Believing and Belonging
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIVUK)
In this era of individualism, some atheists have come to understand what some Christians have forgotten or consider to be insignificant; the importance of community. According to New Scientist  the Sunday Assembly is a “godless congregation” held weekly in Conway Hall London, where up to 600 people meet for an hour and a half, sing, listen to readings and enjoy moments of quiet contemplation. It aims to supply some of the uplifting features of a religious service without any of the supernatural stuff. There are now 28 active assemblies in the UK, Ireland, US and Australia, but the Assembly’s wider goal is a “godless congregation” in every town, city and village that wants one.
In the Daily Telegraph newspaper Julia Llewellyn Smith (an atheist) in a review entitled “What God does to Your Brain” makes the following points; “Numerous studies have shown that religious belief is medically and psychologically (not to mention socially) beneficial. Reports have shown that church-goers live an average seven years longer than heathens. They report lower blood pressure, recover quicker from breast cancer, have better outcomes from coronary disease and rheumatoid arthritis, have greater success with IVF and are less likely to have children with meningitis.
Patients with a strong “intrinsic faith” (a deep personal belief, not just a social inclination to go to a place of worship) recover 70% faster from depression than those who are not deeply religious. The article goes on to state that religions give their followers the benefits of a supportive social network. Research has shown lack of social contact can be more harmful to health than obesity, alcoholism and smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Christians are called by God not only to have a deep personal belief, but also to belong. Although connected to a Saviour not a system, Christians belong in a group which is the body of Christ, the Church. The New Testament places considerable emphasis on Christian worship and fellowship. The church is not a secular society where individuals are united by their natural affinities. It is a fellowship of grace where people from widely different backgrounds and experiences are able to complement and help each other precisely because of their differences (hence Paul’s metaphor of being different members of the body of Christ), and unity comes through submission to the Holy Spirit.
Fellowship is intended to encourage and build up believers, and also act as a bulwark against secular values. This is made clear in scriptures such as, “…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13) “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1Thessalonians 5:11) “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19)
Although in the modern digital age contact can be maintained through a variety of means, meeting together in church fellowship is intended to include being encouraged through an in-depth exposition of the scriptures. After Paul had given an explanation of the hope of resurrection he ended with the words, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1Thessalonians 4:18)
Father, we thank you that you have, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, built your church whose extent is fully known only to you. Help us to express the faith, hope and love that is characteristic of your people.
Study by Eddie Marsh
Grace Communion, Sheffield
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