In some Christian circles, it is current to talk about practicing “radical faith.” Oftentimes, the underlying narrative of this label has something to do with pursuing justice, living in community, or addressing social ills and issues. As we see in this issue of RLN, fighting poverty and homelessness is essential to our Christian identity. But equally necessary for practicing radical faith in our cultural climate is the act of gathering for worship.
At first glance, the act of gathering together for worship might not seem to be all that radical. Some of us have done it for all of our lives! But people coming together for worship is actually an incredibly subversive act. As we gather together in our places of worship, we are engaging in an act that challenges the outer world, our inner world, and the spiritual world.
First, as we gather together for worship, we are subverting the views of the culture around us that says that the Church is antiquated and obsolete, the oppressive version of the freer ‘spirituality.’ We are challenging the assumption that no rational person in the 21st century would engage in something as quaint and parochial as a worship service in a faith community. Instead, we are saying that faith communities have a foundational place in our society, and the act of gathering together in our diverse communities has something to say to society. Worshipping with others who might not look like us, speak with our accent, or who disagree with us politically, socially, or even theologically, can strengthen our society. By worshipping with those who differ from us, we affirm that diversity does not equal division and that faith in God can unite us despite our differences.
Secondly, as we gather together for worship, we are subverting our own self-centered tendencies that say if something isn’t exactly how we want it, it can be abandoned. Let’s be honest, we don’t always feel like going to church. Sometimes it’s tedious or exasperating and we often believe that we have better ways to spend our time. But every time we get out of our house, get out of ourselves, and get into church, we are challenging our self-centredness. At times, we might not like the style of music, the preaching, or even the people! But we gather together anyway, reminding ourselves that Church is not simply about our likes, our preferences, and our choices. By gathering together we are saying “no” to our egocentric tendencies, and we are allowing our self-interest to take a back seat to the interest of the community of believers.
Thirdly, and perhaps most mysteriously, as we gather together for worship, we are subverting the status quo in the spiritual realm. The act of gathering, this choice to get out of our homes and out of ourselves to worship together sabotages the work of the enemy – the work of dividing, isolating, separating, and creating apathy. When we glorify the name of God together, when we come together to hear God’s Word and to be heard by God, when we sing and celebrate and eat and drink and baptise and anoint in the name of Christ, when we are empowered and sent out by the Holy Spirit, the enemy of God is pushed back. As we are reminded in Scripture, the name of Jesus is powerful (Philippians 2:10) and threatens the enemy (Luke 10:17). Christ came to destroy the work of the enemy (1 John 3:8), and Christ is present when we gather together (Matthew 18:20). By gathering together and worshipping in the name of Jesus, we resist the isolating and divisive nature of the enemy of God.
As Christians, we must find ways to practice radical faith which involve pursing justice, fighting poverty and homelessness, and addressing the needs in our society. That essential work needs to be rooted in the equally essential practice of gathering together for worship. As we gather for worship, we challenge the belief that the Church and Christian community is obsolete, we subvert our own tendencies of self-centredness, and we sabotage the work of the enemy. Sounds pretty radical!
Kara Mandryk is an instructor in Worship and Christian Spirituality at Providence College and an Anglican priest.