The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What Does it Mean to be a Part of a Religious Community?, Part 1

This week’s question: What does it mean to be part of a religious community? We present the Christian responses in the column this week. Next week, we present Unitarian, Hindu, and Jewish responses.

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“Being a part of the Church comes with the realization that something wonderful and beautiful is happening to us. 1 Peter 2:5 tells us that we, ‘like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ The transformation reshapes us internally and externally, individually and collectively. Selfish agendas give way to the greater Agenda; personal dreams merge into God’s dream; and His goals become our goals. These are the spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ that Peter is talking about.

“But being a part of the Church also involves submission. We are not simply being acted upon by the Holy Spirit. Paul, who also describes the Church as God’s building, adds that each of us are active participants with God; ‘For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building’ (1 Corinthians 3:9). Then, in Philippians 2:12-13 he makes a plea for active and vibrant obedience. ‘Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’

“Therefore, being a part of the Church also means that we are free, able, and equipped to obey the call of God found in Philippians 2:2-3 to be: like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit; being assured that working alongside of the Spirit of God and submitting to his work (in us and through us) are not in conflict with each other. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who provides us with the grace needed to do it. God works in us and through us so that we may live to fulfill His greater purpose for the Church.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Reformed Christians believe that Jesus Christ ‘from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself by His Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith’ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 54). All those who are joined to Christ by a true faith are ‘living members’ of this ‘holy catholic church.’

“As such they all partake in what we call ‘the communion of saints.’ Saints are not certain believers eminent for gifts or godliness, but all those who are saved by grace and sanctified in Christ. ‘Being members of Christ, they are in common, partakers of Him, and of all His riches and gifts.’ This shared privilege implies a shared duty: ‘Everyone must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members’ (Heidelberg Cat., Q. 55).

“This mutual duty is the way faith works by love (Galatians 5:6). Christ says, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another’ (John 13:35). It is a visible form of confessing Christ as Lord and Savior.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“In the Roman Catholic faith tradition membership begins with baptism. The baptized, called the faithful, have obligations and rights (note obligation comes before right!). From the 1983 Code of Canon Law: 

“The faithful are obligated to ‘build up the Body of Christ, preserve communion with the Church, to lead a holy life according to their ability,’ have the obligation and the right ‘to share God’s message, and show Christian obedience.’ In return the faithful ‘have the freedom to make their needs known, the right to share their views on things for the good of the Church.’ Further, the faithful have the right to be assisted spiritually by their Pastors, a right to worship according to approved rites, may freely associate for charitable or pious purposes but ‘may not call their work “Catholic” without ecclesiastical permission, the right to a Christian education,’ and ‘those who chose academics have the freedom to study with due submission to the Church’s magisterium.’ The faithful have the right to choose without coercion a state in life (e.g., marriage, single, religious, ordained), the faithful have a right to their good name and the protection of that good name, the obligation to provide for the needs of the Church, and finally, in the exercise of rights the faithful must take into account the common good of the Church. (cf. canons 208-223).”


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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