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Not to be done alone

May 22, 2017

One of the notable phenomena of our day in the church is the reality of Christians who won’t be part of a church. For a variety of reasons, they choose to walk it alone. They may be put off by the people in the pews or by the ways churches (mal)function or by something else. This might be the result of direct experience, or it might come from reading the many criticisms of the church by Christians (or both), not to mention by non-Christians. Given all the critical analyses by blog writers (who may or may not have a good understanding of the matters of which they speak), it’s hard not to view local churches as places to avoid. They are apparently doing an awful job. One writer starts it and then a bunch of other people jump on the bandwagon and take their own shots. Or wanting to stand out, a writer will discover, much to his/her shock and dismay, some new foible that simply must be brought to the light. Sometimes I browse through blogs, wondering what the church’s failure du jour will be.

I’m reading through Ephesians now, and I read in chapter 4 a theme Paul comes back to on a few occasions; namely, the unity of the church. This isn’t just a matter of the importance of people who choose to be there being unified in purpose; it is also a call to be united with other believers, and not just in casual ways. Paul talks about the one body of which we are part and the one Spirit given to all, about the one hope we have–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. This isn’t just an abstract unity. He points outs how God has given the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” He envisions “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part of working properly, [making] the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” We have to actually be together, over time, for this to be accomplished. (See also 1 Cor. 12 about this.)

The call to unite with other Christians isn’t just a formality. We need each other for growth, for ministry, for encouragement, for the stuff of real Christian life. The writer of Hebrews puts the command very bluntly:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25).

Christ has called, not just individuals to salvation, but the church to be his ministering arm on earth. We are to join with other imperfect Christians to accomplish his mission.

So you are put off by churches or by the people in them. Is there a loving, Christian way of saying, “get over yourself”? Yes, there are sinners in churches, and churches don’t do things perfectly. Who does? Maybe the people there are beneath you. In that case you are called to be patient and bear with them in love. Or maybe you’ll find that they are just like you, doing their best (most of the time) to “work out [their] salvation” in the midst of difficult life circumstances. Lest any of us get to feeling too good about ourselves when we’re doing well, Paul says that we still have to acknowledge that we can’t be praised even for simply wanting to do God’s will, much less for pulling it off. God gets the credit for all of it (Phil. 2:12-13).

So if you’ve been staying away, come on back! The rest of us will try not to be too annoying.

From → The church

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