One thing this beautiful, and sometimes tragic, quest teaches us early on, beloved, is that we were never meant to go it alone. While there are times that we are alone—there are certain trials that we must personally endure all by ourselves—still, the scriptures make it clear that we need one another if we are to survive this journey.
Sharing life with one another, and worshipping God together, was of vital importance to the spiritual welfare of the ekklesia back in Bible times. We know “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NASB). They took care of one another’s physical needs to the greatest extent that they were able, even “selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45, NASB). They assembled often to celebrate the Lord’s supper—the holy communion—together as they ate the unleavened bread and drank the new wine that had once been used in the Jewish Passover Feast to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26, NASB). They made it a point to “preach the word” and to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2, NASB). They were “lifting up holy hands” with “entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings” (I Timothy 2:1&8, NASB). They were “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with [their] heart[s] to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19, NASB). And all of this was just an extension of their personal adoration, praise, and perpetual worship unto God.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Bible plainly teaches that we who have been called out from the world have been called into community with one another because, just like our brothers and sisters in Christ who lived back in Bible days, we, too, need one another. In fact, the scriptures admonish us, saying:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
(Hebrews 10:23-25, NASB)
This is yet another passage of scripture that is sometimes abused by certain preachers who turn it into a legalistic whip and use it to try to force members of their church to show up at an appointed place and time on a regularly scheduled basis in order to participate in what they call worship. But this passage was not recorded or preserved for us in order to inculcate some ritualistic observance of a Sunday morning ceremony. We know, from the context of both history and the book of Hebrews, that the passage was actually written to people who were living in times of serious persecution; and to be seen fellowshipping with other Christians might lead to severe consequences—even the loss of one’s life. Therefore, some were refraining from having any kind of fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ at all. However, despite the danger, still, the children of God are exhorted not to forsake their Christian community due to fear of persecution, but to remain devoted to one another, faithful and courageous in the face of opposition. How powerful is that?
So, beloved, with that incredible exhortation in mind, I want us to reflect upon an important concept: the fact that there is a huge difference between experiencing the kind of community to which our Lord has called us and in simply going to church. Our society is filled with religious people who have joined one church or another and who continue to attend church services on, at least, a fairly regular basis. But sitting in an auditorium staring into the back of someone’s head, or passively watching and listening to the production going on up on stage for an hour or so, is a far cry from sharing our lives together in authentic Christian community. My prayer for you, and for me, is that we will never be content with simply going to church, but that we will be intent on being the ekklesia wherever we go.
This thought may surprise some of you, but I am convinced that, while we are, indeed, called to community, we are not obligated to go to church. What I mean by that is, you and I, as covenant children of God, are not obligated to join, attend, or support any manmade, or human organized, religious institution. Just because a few alleged Christians get together and decide to create a formal organization, legally incorporate, perhaps buy or lease some property, hire a pastor or some other ministerial staff, and set forth an agenda for ministry, does not mean that we are obligated to support it—regardless of the doctrine they profess, the name they adopt, or the sign they hang over the door.
Furthermore, it is my contention that one of the biggest obstacles we may face, with regard to our own spiritual growth and walk with the Lord, can be that of organized—institutional—religion. Too many people have had their faith hijacked by some so-called “church” demanding a lion’s share of their commitment, love, and adoration—matters of the heart that should belong only to our Lord Jesus Christ. What I mean by that is, many people are more devoted to, and proud of, their church than they are the Lord Jesus Christ and the incredible sacrifice He has made for them. They are constantly bragging about, talking up, and glorifying their church—as if their church held all the answers for people’s lives—yet they seem to have very little to say about Jesus and His love. They seem to have forgotten the Apostle Paul’s exhortation: “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14, NASB), and “just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:31, NASB).
It breaks my heart to see well-intentioned people give up their identity in Christ as a simple child of God—the object of God’s love, desire, and grace—and opt, instead, for an identity tied to some particular religious group, doctrine, practice, name, or label. Why is it not enough to simply be a disciple of Christ, a Christian, a child of God? While even these terms get abused in today’s world, the Apostle Peter said, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (I Peter 4:16, NASB).
Sometimes I get so tired of hearing about various people’s church, that I wish all such religious institutions, together with all their denominational brands, labels, assorted doctrines, traditions, and practices could just all be bound up together and dropped into the depths of the sea. And that people everywhere, who love the Lord, could just start fresh with only the Lord, their Bibles, and one another.
