Is God Truly Optional?

I recently viewed the website of a church in California. Their website list a time for worship and the fact that they have a choir, a handbell choir, and even a Sunday School. There was even a notification on the website of a congregational meeting to ordain someone to ministry. You would not be surprised that a church had those kinds of things. For many of you who grew up in church, it sounds kind of normal. But hang on just a moment…

The website was for the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco which calls itself a church. They certainly do a lot of churchy things, but the one ingredient that most of us would think of as indispensible for a group of people to be a church is missing; that missing ingredient is God.

A previous Senior Minister at the church had recorded a video welcome to help people understand what the FUUSF was all about. Since he is, evidently, not at that location any longer, the video is no longer on the site, but here it is:

Let me highlight one portion:

“I’d like to welcome you to the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.  And yes, we’re a church.  We’re a church where God is optional, but you are not.  We really emphasize the relational aspect of community.  We like to be together.  We like to have fun together.  We like to make meaning for our lives.  We truly believe that we are the meaning-makers, not a sacred text, not an outside source, but our community gathered together in worship and celebration on Sunday mornings at 11:00 on the corner of…”

Wow! Where does one begin? Let me begin with kindness. I believe the gentleman, Greg Stewart, is a well-meaning man. He is probably very nice, and I’m sure he’d be a delightful dinner companion. Having said that, I surely cannot endorse his theology!

A church where God is optional? Really? Is that even in the realm of possibility? The church is not a building. The Greek word for church in the New Testament literally means “the ones called out.” It is God who calls people out and God who sets the agenda. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” The church doesn’t belong to people; it belongs to God! We cannot separate God from His people. You cannot have a real church in which God is optional.

A second phrase that jumps out at me is “we are the meaning-makers, not a sacred text, not an outside source…” A Christian church (and I cannot fathom even having to add a qualifier to the term “church”) declares that our meaning is found in God. His revelation, the Bible, is the bedrock of our truth. It is through God’s Word that we discover that our sense of worth flows from the fact that we are unique creation of God made in His image. Life has meaning because we have a God who loves us and wants us to be in right relationship to Him. If we attempt to create our own meaning and purpose in life, we wind up with chaos…and some of you know that firsthand.

I do find it interesting that each week the FUUSF gathers for worship. Since worship is declaring the glory of our Creator, I wonder what it is exactly that this group of folks worships! What is the object of that worship? For the Christian that answer is simple – the object of our worship is the one true God who is eternal, loving, merciful, just, and the only one worthy of worship.

I’m sure that members of Unitarian Universalist Church will argue that I have misunderstood their positions and practices. Perhaps I have, but what seems apparent to me is that humankind has an inescapable need for worship and a craving to connect with something or someone that transcends the everyday. Blaise Pascal wrote, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has put eternity in our hearts. The craving is there, and if we will not acknowledge the Creator we will find something to fill that void.

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