Commitment To A Local Church 2

Highway oasis 2 (5-21-17)

Without realizing it, many view a local church like an oasis on the highway on a road trip: many will stop there on a journey to get what they need to continue the journey, but there isn’t much interaction between the people who stop—they don’t even really WANT any interaction. They may all be going in a similar direction, but their purpose at the oasis is to get what they need for their journey, not to interact with, get to know AND SUPPORT others sitting next to them at the oasis.

Oh loved ones: without even opening the Bible yet, do you see where this is unhealthy, unBiblical, not the way the LORD has designed His Church? In that example, a church isn’t the church; it’s a MALL—tho full of people, it’s about shopping 4personal needs.

Without realizing it, attendance at a local church has taken its cues from our consumer culture: which local church provides me with what I want, what I like, what I need? I will attend that local church as long as (conditional!) it continues to provide what I want, what I like. When it doesn’t—or when things get messy—I’ll find a new local church (like changing mobile phone service providers: best price, customer service, phone coverage?). We shop for a church, we lease, we trade in (trade UP!) easily and often.

We know that this is unhealthy in other areas of life:

  • There’s something to be said for the “chemistry” of a sports team—even w/amazing individual athletes, such a team often doesn’t win the championship. They must learn to work together, must learn to support each others’ weaknesses w/each others’ strengths, must learn to play as a team & not just individuals. This takes time, practice together, not just practicing alone, much frustration, many GROWING pains. Having a professional team change players every 6 months or year—no matter how skilled the players—will result in less wins, not more.
  • Many military families talk about the challenge of moving to new neighborhoods every 1 or 2 years…it’s difficult to make, develop & maintain friendships, to go deep.

This is not the Biblical model for a local church—I hope that is obvious. The Biblical model isn’t conditional but commitment: investing in the life of a local church because of the sense that the LORD has led you there for the advancement of His Kingdom in a local city, not for you to advance your kingdom & dreams & goals.

  • It’s less like dating—we’ll see how this goes!—and more like a marriage, a decision, a commitment.
  • It’s not like flipping houses but more like a long-term real estate investment over years.
  • It’s not day-trading stocks but a long-term financial investment for retirement.

Just as retirement investing is meant to endure boom times and recessions—all the fluctuations of a global economy—commitment to a local church is meant to endure the mountain tops and the valleys of rubbing shoulders and souls with saints, with forgiven sinners–all the fluctuations that come with real Biblical fellowship/community.

Does that mean it is always wrong to move to another local church? No. Not always. The LORD does move people for the advancement of His Kingdom. Praise the LORD! But if we’re honest, it usually isn’t truly God moving us: it’s us moving us because of hurt feelings or unmet expectations or disagreements or the feeling that we may get at another local church. We save the receipt, so to speak, so that we can exchange the church for a new one when things don’t go as we would like.

As we began to discuss last post in Hebrews 13, commitment to a local church over the long-haul includes submitting to & learning from specific Christian servant leaders: elders, pastors, Bible study/small group leaders. We have a spiritual responsibility to willingly submit to & willingly be led by a specific group of Christians.

This post we will begin to dig into Ephesians 4 to also see that:

Commitment to a local church over the long-haul includes allowing other Christians to hold you accountable as you are discipled by the Lord Jesus…we have a spiritual responsibility to each other, to a specific group of Christians over a long period of time.

Commitment to a local church over the long-haul also includes investing in other Christians to help them grow in their faith…again, we have a spiritual responsibility to a specific group of Christians over a long period of time. Our responsibility to each other is more than just being nice/polite (easy!); it’s a responsibility to help each other spiritually grow in Christ (NOT easy!), to become who He made us to be not just to feel good about the way we’ve always been. If we aren’t doing that, we aren’t being the Church.

Ephesians 4:1-32:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This implies that sometimes our unity in the Spirit will be tested, that we’ll hurt & aggravate each other & it won’t be fun for a while, we’ll simply need to “bear with” one another in love (commitment!). We’re commanded here by God to be completely humble & gentle b/c it’ll be very easy to be harsh/indifferent. But our unity is not based on how we make each other feel but based on the Holy Spirit living in us by grace alone thru faith alone in Jesus alone. We cant just cut out & get a new local church at the first sign of disagreement/irritation/hurt feelings because we are one body; we must not amputate because of a rash/poison ivy. A dismembered body isnt freedom…it’s a crime scene.

Yet this is impossible by ourselves—we don’t have the ability on our own to hang in there & commit to a local church for the long-haul…thus the next verse talks about Christ giving us grace—undeserved help—for this type of Christian unity & perseverance…

 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Different gifts/roles are given by the Lord Jesus to Christians to be used in a local church! Implies consistent participation, not just sporadic attendance.

