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April 2 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

Easter Sunday the church was full in both services.  Everything was splendid.  The choir was eloquent.  The Pastor preached well.  The story of Mary Magdalene discovering a new relationship with the risen Messiah was energizing.  However, forty years of serving as a congregational Pastor gives the elevating experience a subliminal downside.  We know that there is no good reason why this congregation could not be on board every Sunday of the year.  We celebrate the resurrection every first day of the week.

Surveyors have discovered in the past decade that asking people what they believe does not give a true reading of the Christian or any other religious population.  Surveys indicate that about 80 percent of the United States population identify themselves as Christian.  However, only about 26 percent of the population attends worship on a regular basis, several times each month.  This figure has fallen in the last forty years from 37 percent.

This is one of the reasons, if not the primary one, that there is so much confusion about the term “evangelical.”  People claim to have conservative religious beliefs, but are not really in fellowship with a church family.  This has a marked effect on their thought patterns and their conduct.  This is not the place to give a definitive definition of “evangelical,” but at least these are people who believe the Bible is the final and authoritative rule for faith and practice.  They read it and they study it.  This involves faithful attendance to worship and study times with the community of believers.

Wilcox and Wolfinger of the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies have recently done a study of attitudes toward matrimony.  They discovered that religious faith makes a difference in the stability of a marriage.  However, it is not what people say they believe that makes the difference.  It is their regular attendance at a church.  The report states that “Adherence to conservative religious beliefs without attending church regularly is associated with worse family outcomes, whereas combining adherence with regular attendance is associated with better family outcomes.  This may explain why single parenthood is high in Arkansas, with its many nominal Baptists, and low in Utah, with its many active Mormons.”

Worship is not a means to an end.  It is an end in itself, and reflects one’s relationship with God.  However, regular worship clearly affects the quality of life, individually and socially.

The resurrection of Jesus was clearly the reason the Church was born.  There is no historical or psychological or sociological reason for the Church without the resurrection.  The followers of Jesus were emotionally destroyed by the crucifixion.  The resurrection was a complete surprise and a dynamic rebirth of hope.

Sometimes I get preachy in this column.  For those who just want information, I apologize.  Might I suggest that you not put away those new Easter duds.  Leave them out and put them on again next Sunday as you return to your congregation for worship.  Form a new habit and get a new dose of hope.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs