Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Special Emphasis

Did you know that the Bible places a special emphasis on the community of believers? We have so expanded Jesus in our culture to include "everyone," thinking that all persons are essentially the same and if we are connected to any of them, that's good enough for God. But there are all kinds of evidences in the Scriptures that our first and strongest connections ought to be to the church, to the people of God.

To each other.

For example, you'll notice that there's an awful lot of "one another"ing in the Scriptures, particularly in the Gospels and in the New Testament. Jesus was a big fan of "one another"ing. But the whole nature of "one another" is that it is an address used to a crowd where they could easily look around and identify who "one another" are. It's not the same as "everyone." It's "those present." So when Jesus or Paul or Peter talks about "one another"ing, they are talking about the kind of fellowship and community and commonality that we share (or should share) among ourselves as the church.

The same is true with "each other." Jesus talks about the kind of love we should have for each other and about being given to each other and about being committed to each other. Again, "each other" is not the same thing as "everyone." It is a word that indicates "those present," which means, again, that when Jesus talks about us in the context of "each other," He's talking about an intimate, connected body of fellowship, community, and commonality. He's talking about what will become the church.

I've written before about Jesus's famous prayer in John 17, the prayer in which He plainly says that He prays not for the whole world, but for those given to Him. Contained in this prayer is also His plea for unity, that His people would be defined by their oneness and would be recognized by it. Other Scriptures say they will know us by our love.

In other words, there is a "them" and an "us." There is someone outside of the church that recognizes what's going on inside of the church by what "we" are doing together, with "each other," with "one another."

This creeping theology of ours that tries to say that the whole world is the church misses out on this distinctiveness. We just can't show this kind of community with "everyone." And by Jesus's own words, we weren't meant to. The world is not your church; the world is the world. The church is the church. And if you're inside her walls, you aren't in her fellowship. Period.

Or look at the way that Paul and the apostles handle the nature of churching throughout the rest of the New Testament. They're constantly shuffling messages and offerings and persons and all kinds of stuff from one church to another. The churches in Paul's regions took up offerings for the church in Jerusalem, and the church in one place was sending their resources to the church in another place.

It's not because there were no poor people in Ephesus. That's not it at all. It's not because there were not needs in Corinth. It's because the church is bigger than the place you're in and, at the same time, more intimately connected. The charge for Christians is to take care of each other or one another, and we see that plainly when Paul admonishes the churches to build one another up, to support one another, to give generously to each other. He doesn't say to start a community outreach program. He doesn't tell them to take their funds down to the homeless shelter. He doesn't preach them into doing "good works" in their neighborhoods, although there are plenty good works to be done there and yes, Christians should be doing them.

But there is a bond to the church that we just can't shake off, and there is a special emphasis on being a part of this community - the community of God's people. We were called for one another, given to one another, charged with the care and accountability of one another.

(This is true, too, by the way, of Israel in the Old Testament and even today for faithful Jews. Being a person of God is being in a community of God. It's being accountable to that community and holding that community accountable. It's providing for and being provided for by that community. It's loving one another so that we can love the world.)

More and more, you hear it - I don't "need" the church. Or the church "isn't for me." Or that church just isn't "my kind" of church. And it's all bull. It's all junk. It's a shallow, at best, or junk, at worst, theology that ignores what God had to say about Israel, what Jesus had to say about His disciples, and what the apostles - and earliest Christians - had to say about the church.

The plain, simple fact is, on the testimony of God Himself, of Jesus Christ, and of the Spirit, you cannot be a Christian and not be in the church. You can't. You can call yourself whatever you want, but if you're not in the body, you're not part of this living, breathing, life-giving movement called Christianity. You're

And that is a sad, terrible, horrible thing, particularly when you are oh so close to being...His. 

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