Dennis in his comment here provokes some deeper reflection in me.
One of the thoughts that has been lurking in my mind for some time concerns the difference between that real presence that is random, varied and unpredictable and the multitude of practices and cultural obligations that come with membership in a church.
It is just a question I have. But it is a question that I think is important.
In other words, can there be a genuine experience of the love and grace of Jesus Christ apart from the church. I'm not talking about some emotional ecstatic experience virtual out-of-body experience, but rather something that is more humble and grounded.
Recently, I heard a speaker talk about the importance of being present with people. My daughter has been after me ever since to be more present at home. I tell her it is a two way street. The deeper issue is when what we mean by present is that certain quality where many of the anxieties of the day slip away and we are able to just be present with whomever is there.
This began to happen for me a few years ago while I was serving as an interim pastor of a small church. As the weeks progressed into months, I found it more difficult to write a sermon each week. At some point, the sermon began to write itself between 5 and 6 am on Sunday morning. The content was there as usual, but something was different. I can only attribute it to a growing sense of Christ's presence, not in some freaky, emotional way, but quite the opposite. I was less anxious, less needing to manufacturing my authority and self-confidence. Most of all I became more free to allow situations to evolve without my need to control it. With this came a growing sense of humility and groundedness that I can only explain as a gift that came without my asking.
Oddly, enough as my compulsion to control circumstances diminished, my meaningful activity level increased. Now to get back to my original question, is this experience of Christ connected in any significant way to the church? Or, is this experience a by-product of the church's existence?
My sense is that they function in two different universes, and often meet in the same physical location, but not always. God's spirit goes and does what he will. The church on the other hand is not the same, except in some spiritual, universal, invisible body sense. But for most of us the church is a place where our experience of the presence of Christ can be nurtured.
In the church, it is quite easy to fall into the trap of doing as the way to be a Christian. When we do so, we are confusing doing the correct spiritual things with living into the presence that is made available to us in Christ. I guess, what is important to understand about this from my perspective is that I can take no credit at all for what has transpired. I didn't seek it, but I welcomed it when it came. I am grateful to the God who pursues us with his grace and love.