Is God Big Enough to Be
in Your Church ….and Mine?
by Lucinda Secrest McDowell
But it was the Same God.
I was attending a worship service in a Christian church culturally and theologically not my own. On first glance, the differences were what bombarded my senses. Incense and icons. Robes of gold and an exquisitely painted dome.
I was reminded of other ‘different’ services I’d experienced in other lands — preaching from a flat-bed truck in Malawi, on the beach in Thailand, gathering in a dark hut in northern Kenya, and sitting in the back pew of a Mediterranean camp church where it was literally “all Greek to me.” Here in the USA I’ve worshiped in gymnasiums, cathedrals, tents, stone chapels and yes, even a Kentucky country church with snake-handlers!
Personally, I would rather embrace my common beliefs with other Christians, rather than focus on our differences. True, there are distinct differences. But we have the same Bible and the same Lord and Saviour.
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2.5)
That said, I do acknowledge that ‘different’ can often be uncomfortable. It is human nature to seek the solace of the familiar. And far too often our insecurities prompt criticism — “Why do they sing choruses instead of hymns?” or “Why do they sing hymns instead of choruses?” or “Why do they chant instead of singing hymns and choruses?”
Do you think God is actually Big Enough to receive our praise and worship in a whole world full of creative ways? Do you think perhaps that our prayers reach God’s ears whether they are totally spontaneous or whether we pray from the heart the words of an ancient prayer? I do both. And, I assure you, God hears.
Because God knows the heart of the worshiper. He knows whether or not we are focused on Him, committed to Him, believing the words we sing and recite. Somehow I don’t think God cares as much about the form as we do. He cares that we trust and believe and hope and worship.
“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” (Romans 15.5-7 NLT)
And whether God’s people gather in an urban storefront or an underground cellar or yes, even an ornate sanctuary, He is among us.
Recently someone I love decided to continue his faith journey in the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox church instead of the Protestant church in which he’d spent his life thus far. While his calling is different from my own, I can appreciate the fact that expressions of faith and worship are a personal choice.
Frankly, I’m not crazy about religious labels. This Sunday’s New York Times article about Pope Francis’ popularity mentioned two different “evangelical Christians” as examples of two extremes. Interestingly, both of those men mentioned are my personal friends. Though I identify more with one of them, I can appreciate the ministry and heart of the other.
I am a Christ follower. That’s all that really matters. My home of worship is currently (and has been for 24 years) the oldest church in the state of Connecticut. Gathered in 1635, our sanctuary is called The Meetinghouse and we worship in a Puritan white simple edifice with doored pews and a high pulpit and absolutely no decoration whatsoever! In fact, it remains the same as when George Washington and Jonathan Edwards worshiped here hundreds of years ago.
Yet here I find God. As do hundreds who attend our four Sunday services. Do you find God where you worship? Isn’t that what truly matters?
After all, it’s not about me. It’s about Him.
This weekend I will speak out of state and gather with God’s people probably in a venue unlike my home church. But I will rejoice and praise and pray and listen to the Word. And I will thank God that He is Big Enough to be everywhere.