Gavin R. just posted an article on the "Functions of Religion" on his Otagosh blog. You can read it here: http://otagosh.blogspot.com/2015/07/functions-of-religion.html This post was based on a post by Sabio Lantz entitled "Religion as Moral Signalling" on the Triangulations blog. I found both pieces to be interesting and insightful.
Like many of my readers, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that religion is much more than a set of doctrines and beliefs. In fact, my readers may have picked up on the fact that I do not have a very high opinion of man-made religion or the organizations and denominations that it has given birth to. As a student of history, I see the harm and destructive impulses that many of these groups have perpetrated and unleashed in the world; but I also understand that they have some value to the religiously inclined person. As indicated in the posts cited above, these groups can be a source of fellowship, support, security, reinforcement and comfort.
Moreover, if we appeal to Scripture, it is apparent that the author of Hebrews felt that it was very important for Christians to meet together and interact with each other. We read: "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another; especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25) In fact, the New Testament is full of encouragement for Christians to meet together and spur each other on to love and spiritual growth. As we have noted in previous posts on this blog, the Greek word that has been translated into English as "Church" indicates an assembly of people.
So what should a sincere Christian be looking for in a church? Here are a few questions (based on Scriptural standards) which anyone seeking a church to attend may wish to consider:
1) Is a spirit of love, support and peace evident in the congregation/group?
2) Is the focus of the congregation/group outward? That is, are they focused on helping others?
3) Is the group tolerant of differences? Do they embrace everyone within their midst? Or are there elites and cliques present?
4) Do the individual members appear to be happy and well-balanced personalities?
5) Does the atmosphere feel spiritual? Can you feel the "magic/electricity" when you attend there?
6) How do you feel when you walk out of that church? Uplifted? Rejuvenated?
7) Is doctrine, authority and judgment placed above the other values just mentioned?
It seems to me that anyone who took the time to ask themselves these questions in evaluating whether or not to attend with a specific group would have a better chance of having a good religious experience. Contrary to what the group taught that I was formerly affiliated with, it's not what you know (or think you know) - it's what you do with what you know! Good rule of thumb: Any man/woman/group that interferes with or supersedes our relationship with the Divine is not a healthy or spiritually productive association.