BRAD PETERS/A Matter of Faith
I recently attended our denominational annual meeting, and between the business meeting aspect of the conference and the many wonderful, challenging workshops, I took a few opportunities to just stop and look around at those in attendance.
If one were to judge the health and strength of the church solely by all the recent media reports, you could not get any other impression but the church is on life support. In fact, for the most part, any time you read any church or faith news it usually falls in the “organized religion is on its last legs” category.
However, as I stood at the back of the very large conference hall at a Toronto airport-area hotel, I witnessed a few thousand believers passionate and vibrant about their faith.
Of course, that’s exactly what you would expect, and hope, to observe at that type of event, but what really struck me was the diversity of the group. While the overwhelming majority of presenters, delegates and attendees were Baptists from across Ontario and Quebec, it’s fair to say that it appeared that the gathered had more differences that similarities. Every age demographic was present, from infant to senior. Neither men nor women dominated in attendance, both genders seemed to be equally represented. Caucasians were just one colour in the rainbow of the faithful who gathered. There was even wide diversity in our “Baptist-ness.”
One of the strengths of our denominational affiliation is the fact that each individual church reflects its own personality in living out the gospel.
As I returned to our church, I carried that image of diversity with me and before Sunday service, I looked out at our church family. Admittedly, that same level of diversity does not exist within our group, but I suspect that for the majority of individual churches, they are more homogeneous in nature, as well.
But as I looked at our church family, I was equally moved not by the diversity, but by the connection that our similarities had forged.
As I stood there, the words of an REM song came to mind: “Everybody here comes from somewhere that they would just as soon forget and disguise.” Now, I don’t usually go to Michael Stipe for theological reflection, but the words of that song perfectly encapsulated both my conference and home-church realizations. The strength and the beauty of the church is reflected both in its diversity and its similarities.
Has the organized church had problems? Certainly. Does it face challenges still? Absolutely. But the fact is that the church is God’s plan for drawing His people together, for the relationship between the divine and humanity to be nurtured and grown
When Christians are honest with themselves, they realize that wherever they are in life, it’s a far cry from that place before they knew Christ, often living lives that we would “just as soon forget and disguise.” And that process, that being drawn closer to the likeness of God, is the true strength of the church. It’s a transformation that, despite the media reports, will ensure that the church will be around until Jesus returns for her.
Our weaknesses confirm the church’s strength. The apostle Paul records Jesus’ words speaking to this in his second letter to the Corinthians. Jesus said: “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
So, if you’ve ever felt that you have too much baggage to ever feel comfortable in church, or that you’d have nothing in common with regular church attenders, know that a genuinely Christian church is a place where you are most welcome. You are more like the majority of members than you know.
Brad Peters is the pastor of First Baptist Church Niagara Falls (3900 Dorchester Rd.) and serves as chaplain to the Niagara Falls Fire Department. You can contact him at 905-354-7836 or firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>. Pastor Brad Peters First Baptist Church Niagara Falls 3900 Dorchester Road, Niagara Falls, Ont. L2J 4J1 905-354-7836 firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>