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Eternal Communion

Adam Loretto

I have always enjoyed being active, but it wasn’t until 2018, when I started working out with a group of men through my local chapter of what’s known as F3, that I ever thought I was consistently in good shape. Prior to that, I would start a routine and then lapse when life got busy. Once, it was swimming; another time was the weight room. But when I got involved with local men who are all committed to improving our fitness—one day a week, then two, then three—I felt challenged to stick with it by their examples and friendship. We see the pursuit of physical fitness as helping us exercise fitness in our family and professional lives as well.

We Were Made for Community

Now, some people can pick from the thousands of available workouts on YouTube faithfully and consistently and are in excellent shape. Some can run every day without a partner just because they are determined to. But to make the implied spiritual metaphor explicit: I don’t think that’s how we are supposed to do the Christian life.

Yes, someone can consistently tune in to a livestreamed church service every Sunday and be fed. My family did for a year during COVID, longer than I care to admit—but it wasn’t my healthiest season.

And yes, just as I’ve seen someone catch an elbow to the face in a pick-up basketball game, there is risk of much worse injury that people can suffer from others in their churches. I do not feel qualified to comment on when the necessary healing from such injury should be pursued within the community or when separation is necessary. But I pray that those who have suffered hurt do not separate themselves from a church family permanently.

So, yes, I think people should be in church. But the risk of that statement is sounding like one more person saying, “You should exercise 30 minutes a day and eat salad because they’re good for you. And go to church; it’s good for you.” And, yes, I am also thinking about how to encourage people to get involved in their church, put down roots, become members, serve the church even on days that aren’t Sundays because…it’s good for them?

Church as Preparation

Here's where I need to examine my heart and the messages I’m communicating. Church isn’t good for us as an end in itself. It is only a preparation. Church prepares me and everyone else around me for eternal community with God.

In C.S. Lewis’s allegory The Great Divorce, the reader first encounters a vision of Hell as quiet, tidy subdivisions that are consistently expanding further and further from a city center. New houses are built all the time—and not for new arrivals. Those who are already there want to move further out and get more room so that they don’t have to be bothered with their annoying neighbors. And once a few people in Hell catch the bus to Heaven, most don’t even get off the bus because the reality of that place is too much for them. Those willing to put a foot out onto the grass feel like their feet are being stabbed. They weren’t prepared to experience the presence of God. The one that stays does so because he begins to converse with other souls already on their journey into the land.

Dante’s Divine Comedy presents the situation similarly. No one in Hell speaks a word of friendship to another soul. Many suffer in complete isolation. Souls in Paradise sing, converse, and celebrate together. The experience of God’s presence is communal.

For all the stereotypes of Evangelicals only caring about getting souls to heaven, the practices of the average American Christian prove them to be false. I’m not saying that presence in church is necessary for salvation, but we are too comfortable making faith about what I do with God. We aren’t preparing for eternal communion with God as members of the bride of Christ—and there is no more intimate relationship than that. 

So let me not ask, “Are you going to church?” Instead let me ask, “Are you in community with people preparing to spend eternity with God?”

Born and raised in Topeka, KS, Adam moved east for college and never left. Adam is an associate professor of English and writing at Grove City College. His role as research director and program evaluator for the Project on Rural Ministry stems from his background in social science-based education research. In this role, he tracks the development of programming and learning that occur through the PRM’s initiatives. Adam has published several articles in education journals that focus on the use of language in educational settings.