I think the church that Christ died for is a truly glorious thing…the body of Christ…the bride of Christ…the people of God. I also believe that God loves us a great deal…as manifested in redeeming us with His own flesh and blood…the Word…the Son…Jesus Christ. I believe His love was also manifested in the delivering of His word by men through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as well as the preservation of that word, so that we would come to know God and His plan and His will for us. I think that the idea of having local churches, overseen only by local elders guided by the word of God, and answerable only to Jesus Christ was genius. I think the idea that these local churches or congregations or assemblies of saints acting as one body or one family is yet another example of God knowing what is best for mankind. To think that each Christian should have a group of people with whom they can worship God, study God’s word, gain encouragement, give encouragement, have accountability, spread the good news of salvation, work toward becoming more Christ-like, and on whom they can depend is invaluable. A Christian is never alone, for God is always with him, but to know that you have this spiritual family with you, too, should be a very comforting thing, as well.
I guess that’s one of the things that makes me sad about reality. As no humans are perfect, save Jesus Himself, no local church is perfect either.
You know, most of the time, within our own physical families, we can kind of depend on each other. All of us mess up once in a while, some of us more than others, but it seems like family is something upon which, ultimately and usually, you can depend. Families don’t always agree, sometimes fight, sometimes hurt each other…but when push comes to shove, families are usually there for us. I think of the story commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” When family is in need, often times, the hurt and even the betrayal are put aside. Family is family.
Within the local church, I realize there are some limitations placed by God. We shouldn’t overlook sin, especially patterns of sin or lifestyles of sin…the choice to live contrary to God’s revealed word and will. We can’t support those who are openly rebellious to God. However, I can’t help but think that many times we abandon each other too quickly. We don’t always follow the pattern God has given us in His word to resolve conflict or to approach a brother of sister when offended. I tried to raise my children to believe that fellow Christians were family…that we were in a common battle or working toward a common goal…that we were involved in something bigger than ourselves with others who desire to serve the Lord. I tried to instill in them a spirit of forgiveness and forbearance, as we walked side by side with our local spiritual family. I tried to instill in them a spirit of perseverance and solidarity. I hoped they would take with them God’s desire for us to live in unity with our brothers and sisters. I hoped they would develop the ability to focus on the work set before us by God, as well as their part in it. I hoped they would go through life not expecting others to do everything, but that they would try to do their parts and to fulfill their responsibilities. I hoped that they would hold themselves to a high standard when it came to service to the Lord, and to certainly not hold others to a higher standard.
As I look around today, sometimes I don’t see close knit spiritual families…families that you can count on to be there tomorrow to continue the fight with you. I don’t necessarily mean that the fight isn’t still being undertaken by you and them, just that the ability to rely on one another isn’t as solid as it should be. It’s almost like the view some have of marriage these days. Try it. If it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, divorce and try again. Just as that is not what God intended for marriage, I don’t think it’s what He intended for the church, either. A husband and wife should never have to fear that disagreements or disappointments or occasional failures mean their spouse won’t be beside them in the morning to try to work it out, compromise, understand, encourage, sacrifice, and love them…to be there…all the way there. However, sometimes in the church it seems to be much more about self. Am I getting what I need with this group? Are my needs being met? Are others doing enough or their parts? Sometimes, even something as superficial as am I being entertained or captivated or served? Being part of a local church should run deeper than that. It’s about God being served and worshipped. It’s about bearing one another’s burdens. It’s about edifying and teaching each other. It’s about submitting and putting other’s needs first, without compromising truth. Should I benefit from the local church? Absolutely, I should. Should it be because everything is about me? Absolutely not, it should not be.
I mentioned the husband and the wife relationship earlier. Much like that relationship, shouldn’t Christians that have chosen to work in a certain location together to serve the Lord be able to love and respect each other as family? Shouldn’t they be able to be loved and respected as family? Shouldn’t they be able to disagree or disappoint or fail from time to time and not fear losing a brother or sister’s love and commitment to be family? Shouldn’t they be able to expect the family of God in that location to fight to stay together and to serve God and to spread the gospel together…to place a high value on unity? I certainly hope so!
Just to be clear, I am not being naïve or foolish or heretical. I realize there can arise differences that can cause true division, just as in a marriage the failures and disappointments can involve infidelity that cannot be overcome together. I understand that there can exist sinful situations where the bible pattern has been followed to address the sin and refusal to repent may exist. I understand that there can exist such divergent views of what is truth and what is error that reconciliation is not possible and everyone still serve God faithfully. Short of those situations, shouldn’t we be striving with all we have to serve God together…faithful and united? Shouldn’t you be able to count on me being there by your side and vice versa? Again, I certainly hope so.
Anyone reading this and making it all the way through it probably knows me. If so, I hope you know that any references to anything I have done or tried to do are not based in arrogance. I know that I have many areas upon which I need to improve. I know that I am as far from perfect as anyone else. I know that I have failed in many ways, probably even in carrying out the things I mentioned that I tried to do or tried to teach my children or whatever. Personal experiences were merely included to offer some perspective or possible expectations. I also hope you know that this is written in love. I love God, I love my family, I love my friends, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love my co-workers, I love my acquaintances, I love my neighbors, and I love my enemies. Many fall in more than one of these groups. I hope that each day I live, I learn to love better in how it’s shown and more completely in to whom it is applied. I have a long way to go. Please pray for me. I will be praying for you. I pray for the saved and the lost and for churches and for governments. Let us all work to make the world more like God wants it to be.