Is unity possible with someone you don’t like?

body-of-christ

We are now three more sleeps until Christmas – one of the few days where we find ourselves surrounded by family, fulfilling traditions, and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Some of us have wonderful, picturesque and happy families while others of us have dysfunctional ones, and some of us simply live too far away and/or do not have the money to make the trek home for the holidays.

But if you are a Christian, you have a different kind of family as well:  the family and body of Christ, your local church.  If you have been involved in your local church with any dedication and for any amount of time, you have probably noticed that there are as varied personalities there as there are within your natural family.  There are people you cannot wait to see, with whom you love to spend time, and there are those whom you would prefer to simply pass in the hallway.  There are kind, generous and thoughtful people as well as selfish, rude and abrasive people.  We have a little bit of everything.

But as the body of Christ, we have been called to be unified.  We have been called to love.  We have been called to sacrifice for one another.

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

– Phil 2.2

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

– 1 Peter 3.8

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

– 1 Cor 1.10

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

– Col 3.14

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Have you ever heard someone say, “I love him, but I do not like him”?  It is true that love is deeper than a mere emotional affection.  Love is the intentional choice to care for someone, to put his needs above our own, to serve another and look out for their best interests.  It is also true that it is possible to make that choice to honor, respect and love another person even if the other person’s personality is abrasive and you do not particularly care to be in his presence.

But is it possible to maintain that tension in our spirits for a long period of time?  Can we truly make the choice to love someone while our hearts cringe at the thought of being around him?  No.  I would argue we cannot.

Emotions and affections are reactionary.  We learn as children that when we make up our minds and choose a course of action, everything else follows.  Jesus said simply,

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.21

Jesus is speaking directly about earthy treasure versus eternal treasures.  If we set our minds and goals on money, toys, fame or anything on Earth, our hearts will follow in desiring and longing for those things.  If we set our minds and goals on eternal things like honoring God and salvation of the lost, our hearts and affections will be pleased with those things.

Not only are emotions reactionary, but Scripture teaches us that our hearts are wicked and deceptive above all else.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

– Jer 17.9

Our flesh is marked by our sinful nature, and the natural desires that flow from it are wicked.  If we depend on our hearts to guide us, we will make evil decisions continually.  The emotion of hatred or not liking someone is a result of a wicked heart and unchecked emotions.

As the body of Christ, we have been called to unity.  Unity of mind, unity of purpose, without any division, exemplifying sympathy and brotherly love.  And we simply cannot pursue someone else’s best interest if we do not like him and choose to avoid him.

Ok, so that’s great and all, but what do I do if I do not like someone?

First of all, we need to examine the situation.  Step back and ask yourself, “Why do I not like this person?”  Did this person wrong you at some point in the past?  Was there reconciliation?  Are you jealous of this person for some reason?  Does his personality just rub you the wrong way?

If there is an unaddressed sin, then for the sake of both of your souls, it needs to be addressed.  We are warned strongly throughout Scripture to not make peace with sin or let it continue (Heb 10.26-27, Rom 8.13).  In fact, Scripture teaches us that when a brother is in sin it is our responsibility to humbly draw him to repentance, and if he will not repent to remove him from the church so as to not lead others into sin and hopefully draw him to repentance through that discipline (Gal 6.1, Matt 18.15-17, 1 Cor 5).  This is an act of love, because continuing in sin has the gravest of consequences.  We confront sin in humility, remembering our own sin and being acutely aware that we could be tempted and fall as well.

Was a sin or offense addressed, but you still are bitter?  This is a lack of forgiveness against which we must intentionally fight.  Jesus says that we will forgive in the same way that we have been forgiven, and if we are unwilling to forgive then we prove ourselves to have not been forgiven by God (Luke 7.47, Matt 6.15).  The root of bitterness is a terrible and sly temptation that will ruin us if we do not keep it in check (Heb 12.15).  Recognize in your heart that even if you feel justified in your bitterness, anger or hatred, it will destroy you.  And if Jesus, who is perfect and God can forgive you, then we are compelled to forgive others any offense.

