Life Together

by Justin Lonas

Second in series of articles on the difference between "doing church" and being the church. Why is it that when Christians meet together under threat of arrest in communist China and other closed countries, they praise God with a fervor and unity seldom seen in the free environments of the West? Why in America, where Christianity is freely practiced, do church members so often treat each other with a distrust and indifference that rivals worldly business competition? If we want to reclaim our culture from the world's value system and reach the lost for Christ, we have to begin by recapturing love for one another in Him. A powerful, relevant body is not a product of church size, financial assets, programs, influential members, or a prominent location. It is simply the outflow of brethren abiding in Christ's command to love one another. The Common Denominator The first step to loving one another is remembering where we all came from. In First Corinthians 6:9b-11, Paul reminds us of the fact of our common redemption: "Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our Lord." We are all Christ-bought sinners! That's the beauty of Christian community-our partaking in the church is not about our contribution, but about Christ's uniting us through His blood. The sooner we take this truth to heart and put away the tacit segregations that divide us into "good," "bad," or "backslidden" categories, we can become a church ready for God to use. As C.S. Lewis put it through one of his characters in The Great Divorce, "That's what we all find when we reach [heaven]. We've all been wrong! That's the great joke. There's no need to go on pretending one was right! After that we begin living." Rejoicing in the Privilege If we can't live in love toward one another in the church-as 1 John 3:18 says, not "with word or tongue, but in deed and truth"-it's no wonder that the rest of the world has serious doubts about the legitimacy of our faith. The first step to an effective witness is an abiding appreciation of our own fellow partakers in grace. That's what has always made Christ's teaching unique-He said that we would be known by our love for one another (John 13:35), not our achievements, adherence to morality, or relevance. We need to experience a paradigm shift in the way we view our fellow believers and what it means to be a church together. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed this in his 1939 book, Life Together, stating that we should enter into Christian community "not as demanders but as thankful recipients." He went on to say that "We thank God for giving us those who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians." Bonhoeffer's call to viewing membership in the Body of Christ as a privilege should wake us. That's why oppressed believers can rejoice so vibrantly-they are acutely aware of the tremendous cost that Christ paid so that we may have intimate fellowship with Him and with each other! Here's where it gets sticky, though-the issue is not some intangible philosophical concept about global church unity or an argument against the proliferation of denominations. This is about you and me and our local church bodies. Where Do We Go From Here? Working out the teaching of love for another "in deed and truth" to a congregation is a huge undertaking because the love John is speaking of only comes from Christ's transformation of our hearts. What does it mean to love in truth? In practical terms, we need to cultivate intentional, continual fellowship with those in our church, to the end of deepening our relationships to Christ and to one another. The "truth" aspect almost solely comes over time through devoted relationships that carry us beyond the one or two relatively "sanitized" church meetings each week (where we so often operate behind a faade of spiritual contentedness) and into our daily lives. If God is concerned about all of our lives, so should we as believers be concerned with the lives of our fellow men. One of the best ways this is played out is through small groups meeting together regularly outside of Sunday worship services. Such gatherings over time give participants a chance to truly know each other, to cultivate relationships, sharpen each other's knowledge of the Word, to practice the "one-anothers" of Scripture and, above all, to exhort one another to seek God's glory. Intentionally meeting together is much more important in an era when many church members drive long distances to attend services-in other words, congregations aren't necessarily a part of each other's lives outside of church anymore, so we need to make the effort to bond together in Christ. In bringing church members closer together in Christ, small groups also help in developing a church's attitude toward the community at large. Often, groups in my church will start ministering to the people around them in practical ways that a more "organized" church program never could. By simply working toward a true fellowship with other Christians, we are awakened to the need to be the salt and light to everyone else around us as well. Churches with vibrant congregational life beyond Sunday worship almost always have a more vibrant congregational dynamic on Sunday morning, too. These churches, by seeking to love one another, are often the most ready to respond to community needs, the most willing to reach out to non-believers, and the most willing to take bold steps for God. This fact is too important to ignore. Unless our congregations are willing to submit to one another in love and the common gratitude of redemption, the other aspects of our church life will not flourish. The privilege of communion with one another is a crucial aspect of God's design for our time on earth; we forget that at our own peril. When we honor that, however, we draw closer to His will in our whole walk. Justin Lonas is publisher of Pulpit Helps.
2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
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