Elevating Community: Together (Part 2)…
We continue our discussion on the importance of
long-term commitment to a particular local church,
what some call membership or covenant. Last post we looked at
- some Bible verses that teach this,
- some illustrations from life that point to this,
- and some of the reasons this is difficult for many.
We will do the same in this post.
So does the Bible teach this?
Yes: Discipling/training/building up each other:
1 Thessalonians 5:12-14: Now we ask you, brothers and sisters,
to acknowledge those who work hard among you,
who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.
13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
Paul writes to specific Christians in a specific place—Thessalonica—
& refers to specific Christians who work hard for, care for & correct/warn
other specific Christians. This implies long-term personal work,
not every once in a while impersonal attendance/arms-length interaction.
Only way to care for people in the Lord thru hard work is thru relationship.
Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters,
warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened,
help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Again, the command here to live at peace with other Christians
isn’t in general but to a particular group of Christians
who know each other well enough to get on each other’s nerves,
those we’re in regular long-term contact with.
- Isn’t it often easier to be more polite to strangers than to those we live with daily? I’m more likely to be bitter toward a family member than an acquaintance;
- So it’s easier to keep people as acquaintances, to stay in the shallow end of the relational pool, move from church to church or keep people at arms length in a local church;
- It’s almost like we are batting-practice Christians;
we want pitches (relationships) that are about 60 mph
grooved right down the middle (easy).
So we never learn how to handle 95 mph curveballs (real life),
and thus we don’t grow/mature as brothers & sisters in Christ.
Also, the command here to warn, encourage, and help the brothers and sisters
is true in general to all Christians, but in context it’s directed
to a specific group of Christians in a specific city—Thessalonica.
These verses assume that we’re close enough to a group of Christians
that it’s obvious when they’re being lazy, when they’re discouraged,
when they’re weak. We are commanded to notice…
and then do something to bless them in their specific lives.
We can’t encourage every Christian, we won’t have the relationship history/capital
to warn ALL Christians—not wagging our fingers but pleading from our knees
to turn from sin back to Christ—but we can more easily do that to those
we have gotten to know over a longer period of time, week in & week out.
As I’ve worked on these posts the last two weeks,
I’m realizing now that many NT commands on how to treat other Christians
can only be learned & obeyed in the furnace of close/long-term relationships
in a particular local church. Long-term covenant commitment
puts our character into triathlon training with the Holy Spirit & each other.
- Galatians 6:1: “Carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
- Philippians 2:5: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”…emptied Himself to death on a cross, becoming a servant,etc.
And to the extent that there is less & less covenanting,
we have less & less Christians who are maturing in Christ,
less who are learning to really carry each other’s burdens,
& thus having less & less impact for the kingdom of God amongst non-Christians:
“They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another” (John 13:35).
That isn’t sentimental feeling love, it’s scorching furnace love.
Not politeness/shallow pleasantness from keeping each other at arm’s length,
not our ability to make small talk for a few moments 2/3x per month.
Non-Christians won’t know we belong to Jesus that way
because non-Christians can do those things.
Membership impacts our maturity which impacts our mission
which glorifies—or doesn’t glorify—our Master.
Membership/covenant/long-term commitment is ultimately about loving other Christians, not just in theory/principle but in practice. Membership says,
- “I decide now to risk knowing you/being known by you,
- I risk relying on you & being let down by you,
- I risk asking you to rely on me & I risk letting you down,
- I risk forgiving you even if you don’t ask for it,
- I risk asking you for forgiveness even if you don’t offer it,
- I risk all that & commit to continuing risking that
when it’s easy & when it’s hard, when I feel like risking & when I don’t.
- All because of King Jesus.”
Metaphors for the Church: The New Testament makes use of several metaphors
to describe the local congregation, all implying/teaching
long-term covenant commitment.
Acts 20:28: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which
the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God,
which he bought with his own blood.
Flocks in nature stay close/tight together traveling, feeding, resting, etc.
Paul is speaking to specific elders/overseers who have responsibility—
this shepherding role—over a specific flock/group of Christians,
and they received this high responsibility from the Holy Spirit Himself.
- What if the Holy Spirit chose us for a local church &
chose a local church for us
based on what we need not what we want,
based on expanding His kingdom not ours?
1 Corinthians 12:12-14: Just as a body, though one, has many parts,
but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—
whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
I’ve always thought of these verses as referring only to the world-wide Church/body of Christ. They absolutely refer to that! But they also refer to long-term commitment/ covenant membership in a particular local church. Let’s read on to see this:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”
And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,
24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25 so that there should be no division in the body,
but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it;
if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Practically, we don’t truly rely on/need individual Christians in a foreign country
(though yes our Father mightily uses the prayers we make for Christians we’ll never meet on earth), but we do need to rely on individual Christians right next to us.
- “Showing equal concern for each other,
suffering with each other, rejoicing with each other”
are most practically lived out with Christians right next to us,
week in & week out.
And think about how body parts are nourished—by each other as each body part does it’s job: the pancreas, the lungs, the heart, the veins, etc. all bless each other practically and keep each other alive. The parts aren’t stuck on like Mr. Potato Head but have an organic connection/function to keep each other alive. This is most practically seen with Christians in the same local church, not just Christians around the world.
We see this again in Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:11-16: 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.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves,
and blown here ad there by every wind of teaching and by the
cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
15Instead, 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 & held togetherby every supporting ligament,
grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
So the Bible gives us real-life metaphors for a local church—flock, body, & house/temple:
1 Peter 2:5:“…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house
[or temple of the Spirit] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ.”
