreme reality, the ultimate goal of all creatures.
All of us have obligations, loyalties that we should live up to. We have homes to look after and support, businesses and jobs that have claims on our times and efforts. These should never conflict, that is, must never be allowed to conflict with our higher loyalties. The great fault of very many people is in allowing the pendulum of self-interest to swing away from the higher loyalties, so that they become confused. They lack the faith and the unshaken conviction that God is the background, the pattern, the original designer, the center of life. Having that kind of belief makes every other matter conform to it and living becomes assured and contented.
Third, what in your opinion, are some of the reasons for people’s indifference toward the church? There are several reasons which cause people to be cool and indifferent toward God and religion. The main reason is selfishness. Some of us have been brought up in an atmosphere which is anything but religious. We have had no religious training of any sort. We are unaware of the basic principles of Christianity. We have not had the divine compulsion that God should be first in everything, or at least accorded a place of honor in our thinking. Our indifference to God and His church stems from unbelief, from a lack of conversion, of changing our selfish, godless ways of thinking and living. We are not bad people but we are stubborn people, set in our ways, not willing to change even when we are shown that our lives depend upon it. We are the slaves of habits which are corrupting our lives and the loss of respect of our offsprings.
Christ’s initial message when he began his ministry was, “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Many are saying nowadays, “Who can show us any good?” The answer was given centuries ago. People’s unwillingness to conform to the will of Christ is the basic trouble. “Repent,” said Jesus. Throw away the yolk of bondage, of slavery. Change your attitude toward life. Train your thoughts on life’s higher values, set your heart on what actually counts, on things of enduring value. Share your life with God’s spirit, and you will become a partner with God who will reveal His secrets to you from time to time, and you will become an ambassador of good will to others.