Are you jealous of him?  Perhaps he has a beautiful wife, perfectly behaved children, a wonderful job or that charismatic personality you wish you had.  Or perhaps he speaks too bluntly, makes awkward observations, or has an annoying laugh.  These are heart and sin issues that we need to address without confronting or involving the other person.  Jealousy is a wicked deception of the devil, convincing us that God has not been as good to us as He has to another person.  This is conquered by intentional thankfulness and pursuit of God’s direction in your life.  He may not be giving you money because you would become unfaithful with it.  He may have given you difficult children to grow your faith.  He may have you in your specific job to make a kingdom impact, even if the job is terrible.  God has a perfect and sovereign plan for your life, do not dishonor Him by wishing you had someone else’s, but trust and follow Him.

It is true that we will not be accountability partners, best friends or bosom buddies with everyone.  We simply do not have the time or emotional capability to do so.  Jesus chose twelve disciples, and of those twelve had three closest friends, and He was able to maintain this many relationships in part because He did not go in to an office from 9:00-5:00 every day.

It is also true that in the process of discipleship, people will fail and need to gain victory over specific personality flaws.  Thus, if a man has committed adultery and proven Himself unfaithful, then there is a season of growth, accountability and restoration required before he should be trusted fully again.  If someone has stolen money from the church, he needs to prove his repentance and be restored before serving on the financial team again.  If someone has been caught in a lie, then a system of checks and balances is established for a season while he is restored.

But all of these situations must be confronted and handled in love.  If we have been forgiven, then we must forgive one another.  If someone is seeking to confess and restore himself in the wake of a sin, then it is the body’s responsibility to pray for him and walk with him in that process.  If we never allow him to regain honor or trust, then we are sinning against him.  We, as the body, should be in the business of forgiving and restoring people – just as Jesus forgives and restores us.  We are all going to fall, and we all need grace from God and grace from one another.

As a unified and united body, we will have close friends, we will have acquaintances, and in a large enough body, we will have people whom we have never met.  What is important is that we have a unified heart to love and honor God, that we have a unified mission in reaching our communities and world, and that we are intentionally seeking one another’s well being through brotherly love.  If a need arises in the church, do we jump to meet it?  Do we encourage one another by helping people get connected and involved?

In short, we need to check our hearts.  Our hearts will deceive us and validate our sinful tendencies if we do not keep them aligned with Scripture.  We are commanded to love one another the very same way we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  So those quirks and tendencies that we overlook in ourselves, we are commanded to overlook in other people.  Those allowances we make for ourselves, we are commanded to make for other people.  And if we care for one another in brotherly love, then we humbly and intentionally address sin that we see in one another.

Remember also, that we are united as a body – working towards a goal.  The Church should not be static relationships, but strategic team work towards impacting the kingdom.  We must therefore intentionally value what everyone brings to the table (1 Cor 12), and when we see a bigger picture we can value others more easily.

Thus we must be unified with someone that we do not like, but we should not be content to “not like” a brother or sister in Christ.  That is an emotional reaction to a bigger issue, which we need to address in our hearts.  Pray for him.  If you pray for someone long enough, you will begin to care about him on a selfless and real level.

So let’s get real with ourselves, with God, and with one another.  Are you harboring anything against someone else?  Confront it – either in your own heart, with God, or with the other person.  Do not let division begin in your Church, that is one of Satan’s greatest tactics to neutralize our effect in our communities and world.  Put one another above yourself.  Love boldly.  Remember that we are working together.  And trust God for the outcome.

Bear One Another’s Burdens

bear burdens

The community of faith is one of the greatest blessings God has given us in the local Church.  We meet for weekly worship, we gather for Bible study and community, and we rally around one another in the midst of a crisis or life change.  Meal trains are established after surgeries and babies, and those most intimate communities pull together finances for one another when a sudden need or trauma arises.

We bear one another’s burdens.  
Or at least we should.

But have you ever stopped to consider the context of that commandment in Scripture?  Where Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens?

“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.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.  For each one will bear his own load.”

– Gal 6.1-5

It is good and right that we know one another well enough and that we care for each other enough to help meet needs and comfort one another during times of difficulty and suffering.  God is a God of comfort, and He gives us one another to help ease some of our momentary suffering (2 Cor 1.3).  He loves His Church, we are His bride, and we are commanded to look out for the needs of those within our local body first.  Before we seek to meet the needs of those outside of our body and the unsaved:

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

– Gal 6.9-10

This is not permission to overlook anyone, we are indeed commanded to take go the extra mile for anyone who would take advantage of us, to love our enemies, to meet the needs of the poor (within and without of the Church), but just as Christ’s first priority is the Church, so should our’s be.

The context of this specific command, which we so regularly quote, however, is to bear one another’s burdens of sin.  John Piper eloquently teaches us,

“A sinful act is vastly more harmful that any…other burden, and if [we] love them, [we] will not only comfort them in their troubles, but confront them in their sin.”

For most of us it is easy to go visit someone in the hospital and take meals to a family who is struggling or expending their energy taking care of a sick family member.  For many of us it is easy to listen, offer a hug, and to console someone who is suffering a loss of some sort.  But not everyone in the Church who is bearing a burden is a victim.  Some people are bearing the consequences of their sin.  Some people are stuck in an habitual sin.  And sin is the most dangerous burden, and that from which we should be most intensely seeking to help one another escape.

Scripture is clear that if we continue in sin after confessing Jesus as our Lord, there is no hope for us.  This is a terrifying situation:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

Therefore, if we have been commanded to do good and to take care of the body of the Church first, and if the greatest threat to our well being is sin, then we must be diligent about confronting our own sin and holding one another accountable.  It is the greatest act of love – from a fellow Christian – to help me in my sanctification process and to conquer a sin.  We should never just write a brother off, we should never simply react to one another’s sin, we should never refrain from saying anything out of fear, or because “it’s just not my business”.  It is your business.  It is my business.

Is someone in your community stuck in a sin, or blind to a sin in his life?  It is your responsibility to humbly, in love, help bear that burden.  And when someone approaches you to confront a sin to which you are blind or needing help to conquer, remember that this is the greatest act of love a fellow Christian can give you.  He is looking out for your soul and eternal well being.  Let us embrace accountability and community.  Let us press one another on to good works and maturity.

“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…”

– Heb 10.23-24

 

The Lone Ranger Christian

lone ragner

There are two types of Christians out there:  leaders and followers.  Some people come to faith and are overwhelmed at the size and depth of the Bible, and they are content to let others teach and direct them.  There are so many truths contained within Scripture that they can be fearful to take a stand because they do not have the entire canon memorized and do not want to be disproven or made to look foolish.  These are followers.  We are all followers to an extent – we will all continue to learn and grow throughout our Christian life, none of us will ever have all of the answers and will find our belief system developing – sometimes in large measure, sometimes only minutely.

There are also leaders.  Leaders are those who find pleasure in learning everything that they can about the Scripture and are excited to share it with others.  Leaders see doctrine, theology and ecclesiology as a matter of discipline and discipleship and want to grow on their own and help others along the way.  Leaders can be tempted to rely on their own strength, however, and can find it difficult to rely on others and follow the leadership of others.  All believers will find themselves as leaders at some point in our Spiritual development and life.

With the continual development of our mindset that we have autonomy to define our own truth, and our distrust for authority and claims on absolute truth, we are seeing a new phenomenon within our churches, at an alarming rate, and that is – what I like to call – the “Lone Ranger Christian”.  John Wycliffe began translating the Bible into English in the late 1300’s, and after the Reformation began when Martin Luther posted his 95 thesis on the Wittenburg Castle Church in 1517, he translated the Scriptures into German so that everyone could read the Bible on their own and have a personal interaction with God.  John Wesley and others also translated the Bible into common languages.  Post-Reformation Spirituality became personal, and with that came a variety of denominations – based on these predominant leaders:  Lutheran, Wesleyan, etc.

