In individualized world, community important to Christianity

I was born a few years after the end of World War II. A lot has changed in our world in the approximately two-thirds of a century since then. Many of those changes have been for the good.

I cannot today imagine what life was like when we had only three TV networks, and they were in black and white and only broadcast during daylight and evening hours. I also would be lost without my cellphone and microwave oven. And many times I would be literally lost without the GPS in my car.

On a broader level, we have conquered polio and made great strides in fighting other diseases once thought to be fatal. We have increased the speed of communication to the point that we know what is happening on the other side of the globe at the very moment it is happening, instead of having to wait days or weeks for the news to reach us.

And then there are computers. Computers and the concomitant Internet are the source of much that is good and much that is bad.

Social networks on the Internet are a wonderful new way for friends across the country to keep in touch, but they are also a horrendous new way for predators to find victims for scams, sexual crimes and worse.

So not all changes have been for the good.

And that brings me to the subject I really want to discuss.

One of the Indianapolis news programs has started a feature called “State of Faith.” The very first episode in the series discussed the fact that many so-called “millenials” (people my grandchildren’s age) are finding it easier and more meaningful to connect with their spiritual side through the Internet than through brick-and-mortar churches or synagogues or mosques.

I am very disturbed by this new trend. Because I have been raised as a Christian and trained as a Christian pastor, I cannot really speak for Judaism or Islam or any other faiths, but I can speak for Christianity. And I can say unequivocally that Christianity is not a private matter between oneself and God.

Christianity is a communal religion. It assumes community; it assumes we are going to associate ourselves with other believers. It assumes we are going to share their joys and their sorrows with them and allow them to share ours with us.

It assumes we are going to care for each other in times of need. It assumes we are going to study the Bible together, pray together and worship God together.

And it assumes we are going to celebrate Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, or our Lord’s Last Supper, whatever you want to call it, together.

I think that was the greatest travesty in the report I watched that evening: individuals sitting alone in front of their individual computers, celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

In my humble opinion, it cannot even be called Communion, which comes from the same root word as “community,” if there is only one person present and participating.

And it certainly cannot be called a sacrament or “holy moment.”

Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). He did not say, “Where one person is sitting in front of a computer ….”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am really glad that young people today are finding their way back to God. For far too long, young people have thought they could live their lives without God. But it is time to take the next step. It is time for them to find their way back to church and not just to the Internet.

If you are a “millennial” and you have read this far, why not try it out next Sunday? Drop in on a worship service; you may need to “shop around” until you find the congregation where you feel at home.

But I guarantee you there is a place for you, a place where you can find that community you are missing.

If you are an elder statesman or stateswoman, like myself, then you (and I) have some work to do.

We have to make our worship services more appealing to young people. It doesn’t mean changing everything. But it does mean including a few more modern praise hymns, perhaps some dramas instead of three-point sermons, and most of all, it means being welcoming and open to them when they show up and making them feel part of our community.

The changes we have experienced since WWII have been both good and bad. Let’s embrace the good; but, as for the bad, let’s ignore it and hang onto what was good in the past. And that includes our good, old-fashioned, brick-and-mortar churches.