This week the following question was posed to me, “How is the Church important to the world?” My first thought was, “It isn’t. The Church isn’t important to the world.” Immediately I started back-peddling to myself. I was shocked by initial, cold reaction. Surely the Church, or rather institutional religion as a whole, is important. If not, then it should be… shouldn’t it? Perhaps not.
In eras gone by, organized religion took on many functions now widely taken over by government. That type of importance is no longer a factor. Now the important functions of organized religion are spiritual growth and guidance on moral issues followers face in the world. That being said, religion in and of itself is not the driving force behind these functions. Religious institutions may help facilitate these functions by reminding us of the history of human – divine relationship, hopefully providing inspiration encouraging the continuation of the tradition. But organized religion is not essential for the faithful to experience spiritual growth or lead their lives in a morally upright fashion. The core is God, the divine. That is the ultimate factor at work in people’s hearts and minds. That is what’s important.
The divine will always take precedence over religion. I believe organized religion can find its importance leading initiatives on issues like socio-economic disparity, gender equality, peaceful international relations, access to affordable quality healthcare, environmental protection, and access to healthy and sustainably grown food. There are plenty of single interest non-profit groups that work on these initiatives, but I believe there is a place for a holistic stance by organized religion to take these issues head-on.
People can develop their own personal spirituality. But putting those beliefs to work and organizing enough man-power to make a difference takes organization, position, and means; all of which the Church has. In this scenario, organized religion finds its highly appropriate niche in service to the divine. I encourage the Church to start doing God’s work rather than working to be on the same plane as God. Let the divine lead people in spiritual endeavors and the Church lead them in godly action. Inward looking eyes need to turn outward, ready to acknowledge their position in the wider world with due thought and effort as to what that position should be. The divine is already at work in people’s hearts, now organized religion need to make a place for people to do God’s work and benefit from it.