Throughout the years, congregations and factions would form within these larger denominations – and churches would split and smaller denominations would be formed.  Thus we have 1st Baptist Church and 2nd Baptist Church, 1st United Methodist and 2nd United Methodist within many towns.  Sometimes these splits were over doctrine or belief, and sometimes they were over interpersonal issues.

But the current generation and culture is marked by self-definition and autonomy.  Some (the unhappy leaders) dress it up as missional and call it “Church Planting” while others (the unhappy followers) just give up on everyone else and call their faith “personal”, and alienate themselves from a Church Body.  “We want to have a first-century Church”, they say, “We want to look like the early church”.  And since we cannot walk into an established body and reform it quickly to the principles we see taught in Scripture, we stomp out the door and seek to start our own or give up on everyone else completely.

It is true, our Christian traditions have been developing for nearly 2000 years.  A gathering in Jerusalem in 60 AD would look dramatically different than a gathering in Dallas Texas today.  There are a few things that we must remember, however, when observing that reality.

Firstly, the early Church did not do everything right.  After Jesus returned to Heaven and the apostles began the work of Church planting, the early church had a multitude of problems.  They were immediately plagued by legalism and Judaizers seeking to impose the Old Covenant Law on top of the Gospel.  They also suffered intense persecution which scattered many of them across the known world, and some verbally denied Jesus while others affirmed Him – and many who stood firm under persecution called those who denied Him in a moment of weakness non-believers and heretics.  There were some who taught that Jesus was not a man, He was only God; there were others who taught that He as only god and not a man.  The heresies and false teachings were countless, and the entire New Testament was written to counter these false teachings and develop right doctrine.

Secondly, we must understand that our Church and worship gatherings are almost completely cultural.  Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, how to live daily lives and how to make disciples, but He never said, “When you have a Church service, do this.”  Paul gave very loose instructions about the gathering of believers:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

– Eph 5.18-21

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

-Col 3.16

“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”

– 1 Cor 14.26

We understand that God us given us one another as a body, He has gifted each of us differently to serve the body and push one another on to maturity – some as teachers, some as hands and feet, and when we gather together we are taught to encourage one another with music and teaching and worship God.  We also are taught to remember Christ through the Lord’s Supper by eating together and feeding one another.

That’s it.

Scripture does not teach us to gather for an hour.  There is no outline for Sunday School.  Yes, we are instructed to sing hymns, psalms and Spiritual songs – that means we should sing those truths of old and continue to write new songs of praise to our Lord.  But the Bible never says which instruments we are to use (or not use), it never instructs us on how many songs, or how many preachers!  We are to be marked by prayer, singing and admonishing/teaching.  We all, throughout the ages, have adapted these principles to our fellowships through tradition and through our culture.

And quite frankly, the Early Church suffered much more than we do for lack of accessibility to Scripture and teachings.  We, today, have the completed Scripture at our fingertips and in our language, with 2000 years of scholarly study and theological refinement all collected on google.

So what does all of this mean?  Our culture values independent thought and critical thinking.  This is good, healthy and valuable – because we all must confess our faith personally.  Our parent’s faith, our community’s faith, our pastor’s faith will not save us.  It is also detrimental, however, because we are hesitant to submit to one another, to put each other’s desires before our own, and if our personal fancies are not tickled then we would prefer to just walk away.  This ought not be.  God created us for community and gave us to one another to push each other on to righteousness and obedience.

“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.”

– Heb 10.23-25

If you are a Christian, you must be a part of a local body.  It is not an option.  God did not call us to be lone-ranger Christians, He called us to serve one another, to love one another, to encourage one another, and to go out and make disciples together!

