I heard this refrain quite a few times while we were down on the Gulf Coast this past week. Everyone believed in God. Everyone. They all pray. They all have some sort of faith. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a heavily Catholic region and there is a pervading sense of spirituality and of faith in God. Yet, so many really do not have a relationship with Christ. They are not sure if they are going to heaven. They hope that God is not wrathful toward them.
As I talked with our team, I told them that we were dealing with people who believed in both faith and works. Our job was to encourage them toward the faith side. We were to pray with them, to talk about Jesus be the only sacrifice for sin, to encourage them to place their full faith and trust in Jesus and to not believe in anything else. At times it was difficult, but at other times, the people were very open.
But, by and large, most saw their faith in God through an individualistic lense. They could pray and follow God on their own, so why did they need the church? Why attend church when God was personal or I could just engage in some type of abstract belief in Him and receive His blessing? All in all, spiritual life was about them, but it rarely reached into their everyday life. Yet, they were so very glad that the Baptists had come. Over and over again I heard from Catholics that if it had not been for the Baptists and the other Christian groups, they do not know what they would have done.
Fortunately for them, all of those Christians who came did not share the same individualistic notions of faith that some of them did. Many want to both believe in God and maintain their own independence. They want to have faith, yet have total freedom. Yet, God set it up where all followers of Christ would gather together in a church, the ecclesia, the called out ones. As we gather together loving God and loving others, we experience His presence and power, both individually and collectively. We also become His hands and feet and we bring His Kingdom into this world – together. Every group that goes down to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast is giving a powerful witness of the necessity and beauty of God’s people, the church, being who they are created to be. If your church has not yet gone down, you are missing a historical moment that will likely not come around again anytime soon. Sow seeds into the lives of the people of the Gulf Coast region.
Yes, people still say that they don’t need the church to follow God. But, they are saying it with much less confidence as they see God’s people live out their faith and not just talk about it. Hearts are being turned and people are asking questions. They are opening up to the Lord. That tends to happen when a Baptist group that you have never met travels from Tennessee and rebuilds your house.