Congregation: a place where you can be yourself

What makes a congregation a congregation? The fact of singing hymns together, that our names are in the church register, or because we live in the vicinity of the church? There is much more to it.

This is reason enough to warrant a closer look at this subject in our sermons in the month of September. The divine services should encourage us to reflect on the true essence of our fellowship. Despite all the differences of the members, they are united by the fellowship of Holy Communion with Jesus Christ and the love and mercy of God. The collective praise of God also unites the congregation. When a congregation knows that Jesus Christ is the head of His church, this has a convincing outreach effect.

Space to believe and doubt

“Space to believe, space to doubt, space to hope—my congregation!” This is the title given to the 2018 youth seminars organised by the New Apostolic Church Western Germany. In the explanatory notes it says that each congregation offers space for unconditional acceptance. The members do not have to function, nor do they have to adapt to a certain congregational standard.

Is that at all possible? Can people interact in such a way that everyone can be her- or himself?

One heart and one soul—if that’s not easy …

Acts 2: 46-47 gives an emotional, interpersonal answer to the question as to what distinguishes a congregation. In a sense, it describes the core of what holds a congregation together. “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” The first Christian congregation obviously exerted a great power of attraction in its surroundings. However difficult unity may be—that is, sticking together despite different opinions—it leaves behind a comforting sense of security. Not conformity, not uniformity, not being dictated what we are allowed to think or do is to determine our church life, but recognition, acceptance, harmony, accord, and solidarity … Who does not with for that?

Is this also true in difficult times?

To delve even deeper into this subject: does our love for our sisters and brothers also show itself in difficult times, when hardship and poverty strike? There is eloquent testimony of this regarding the first Christian congregation: the brothers and sisters helped each other. The congregations were generous and there for each other. The second letter to the Corinthians, certainly one of Paul’s most personal epistles, tells us that the congregation in Macedonia, although itself materially poor, made a collection for the church in Jerusalem and gave generously. This is what means to care and actively provide assistance. For them it was clear: just as God cares for us human beings, we want to support our neighbour in brotherly fellowship.

This applies to everything and everyone! We can give money, enthusiasm, time, and we can share our experiences. Solidarity and mutual strengthening of faith are parameters which everyone can adjust at will. No one is forced to degrade or exclude his neighbour because she or he is experiencing difficulties. The first Christians, although they themselves were being persecuted, stood by each other and experienced divine protection. The more they were persecuted, the more the gospel spread throughout the world. This can still be the case today! Where there is generosity people feel at home. Generosity expands one’s views and thinking, enlarges the horizon, and defeats pettiness.

Remaining generous

The story of man’s redemption through Jesus Christ does not end with His death and resurrection. We Christians today continue to write it. In our congregation, with our pen!

Photo: olly -

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Peter Johanning
Divine service, Congregational life