Now hear me, I am not advocating blind submission.  If you are in a body and it is infiltrated by false prophets or the leadership begins teaching heresies – it is our responsibility to seek to right that false teaching, and if the body as a whole will not submit to Scripture and truth, then we should find another body.  False prophets are dangerous, and one of Satan’s tactics is to infiltrate the Church and lead people astray.  We all must be on guard against that danger.  But we must love Christ’s bride as He loves His bride and fight for her.  We should not walk away from a body quickly, but we should plead with her, pray for her, and fight for her.

And Church planting is a necessary and beautiful form of growth!  We see it often on the micro-level in small groups.  When you have a gathering of believers that meets regularly, and new believers are brought in consistently – as they should be – there will quickly come a time that the group is too big for intimate discipleship and accountability.  Those baby Christians will mature and get to a point where they are capable and ready to lead a group on their own!  This is good, right and healthy.  The same is true on the bigger scale.  Churches cannot and should not grow indefinitely.  Pastors should be raised up and trained, Churches should be planted and our footprint broadened.  We ought not be in competition with one another but partners to reach our community, the lost and the world.

This is healthy growth.  Splintering and segregating because of personalities or insubordination is unhealthy and wrong.

So let us check our hearts today.  Are you a part of a local body?  Are you sacrificing your time, energy, finances and autonomy for the sake of other believers?  Are you serving the body, utilizing the gifts and talents that God has given you for the sake of the local Church?  Or are you sitting back and just getting fed?  Do you listen to podcasts instead of attending church?  Are you frustrated about this or that and therefore pray and worship on your own and have written off the local body?

Jesus has created you for community.  You need the body, and the body needs you.  Without the body we will not have fellowship, accountability, encouragement, or an effective witness.  And perhaps most importantly, we are being disobedient if we are not actively serving and participating in Church.  So know the Lord.  Learn the Scriptures.  Find a body and test its doctrine against the Word.  But lay aside your preferences and remember that our gatherings are cultural by in large.  If Scripture does not forbid what your body practices as worship, then embrace it – as it is facilitating worship for others.  If Scripture does forbid what your body is practicing as worship, then address it and identify the sin or false teaching.  And if you must leave out of conviction, then find another body.  There ought not be any lone-ranger Christians.

Where two or three are gathered…

huddle

God has blessed believers with a wonderful form of community known as the Church.  There is the Universal Church which encompasses every believer who has ever and will ever live, and there is also the Local Church, those believers who live geographically near enough to one another to gather corporately to worship, study, serve and make disciples.  Some people hate the church.  They have this ill-conceived notion that if someone goes to church, he must be perfect and is disappointed when that person is not perfect.  Some people hate the church because they hate authority and they think that faith and religion is personal – not meant to be practiced corporately or with accountability.  But if you are a Christian, God has created you to be a part of the Church and given you a special gift and role in to play in the body.  Jesus is the head, and you are a body part.

Many, when considering the Church, quote Jesus in an effort to claim His authority or His presence in their agenda.  We all know the verse well, and when someone begins the sentence, often times we finish the thought or stop listening because the point has been made:

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

– Matt 18.20

But have you ever stepped back to examine the context of this passage?  We quote it most often in prayer meetings and mission trips.  Here we are, setting out to do something great for God or to pray and ask something of God, and we are going to affirm ourselves that we will be successful because there are at least two of us.  Therefore Jesus is in our midst.  We cannot fail.

But Jesus made this profound statement at the end of His outline for Church discipline.  A person who calls himself a believer has sinned.  Jesus commands us to go to that person one-on-one and confront him about the sin.  If he repents, then the issue is over.  If he will not repent, then the confronter is instructed to take two or three others with him to confront the sin again.  This ties into and relies on the foundation of the Mosaic Law – that no one could be condemned on the witness of one person alone – there must be two or three.  It also works directly with the human conscience.  If a group of trusted friends points out a sin or pitfall in one’s life, it is difficult to refuse and not listen to a group whereas you can just shut out one friend.

