Posted by: pastortomvabeach | June 20, 2008

Thought For The Week June 22, 2008

It seems like last week’s topic has also been thought about by others. I’ve had more responses to this edition of my “thought” than ever. That’s good. It’s something we really need to be clear about. What does the Bible say about the consumer approach to church? Are we justified in moving here and there to get our needs met or because we feel lead? This would not have been an issue in the first century church since the New Testament indicates that there was only one congregation in each city. The only reason someone would change churches then would be actually moving from one city to another. Today, of course, cities are much larger, and even in small towns there are often several denominations represented and even more than one congregation of some denominations.

  • This week I would like to consider some analogies used in the New Testament to describe the church and see how they apply to the concept of casually changing churches. The first analogy is that of a family. Jesus called His followers brothers and sisters. Paul says, You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19) A family, by its very definition, implies certain commitments and understandings. Paul also tells us that marriage is specifically meant to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church.

  • When we marry we take vows; “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us do part.” Adoption into the family of God surely carries that connotation of a forever relationship. That is one of the best parts of salvation. The Lord tells us He is faithful, He will never leave us or forsake us, He will walk with us through the fire and the water, and much more. This relationship with God through salvation is more than Him and me. When He adopts me it’s not just into relationship with Himself but into relationship with the “household of God”, His family. The wealth of New Testament Scripture indicates we adopted into His universal family, “the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven,” (Hebrews 12:23) which should result in a committed relationship with a local congregation of family members, The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you…with the church that is in their house. (I Corinthians 16:19) You won’t find anywhere in the New Testament one who is adopted into the family of God who does not carry on this relationship with God by belonging to a local church.

  • In the Bible family duties include husbands and wives who are commanded to serve, submit, and be faithful to one another (Ephesians 5:21-33); parents commanded to teach, discipline, and be examples of godliness and faithfulness to their children; and children commanded to honor their parents in all things. How can one honestly carry out these duties if every two to five years they are cutting themselves off from their “family” and attaching themselves to another “family”? John Frye says, “Imagine if our own children shifted around from family to family in our neighborhood, saying, “I don’t like my current family. I think I’ll go join the Smith family. They have a swimming pool and a large screen HD TV.” We would be shocked.” If we examine reasons people change churches (I don’t care for the leader, I was offended by a member, “my” needs are not being met), any child could have similar reasons for shopping for a better family. Betsy Hart says, “Actually, we treat our church membership a lot like we treat our marriages. Hey, if I’m not ‘happy’ in the moment, just move on, right? The American church has, generally speaking, tragically marginalized divorce and, essentially, spouse hopping.”

  • The analogy of the family of God argues for making strong commitments, weathering storms of discontent, and contributing to fix areas we find lacking in the church just like we do in our own families. Problems do not, or should not, send family members searching for better situations, but should motivate them to work hard together to make their own situation better.

  • Another analogy is the body of Christ. Our student ministries pastor did a great job last Sunday describing the relationship we have with the Head of the Body, who is Jesus Christ and contending that one cannot have a biblical relationship with the Head unless one is attached meaningfully with the Body. How can we say we love Jesus, the Head, and somehow reason that we don’t need to be in loving, intimate, mutual relationship with His Body within the context of a local church? That would be like a husband saying he loves his wife while never coming home, supporting her, or getting to know her.

  • Romans 12:5 tells us, We, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another, and Ephesians 4:15-16, the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies . This clearly indicates that every believer is part of the Body of Christ and that Jesus joins us and knits us together with others, most reasonably within the context of a local church. How then can one who is functioning as a living part of a local body detach himself or herself blithely and go looking for another body to attach to? Doesn’t that give the picture of arms, legs, toes, eyes, etc., moving around unattached trying to stick to another functioning body? Where will they fit? Does another part have to detach so they can attach?

  • Beloved, I am not suggesting there are no Scriptural reasons for moving to another church. I intend to discuss those in a future posting. What I am suggesting is that American churches, almost all of them, have been seriously weakened by the excessive movement of body parts from one to another. There are places where limbs should be functioning, where eyes don’t see, where hands should be serving, that are stumps. Betsy Hart adds, “Every time a person who has become a member of a local body leaves for superficial reasons, he leaves a unique hole. The departure dispirits the pastor and other members, including, very often, their children (‘Mom, how come the Joneses aren’t here anymore?’)” I suggest that every time a member leaves one church or joins another, surgery is needed to repair the damage. We are doing a lot of unnecessary reparative surgery today instead of birthing new family members.

  • I could go on with analogies. The church is a building and we are living stones. If I’m a brick built on the foundation, what happens when I pull out of my place or, even worse, what if I cause several bricks close to me to pull out? The whole building could come tumbling down. The church is a field. How is a good crop to be brought in when the wheat, corn, soybeans, tomatoes, etc., keep uprooting and planting themselves in soil across town. Friends, if we are looking for a biblical case for consistent, long-term, through thick and thin commitment to a local body of believers, I think that every analogy God gives in Scripture argues powerfully for just that. “The sentiment of Christian Scripture is that, barring something extraordinary, church members really don’t have a right to hop (simply change churches to suit our desires).”

  • (Betsy Hart)

    Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:11-13 Comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. The words “each other”, “one another”, “brethren” “among you”, and “among yourselves,” indicate a relationship that is close, intimate, and committed. That is our mandate as “members” of the family of God, the Body of Christ, and the building built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. If God plants us, who are we to un-plant? Just a thought.

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