Going to church in college
BY ELIZABETH SCHMUCKER
Even before arriving at Cornell, we as students are inundated with calls to community— peer advisors via email, a Class of 20XX Facebook page, and communal dorm life. These calls only strengthen when at Cornell—official University emails, Denise Cassaro’s “Community Connections,” and the many clubs and social groups on campus—but they aren’t one-sided. We seek community, choosing carefully from our options. Among them is the church, a community necessary for us from birth, through college, and throughout our lives.
We were built for community.
To first argue this point, we can look back to the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world. God describes creation repeatedly as “very good” except for Adam’s solitude, which is “not good.” So, God creates Eve.¹ This first improvement of a “not good” moment highlights one characteristic need of humanity: humans are meant to live with others. This community is first with God but also other people who love God.
Additionally, in the New Testament, most of what we learn about Christian living comes from the epistles, which were letters to groups of Christians in different cities. One perhaps familiar verse used often to guide us in day-to-day living is Philippians 4:6-7.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
In addition to being taken out of context, this verse is often misunderstood because of the translation of its grammar. The English you-singular and you-plural share an identical grammatical structure, but in Greek, this verse is written in the you-plural form. It beckons us, as communities, not to merely hide our problems and deal with them alone with God but to pray together about our issues and rest together in the assurance of Jesus. It reminds us of how we were meant to live with others.
The church is an institution set up by God.
The church is a biblically ordained institution and not mere human creation.² We, therefore, cannot claim to be Christian without claiming to be part of the Christian church.
In the Old Testament, God set the religious law for the Israelites, his chosen people. The structure of the law reminded the Israelites what God had done for them and what he promised he would do for them, and it helped show the sinfulness of humans to point to the need of Christ as the ultimate sacrifice.
In the New Testament, Jesus does not do away with the Old Testament; rather, he fulfills the Old Testament to bring its complete meaning to fruition. He redefines it to center around his sacrifice. Although Jesus shows that because of his perfect sacrifice—his life—we no longer need perpetual sacrifices, he does not do away with the communal gathering of God’s people. Instead, he starts building it during his life by frequenting the temple and forming community with his disciples. Then, after his death and resurrection, he continues to foster his disciples through the Holy Spirit so they can form the early church; the book of Acts records these early Christians’ experiences.
The church is for us, and we are for the church.
God did not create church to burden us. Instead, he provided it as a gift. The weekly hearing and meditating on the Gospel preached—that Christ came to earth, died, and rose again as the perfect sacrifice for our sins—reminds us of what we believe and guides our Christian walk. When interacting with members of the Christian community from different ages and stages of life, we learn and teach to gain expanded understandings of God and his creation.
Gathering with other college students in campus groups and clubs benefits us because our peers can personally understand our troubles. However, because we are part of one subgroup which is, specifically, young and educationally privileged, we also need insight and wisdom from those with experiences outside of college. That is why we need the church.
But the church also needs us. We, as college students, can add to the life of the church body. We can help in practical ways by volunteering for roles like nursery duty, but we can also encourage older folks that there are still faithful believers in secular environments like college. Additionally, we can set examples for young members of the church, showing that college is a time to deepen our faith rather than run away from it.
On a final note, it would be wrong of me to write on the institution of the church and not address how it has also wronged so many. Any glance at the news or in your home church will make that immediately apparent. These problems should not draw us away from church but should be even more reason to come together and partake in constant church reformation. As a church community, we can look forward to the final realization of the church in heaven while coming together before God right where we are, today.
¹ Genesis 2:18-23
² Committee for Christian Education and Publications. The Westminster Confession of Faith. 3rd ed., 1990, pp. 123-26, http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/WCFScriptureProofs.pdf. Accessed 12 Sept. 2018.