The work & service done in a local church is not entertaining people, not helping people feel good about staying just the way they are—it’s equipping Christians, showing them how to use the tools the LORD has given them (“You have everything you need to live a godly life in Christ Jesus” 2 Peter 1:3) to live out His mission for us: go to the ends of the earth & fill it w/the Gospel, baptize people in the name of the Father & Son & Holy Spirit & disciple people (help them grow!)—teach them to obey the Lord Jesus once they have been saved & forgiven by the Lord Jesus. Building others up intentionally, not just passing them by indifferently or sitting next to them casually.

The works of service above are not just “get out & do some good stuff.” They’re a carrying out of Christ’s specific mission for His people: being His representatives & witnesses in a foreign culture that is not our true home. How can we do that outside of the building if we aren’t building each other up in the faith?

A formal commitment to a particular local church for the long-haul leads to us knowing the Lord Jesus Christ more personally & closely, hungering/thirsting MORE after righteousness.

And it leads to maturity, not staying the way we have always been, but having our beliefs/thinking/attitudes/actions line up more & more with a correct reading of the Bible, which is us becoming more fully like the Lord Jesus, not just the parts of the Lord Jesus we like & agree with. Maybe this is the primary reason we church-hop every couple of years—it prevents us from having to really change/grow/mature, like stopping a workout the moment you get tired/sweaty.

Back to Ephesians 4:

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

This maturity that comes from a formal commitment to a particular local church over the long-haul means we won’t believe in/follow false teaching that pretends it is Christian because it has a popular speaker & uses some Christian terms. Loved ones, is every book in a “Christian” book store healthy to read/believe/follow? Is every food in a grocery store healthy? How do you know? We must be maturing in Christ—no longer infants!—to read the labels & understand the ingredients to know what is healthy and what is not…

This maturity also includes speaking the Truth in love to each other. Not just speaking the love in love—what makes people happy all the time & constantly feel good about themselves. But speaking the Truth in love so that we can actually mature & not remain spiritual infants, growing in EVERY way: beliefs, attitudes, actions, plans, responses, w/all of the fruit of the Holy Spirit over time: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control.

This maturity that comes from a commitment to a particular local church over the long-haul involves WORK…each part doing it’s assigned work & tasks that Christ has equipped us to do, doing it when we want to & when we don’t, when we are excited/energized & when we aren’t, doing it when it makes sense & when it doesn’t, doing it for those who don’t deserve it & aren’t thankful for it because others serve us in ways we don’t deserve & aren’t thankful for. We NEED each other in this BODY, this living organism (not just a brick & mortar organization): the muscles need the bones & the bones need the ligaments…best athletes in the world cannot play without both ACL’s…to mature we need every ligament to actively participate AND commit for the long haul.

My friends, the local church is not a mall, not a highway oasis where we get what we need & move on quickly & politely;

  • it is a pot-luck where unless everyone brings their dish people won’t eat,
  • it is a co-op garden where we get on our knees together in the soil of God’s Word & DIG & plant & till & prune & fertilize & water the people of the local church—knowing each other & being known—(tho we get stung by bees, sunburned, dirt under our nails, sweaty, get poison ivy from each other at times!) as the Holy Spirit does what only He can do: make us grow to know the Lord Jesus more deeply & to reflect Him in our beliefs/actions more accurately…

Closing Challenge

Colossians 3:12-14: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselveswith compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love [commitment, dedication, sacrifice and compassion], which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

We are commanded to clothe ourselves in the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our interactions with other Christians—this implies that the weather will get COLD at times, that we will hurt each other at times! So don’t run away from this!

But we can’t easily slip on the fruit of the Holy Spirit the way we do a down coat in winter—His fruit must be cultivated & grown in us over time (disciples of the Lord Jesus, not just intellectual belief in Him!).

  • Sometimes in the winter I don’t want to go through the trouble of putting on all my winter gear—hat, gloves, scarf, down coat, boots, etc., I don’t want to go through all the trouble to “gear up.” So if I need to grab the paper from the driveway, I will just quickly run outside in a t-shirt & sweatpants & run back inside. I know I can’t STAY outside for long if I’m dressed like that, I need more clothing, but for a short trip I don’t need all the gear.

I think that’s how we often interact in a local church—it’s too difficult, so we think, to truly be discipled by the Lord Jesus so that He grows His fruit in us, so we just hop into and out of different local churches, staying in the shallow end, not letting people get TOO close, not grieving over our sinfulness together, not allowing them to speak the Truth in love to us. Just a quick run in & out each week in our t-shirts and sweat pants, safe, easy, no problem, staying comfortable. Thus we never grow…and rarely does anyone else…we focus on politeness, not righteousness, we put the “lite in polite” instead of letting God put the “ow in grow.”

Oh loved ones, God’s design of the world-wide Church and the local church is so much better that what we’ve been taught, so much more dangerous AND rewarding than what we are settling for. For the spread of His fame, may the LORD Almighty make His local churches into ones where we are clothing ourselves with His righteousness and the fruit of the Holy Spirit so we can grow close enough to each other to be discipled, be hurt by each other at times, and learn to truly hang in there for the long-haul. That is His recipe for spiritual growth and the spread of His Kingdom…

Group of teenage friends gardening.