God Fan Clubs

From Ch. 20 of In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason

God is not just a far-off, impersonal creator of the universe. He can be known, and He wants to know us. This is the good news, the "gospel," the world is waiting for. God continually reaches out into the lives of non-believers, often in little ways, yet those who have started to see the inadequacy of living in a worldly way, and are open to a new approach, will often be receptive to Him. A brush with God will be a life-changing experience for them, and they will be drawn to seek Him. Their search will often begin at a church. Although new seekers usually just come and quietly assess a church, what they are hoping is that there will be people there who know God, and will be able to introduce them to Him. If a church can't actually introduce these seekers to God, or show them how to find Him, they will leave the church and search elsewhere. It is not enough for a church to just teach about God, and for its members to admire and worship Him from a distance. Such a church is merely a God fan club, and will not satisfy a person who really wants to know God. The inability of churches to actually introduce people to God is the main reason so many spiritual seekers leave the church and look elsewhere for a spiritual path. There is a true story of a teen-age girl who went along to a church and thought it was obvious from the way the congregation were singing and chanting that they were on very friendly terms with God. When she said she wanted to know God, they told her that you have to be baptized to be pure in heart, and that until you are pure in heart you cannot see God. She received her baptism, but still wasn't able see God, even after giving the baptism "time to take." This profoundly disappointed her, and she left the church, disillusioned, deciding the only reality she could believe in was a rational, logical one.[1]

Some seekers who leave the church end up in New Age organizations, others find their way to one of the other main religions of the world, but still others become disillusioned with the search altogether, and fall back on the relative peace they can find in being caring and compassionate friends to those around them, responsible citizens of the world they live in, and in seeking the truth through intellect and learning. Eventually this will lead them to the truth, and on to a real path to God, so they are not lost. Nevertheless, the Christian church has let them down, and the path they eventually find is unlikely to be conventional Christianity - evangelical, mainline Protestant or Catholic. This is particularly lamentable, considering Christianity is the religious tradition of their society, and should, if it were functioning properly, be the best spiritual path for them. As the Hindu saint Sri Ramakrishna said,

God has made different religions to suit different aspirants, times,
and countries. All doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is
by no means God Himself. Indeed, one can reach God if one
follows any of the paths with whole hearted devotion… Every
man should follow his own religion. A Christian should follow
Christianity, a Mohammedan should follow Mohammedanism
and so on. For the Hindus the ancient path, the path of the
Aryan sages, is best.[2]

Joseph Campbell quoted Carl Jung's view that "religion is a defence against religious experience," and that the "concepts and ideas" of a religion "short-circuit transcendent experience - the experience of deep mystery…"[3] And this is what usually happens. What a change it would be if a person seeking God could walk into a church and hear the leader of the service say that their church believed the whole point of religion is to help people achieve actual personal communion with God, and that to this end they were going to teach all those present a simple way to meditate on God, so they could spend half an hour together in silent meditation, seeking the "kingdom of God" within themselves. A true seeker after God would be likely to stay with that church! Most churches will be like that one day; most will have the peace of God around them that the Quaker meeting-house in Easton, New York, had, one summer morning in 1775, when an Indian chief wanted to attack it:

"Indian come white man house," he said, pointing to the village,
"Indian want kill white man, one, two, three, six, all!" He reached
for the tomahawk in his belt with a fierce gesture: "Indian come,
see white man sit in house. No gun, no arrow, no knife. All quiet,
all still, worshipping Great Spirit. Great Spirit inside Indian, too."
He touched his breast. "Then Great Spirit say: 'Indian! no kill them.'"

It is one thing for churches to say people should spend time each day silently waiting on God, as a few do, but until they actually practice this in their services, people will not take the call to wait on God seriously. Nor will they even know how to do it. By silently meditating on God together, as Quakers and some other groups already do, people learn something about how to meditate which cannot be conveyed through words, and is much harder to learn alone. As Jesus said,

"…where two or three are gathered together in my name, there
am I in the midst of them."   (Matt 18:20 AV)
. . .

From: In Search of the Loving God by Mark Mason - Copyright © 1997.

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