This is a very important question. How each one of us answers this question may determine the future of our community and may even affect our own salvation. Yes, this is a very far reaching question.
Our faith comes from God through our baptism. In Ephesians 4:7, we read “each of us has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it”. This is what he said he would.
Our baptism gives us membership into our church. It makes us righteous before God. It makes us Ukrainian Catholics and gives us a new beginning. So what does it mean to be part of a church?
To fully understand what is going on today with our beliefs and church life, we must go back a couple of hundred years ago in Europe. At that time the very first protestant churches were formed albeit for seeming good reasons. People wanted to refocus on Christ and a personal commitment to Christian life. They emphasized that what they said was most important, was our own “private” connection to God. Even though it sounded so very good, this leads to an eventual loss of faith and to splits and conflicts.
The protestant reformers basically said: What matters most is that you are sincere, that you live a good, moral life. They also said that what doctrine you follow or to which church you belong didn’t really matter. They organized private Bible classes which turned out to be fundamentalist in nature, they also got rid of the old model of church leadership by encouraging that each congregation rule itself. They encouraged preaching which was very personal and spoke to the heart of each one present.
By doing all that, they de-emphasized the sense of mutual responsibility of believers to one another. The concept that a parish was part of a bigger church. For them not only was salvation a “private” matter, but also made faith and religion pretty much a “private” matter as well.
This movement “Church teaching doesn’t matter, religion does not matter, church membership does not matter, what matters is that you and God are on good terms, spread to North America, Australia, and over the world. This you can say is probably a very common understanding of what it means to be a Christian today.
This is not what God had in mind when he came into the world and instituted the church. The first thing that St. Paul and the apostles did after the ascension of Christ is that they travelled around the world and established communities or parishes. Christianity is not about an individual private path to salvation. It’s about Christians functioning together and therefore working towards salvation of its members.
Even before Jesus started his public ministry, John the Baptist, in announcing Jesus, told the faithful, to share clothes, food, collect only fair wages etc. Jesus’s public ministry had a great emphasis on the poor, the sick and less fortunate.
The gifts (graces) we receive from God are not for private spiritual needs but for the common good of leading people to holiness and building the “body of Christ”.
A true Christian does not come to church to “get” something out of the church but rather the church is a place where a person uses the gifts given him to work together to nurture the lives and souls of the faithful.
Today an average parishioner does not believe that he is supposed to be an educator, helper, or healer that our salvation depends on all of us being “a church” in all that the word means.
Put it this way, we are not just a member of a church, we are a staff member. We all without exception must build up the “Body of Christ”. Our faith is “personal” but it is not “private”.
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