Lastly, if he will not listen to a group, then Jesus commands us to take it to the church.  This level of accountability shows publicly that the person is either unwilling to submit to God’s law and definition of sin and therefore not a believer, or this person will repent and change when the entire church knows of his sin.

Jesus gave us this outline so that we would protect one another from allowing sin to take root in our lives, and He also gave us this instruction to help weed out false believers:  wolves in sheep’s clothing.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, and if we do not respond when someone confronts us about a sin in our lives, then we are proving the Holy Spirit to not be active in our lives (John 16.8).  We are not born again.

Jesus says,

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.17

In short, kick him out.  Have nothing to do with him.  Paul says that this is turning him over to Satan, with the hopes that he will repent and be saved (1 Cor 5.5).  But Paul also defines this exclusion as not even eating with such a one (1 Cor 5.11).

Now, Jesus knows that this is difficult.  It is hard for us to condemn someone and kick them out.  We see our own guilt, we have compassion, we are friends with this person.  It is not, and it should not be an easy thing to kick someone out of the church.  And because of the gravity of such an event, Jesus affirms us:

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.  For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

– Matt 18.18-20

Jesus gives the church a level of authority in the Spiritual realm.  Spiritual accountability and repentance is always the goal within our community and relationships.  God gave us one another to encourage and exhort one another while serving the poor and making disciples.  And if we see that one is not submitting to God, we must “bind him”, we declare him as not one of us, and we must “loose him”, we remove him from the church – all with the hopes that this will lead to his salvation.

This is a blessing.  If someone is functioning in the church and is not a believer, but we are too afraid to call him out for his sin, then he might live an entire lifetime convinced that he is saved and going to Heaven when he dies.  He will be devastated on judgment day when Jesus says, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt 7.21-23).  But if this person is held accountable, then he has an opportunity to be saved and to be made right with God before meeting Jesus as the judgment seat.

This is why Jesus affirms us as two or three to hold accountable a brother.  When we stand up against sin, Jesus has our back.  We are not guaranteed that the response will be repentance and restoration, but we are guaranteed that we stand on Scripture and when we fight against sin as a unified body, He will support and endorse it.  Standing up for Biblical truth will be honored and upheld both on Earth and in Heaven.

Scripture does indeed teach us that when we are born again that the Holy Spirit resides within us.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

– 1 Cor 3.16

“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

– Ez 36.27

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

– Rom 8.11

And we know that when we gather as a body that we are honoring God and fulfilling part of our purpose.  But the promise of Jesus in our midst, affirming our decisions and actions is given to encourage us when standing up to fight sin in one another’s lives.  He does not give us a flippant approval just by nature of gathering together.  He does not say that we will be successful just because we are working together with other believers.  He promises to uphold His standards and statutes and will fight against sin boldly, with us.

So let us gather with other believers.  Let us be vulnerable with our community.  Let us confess sins and allow the Holy Spirit to convict us and change us.  And let us follow the outlines that Jesus gave us for holding one another accountable so that many will be saved.  And let us claim with joy and thanksgiving the promise that Jesus supports accountability.

And let us also be careful how and when we claim Jesus’ authority.  Many have been hurt and disappointed by not understanding well His promise and provision.  Let us ask Jesus to reveal to you His will, His path, His plan.  Let us not assume His blessing just because a few of us have united in pursuit of a specific goal.

Do I have to go to church?

church

I’m a Christian.  I have been told all my life that God loves me and wants to have a personal relationship with me.  My spirituality is mine, it is between God and me.  Do I have to go to church?

This topic has come up a few times lately and it has pondering, yet again, if we – Christians as a whole – understand what Church is.  What it is meant to be.

Paul speaks directly to the topic.  We’ve all heard it before,

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.