Stones in a building support each other, right next to each other, long-term.
Constantly popping out & transferring stones from one local church to another
makes sturdy local churches into wobbly Jenga towers.
Discipline within the local church: “Backbone to Love Wandering Sheep
Churches should have a backbone. By this I mean they should have the courage to practice church discipline on those who refuse to repent from sin. That may sound a bit harsh and unloving in our day. But Jesus was clear that discipline is an act of love:
“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18.15–18)
Paul also encourages the body to practice redemptive discipline in 1 Corinthians 5. You want to join a loving body, which means you need to find one that will care enough to restore you to Jesus and his people at any cost, even if that means biblical discipline designed to win you back” (P.J. Tibayan—https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-things-look-new-church/).
Now this idea of discipline/correction/consequences from other Christians
strikes at the very heart of many American Christians,
and it is a reason why many simply want to have a loose association with a local church, why our relationships often don’t leave the shallow end of the pool,
and thus why our fellowship/community is not as deep/fruitful as it could be.
We simply need God’s help & each other’s help to learn
to gently/respectfully correct each other.
We love this when a sports team holds a “players only” meeting—
it is usually done when a team is losing a lot, is in a slump,
and the players take it upon themselves to hold each other accountable,
to give some tough love, to help get the team back on track.
We want the coaches to do SOMETHING
when players are slacking/not giving their best effort—
we celebrate this and even demand it.
We say, “They’re paid to give their best effort—hold them accountable!”
This is even more important in a local church—we were bought with a great price!
And to lovingly hold each other accountable as teammates and family,
there needs to be a long-term commitment,
a clearly-defined understanding of who is on this particular portion of God’s team (though all Christians are on the team in a bigger sense, of course—
it’s kind of like the special teams unit in football is on the team
just like the offense, but the special teams unit gathers
in the smaller unit/portion of the team to work on drills specific for their roles).
New apple trees can take seven years to produce fruit. Imagine if a gardener stopped pruning, fertilizing, watering when there weren’t quick results?
- What happens when many stop nurturing a particular local church when there aren’t quick or quick-enough results? Attendance in a city stays the same if we keep rotating local churches, but overall fruitfulness decreases.
- There are certain results/fruit in a local church that will only come after long-term commitment, and there are some results/fruit in an individual Christian that will only come after long-term commitment.
Educationally, do we ever hear of someone changing colleges/universities every few months, or every semester? That often sets one BACK in their pursuit of a degree, not ahead. Think of how learning would be stunted by constantly having a new syllabus, professors, classmates, and defined pathways of courses to take.
What would happen to the growth of a tree or plant—& the entire forest—if they were constantly being uprooted & moved to new fields/plots of land? Root systems are very important to the growth & survival of a tree/plant, & deep/wide root systems take a long time in one place in soil. I’ve also heard that we’re starting to learn how root systems of individual trees in a forest are connected under the ground sharing nutrients—so entire forests can be negatively affected by constantly transplanting trees. Staggering how the LORD designed certain aspects of nature to parallel & point to His design of the spiritual life.
Why This Is Often Difficult:
“#1. We live in a society enthralled by expressive individualism. “Be You” & “Be True to Yourself” are society’s favorite slogans—the 1st& greatest commandments for this way of life. Expressive individualism poses a challenge for the church b/c God’s Word challenges the “Me” with the “Us” and then sets the “Us” under God.
The human tendency is to look inward when God’s Word says to look upward. We resist the upward look b/c it implies that someone or something is above us, & that Someone might have authority. &, formed by Western assumptions about freedom & happiness, we chafe against claims of moral authority over us, or institutions that ask something from us. We resist anything that might stifle our self-defined freedom. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” is what the catechism says. Expressive individualism turns that around. “The chief end of religion is to glorify man so he can enjoy himself forever”…next to each other, but not learning to submit to each other & wash each other’s feet (Trevin Wax—https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/4-big-challenges-facing-church-west-today/).
Another reason covenant membership is difficult:
“People are increasingly isolated, fragmented, and polarized.
We are a witnessing a stark decline of public trust in institutions. As choices have increased—[e.g. hobbies, more work, more local church options, on-demand t.v., social media, etc.]—, solidarity has decreased, leading to disorientation and fragmentation. In this environment, the institutions that have generally provided a buffer between the state and the individual suffer the most. Associations fall away. [Long-term & deep] Gatherings and groups disappear [replaced at best by short-term & shallow ones].
The challenge for the church in this era is to resist the transformation of our gatherings into places where everyone merely seeks [personal] fulfillment. For far too many today, we go to church b/c it helps us self-actualize, not b/c it makes us [holy], or b/c we seek to glorify God, or we want to do good to our neighbors. We go to church like we go anywhere else, to be affirmed [as we are]” (Trevin Wax—jhttps://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/4-big-challenges-facing-church-west-today/).
Jonathan Leeman: “Church membership…is not about “additional requirements.” It’s about a church taking specific responsibility for a Christian, & a Christian for a church.”
Next steps: Newer attenders over the past few months: Get to know this local church at
Elevate 101 on October 7th right after the worship service—lunch included!
Longer-term attenders: Elevate 201 on October 14thright after the worship service. Both are next steps to learning about what the LORD is doing in this local church and what it means to be a committed covenant member here.
Long-term covenant commitment is risky, dangerous and rewarding–
let’s move forward together with our Savior Jesus!