This, by the way, is typically what I say to many of my local and online Bible students who are studying with me through World Bible School and other programs; especially those who make the decision to enter into covenant with God and be “born again” into His forever family. I tell them, “Why not start fresh? You don’t have to run out and join anybody’s church; you are the ekklesia!”
Then, I try to help them see that they don’t need to go listen to some denominational pastor—who may only try to indoctrinate them with his church traditions—when they have God’s word right there in their own hands to read and study for themselves? I encourage them to have their own daily devotional time; and to set aside at least one hour each week in which they spend the whole time praising God in prayer and song. I even encourage them to partake of the Lord’s supper by themselves, if necessary, to begin with.
Then, I encourage them to start looking for others who may be interested in joining them. I encourage them to invite family members, friends, neighbors, and others they know to come meet together with them in their home, or at the park, or anywhere that is inviting and where they can meet together in peace. Perhaps there are even other World Bible School students living in their area who they can contact and invite to join them. This, I believe, is what authentic Christianity can look like in today’s world; free of all the trappings that go along with modern, corporate denominationalism.
When I look at all that is going on in this world—the escalating celebration of violence and immorality in our society; the continued rise of violent, religious extremism and international terrorism; the civil unrest, anger, frustration, and protests in our city streets; the ongoing drug epidemic sweeping America and the world, along with the syndicated crime and violence that accompanies it; the unfolding tragedy of global human trafficking; the continual plague of hunger, famine, pestilence, and other preventable causes that take the lives of more than 17,000 children around the globe every single day (Unicef, 2014)—well, somehow, I just know in my heart that playing church preppy-style isn’t going to have much of an impact or make a whole lot of difference in this world. I believe our Lord expects more of His children than that. As new covenant children of God who are living with a mission, it is important that we make up our minds to be proactive, to look for ways to be involved and engaged in people’s lives, to seek to make a difference in this world, to actively be the ekklesia—living every day to the glory of God—rather than adopting the passive mindset of simply joining a church and attending church services somewhere once or twice a week.
God’s covenant children have been called out of our comfort zones and into active fields of labor. Jesus calls to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13&14, NASB). Our mission is to, “Fight the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12, NASB) and to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3, NASB). We are told to become, “imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB). We are instructed to, “walk as children of Light” and to “not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:8&11, NASB). We are commissioned to go and “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
These are not passive assignments. They require loving and serving people so that we may be granted opportunity to reach and teach them. They may also require a lot of cooperation and collaboration among the ekklesia—pooling our resources in a nondenominational fashion—to get the job done. The assignment may entail establishing and maintaining hospitals and clinics in West Africa, or orphanages for AIDS orphans in South Africa, or drilling water wells in and around the Sahara in North Africa. It may entail teaching farming classes in India or English classes in China. It may entail founding and supporting children’s homes, maternity homes, and private Christian schools here in America. It may mean maintaining a food bank or a clothing pantry in our own community. It may mean funding and staffing after school programs, or summer enrichment programs, for children in the local community. It may mean making use of the internet and joining hands in a global teaching initiative like World Bible School. It certainly requires that we make our home, our neighborhood, our school, our place of employment, and our entire local community our mission field.
But regardless of the physical manifestations our respective ministries may exhibit, the heart of the mission remains the same for all of us: to “make disciples” by being disciples; and to teach every disciple to observe all that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has commanded of us—including, making and teaching disciples!
The fact is, God did not intend for us to walk this walk of faith alone. Christians need one another; community is important. For this reason, the Apostle Paul says:
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6:1-2, NASB)
People with legalistic tendencies, who are concerned with the letter of the law and how to go about doing church, would be better off if they would concern themselves more with actually fulfilling “the law of Christ” and learning to be the church by “bearing one another’s burdens.” The Apostle Paul exhorted the children of God living in Rome to:
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.
(Romans 12:10-16, NASB)
Then, in his admonition to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul shared this historically remarkable passage of scripture:
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
(I Corinthians 12:14-26, NASB)
It is simply impossible for God’s new covenant children to be pleasing to Him while willfully neglecting their responsibilities to the ekklesia—the body of Christ into which we have been “born again.” We are called to community. We are admonished to use our gifts, our talents, our resources for the edification and building up of others within the body of Christ. God, through His written word, tells us that every member of the body of Christ is important—even those seemingly “weaker” and “less presentable” members—and that we all need one another.
Going solo may feel comfortable for a little while, and get you a little ways down the road. But, God knows, we all need the spiritual strength, encouragement, and perspective that only active participation in body life can give us. So, in His wisdom, God has given us to each other, and He expects us to cherish that gift; as difficult as they may seem at times.
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