– Heb 10.23-25

Do not forsake the assembling of the brethren.  In layman’s terms, don’t skip church.

But why?  When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He slowly revealed His identity to her.  When she realized that He was a prophet, she tested Him:

Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

– John 4.20

The Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  When Israel split just after Solomon’s rule, the northern half of the kingdom was taken into captivity and intermarried with other nations.  Thus the Jews from the South considered the Samaritans cross-breeds and lesser of a people.  They were worshiping the same God, but the Samaritans only used the first five books of the Bible and split their traditions of worship to worship on “this mountain”, the mountain Gerizim.

The Samaritan woman wanted to test Jesus, because He was a Jew and because He was a prophet (who had just revealed to her that he knew her life story).  Where is the right place to worship?  Let’s look at0 His answer to her feeble attempt:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

– John 4.21-24

So out of Jesus’ own mouth, we see that location no longer matters.  We do not have to go to the temple or to the mountain.  We can worship God wherever we are.  Therefore, we do not need to go to Church, right?

Wrong.

The very fact that we would ask the question “Do I have to go to church?” reveals two things about us.  Primarily, we do not understand the purpose of church.  Secondly, we do not understand the nature of our faith – if we are saved at all.

The purpose of the church is to worship and glorify God.  To make much of Him.  To praise Him.  To learn about Him.  If you choose your church based on what you get out of it, you fundamentally misunderstand its purpose.  If you choose a church based on whether or not you like the music, whether or not it has a big youth group, whether or not you feel good when you come in, then your heart is in the wrong place.  Because church is not about me and it is not about you.  It is about God.

Does the music honor God?  Does the preaching make great His name and lead you to worship, honor, respect and adore Him more?  Does the youth group, or teaching component for children and families teach them how to know and love God?  Sometimes knowing God is going to hurt.  He calls us to die to our sin, to put to death the deeds of the flesh, and that is hard.  Sometimes it hurts.

Church is also the place where we build community.  In fact, most semi-theologians will be quick to argue that the Church is the group of people, not the building.  Yes, that is correct.  God did not create us as lone rangers.  Our American individualism has distorted the Gospel message.  Two words that the Bible never says are “personal relationship”.  Now, the Bible also does not say the word, “trinity”, but all evangelicals believe in the doctrine.  But the Bible does not teach that Jesus came to die on the cross “just for me“.  No, He died for the sins of the world and all who would believe.

Jesus longs for us to abide in Him as He abides in the Father (John 15).  He offers us direct access to God through prayer by redeeming us (Heb 4.16).  Our salvation is based on our personal repentance and not the faith of another, i.e. our parents (Acts 2.38).  So in that sense we understand that salvation is personal.  And we make our daily decision if we will abide in Christ and become one with Him as He is with the Father (John 17).

But let’s take a closer look at what Jesus says when He says that we become one with Him:

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.”

– John 17.11

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.  The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

– John 17.20-23

We are one in Christ with all other believers.  Our unity in Christ is not just me abiding in Christ.  It is me abiding and unifying with you – the church – in the same manner that Jesus abides and is unified with God the Father and the Spirit.  No, my salvation is not based on your faithfulness and I am not in danger of losing it if you abandon the faith.  But God is concerned about us glorifying Him by dying to ourselves, living unto Him, serving the Church (His body!), and reaching the lost.  These are the eternal things.  When we die, nothing else will remain.

So, do we have to go to church?  Is your salvation in limbo if you miss a Sunday here and there for vacation or work or illness?  No, of course not.  But we should examine our hearts on keeping the Sabbath – a day dedicated to God.  But in general, we must be a part of a local body.  God created the Church as His physical body and representation in the world.  We each have a specific role to play to worship Him, make disciples and reach the lost.

Let’s not get caught up in the legalism of it.  Let’s not abuse our freedom in grace.  Let’s give our lives over to the One who gave His life for us, and serve Him by serving the body:  The Church.

“If you love me you will love the Church.”