unsplash.com, cristina-cerda-43101Most professing Christians in the U. S. don’t attend church—the hub for the community of faith described in the Bible.[1] They find her irrelevant or without anything unique to offer.[2] Some people leave because of bad experiences. Reflecting on this, a friend noted that she’s had bad experiences at the grocery store, too, but she hasn’t stopped going there.

Because we’re human, all people contribute to bad experiences. Nevertheless, we rightly expect that there should be something special about church people—something extraordinary. Too often, though, the most distinguishing characteristic of people in the church is a shallow reverence for God. Instead of a community of souls knitted together for God’s glory, these churches are more like social clubs or community centers, completely missing out on God’s unparalleled desires for them.

The Bible explains that, within the church, we’re called to have vulnerable relationships with each other that help us to:

  • grow in spiritual understanding,
  • learn to walk more closely with Christ, and
  • better represent Christ to each other and to the world.

As we respond to each other’s needs by sharing our gifts, our failings, and our stories of God’s victories in our lives, he opens the eyes of our hearts to truth. God uses transparent relationships within the church to transform us for our benefit and for his glory. [3]

Followers of Christ have a responsibility to prayerfully initiate and nurture these divinely ordained relationships.[4] But it’s more popular these days to think that the church is optional. The Bible says otherwise. God’s Word warns us not to neglect meeting together as his church.[5] Participation in a strong community of faith is a scriptural prescription for spiritual health.

For most of my life, I didn’t know about this kind of community. A denominational mutt, I’ve been Methodist, Presbyterian, non-denominational, and Baptist. I was in my mid-thirties before I began to get it. I don’t recall much about the teaching I received in church before then, and I’m not sure whether I was most hindered by the teaching, the community or the hardness of my own heart.

Since then, though, I’ve been blessed by my church family in ways I couldn’t have imagined. In no other type of community have I found the love, instruction and encouragement for spiritual growth that’s foundational for Christian maturity. Through the examples of his faithful people, God

  • convicts and inspires me,[6]
  • helps me to understand what it means to be humble, while also being confident in my identity in Christ,[7]
  • increases my awareness of the certainty of being fully loved by God despite my failings,[8]
  • shows me how to be reconciled to the things in this life that are disappointing, while being increasingly satisfied in Christ,[9] and
  • works through me to bless others in these same ways.

Without belonging to a Gospel-centered church, I can’t imagine how I would’ve experienced any of this. And while it’s unrealistic to expect every person in the church to try to live out biblical Christianity, relationships with those who do are critical. Our shortcomings will cause us to disappoint each another, but the love of Christ shared between us overcomes the hurt and rightly refocuses us on the God who is sovereign over all.[10]

unsplash.com, arthur-poulin-96074The church community is composed of believers who, by virtue of their shared reliance on Christ, are knitted together in a deep spiritual sense. A joy and warm familiarity springs up in the hearts of Christ-followers when we encounter each other. C. S. Lewis was correct when he suggested that we recognize each other “immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of color, sex, class, age, and even of creeds.”[11]

Scripture describes this kind of church community as citizenship with the saints and membership in the household of God.[12] God designed the church for spiritual flourishment to occur in a state of mutual interdependence among imperfect believers. The church is one of the primary means by which God prepares us for eternity with him.

As John Piper says, “Eternal security is a community project.”[13] We curtail our spiritual maturity when we dismiss self-sacrificing involvement in the church.[14] Without it, our spiritual status is at risk.[15]

“When the only person that truly knows all about us is the person who uses our hairbrush, we are easy pickings for the enemy, ripe for being outmaneuvered and outsmarted.”[16]

But what if you belong to a church that lacks a community of faith that functions as the body of Christ? [17] Unfortunately, just as more people will turn from God than will follow him,[18] my own experience suggests that most of the members of many churches are imposters—those who say they are Christians but whose lives have not been changed by the Gospel.[19] We need to exercise spiritual discernment in humility and with full submission to God as he uses us to contribute to the creation and sustainment of biblical church communities.[20] When this is impossible, we need to exercise that same humility and submission in seeking out another church.

Since our spiritual health depends upon belonging to a vibrant body of faith, I would go so far as to recommend uprooting family and even changing one’s line of work, if that’s what it takes to belong to a Gospel-centered church. Would anyone choose to live in a place where the ground is barren and grocers offer only toxic food? Bodily death would be imminent. In the same way, why would we starve our eternal spirits?

Only in churches committed to being faithful to the Gospel will we find community marked by a shared desire for maturity in Christ. Only in these churches will we experience the grace and love that bind us together in Christ.[21] We need to commit our prayers and resources—time, skills, and yes, money—to such churches in obedience to Christ. In so doing, we will be faithful Christ-followers, doing what we know he told us to do.[22]

Ephesians 4:11-16

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

REFLECTION

  • In what areas do you need to shore up your involvement in the community of faith so that you’re not easy pickings for Satan?
  • Reflect on a time when God revealed himself to you though his church. Thank him for his faithfulness in teaching you through others in the community of faith. Encourage those he has used to help you mature in your faith by thanking them, too.
  • Pray regularly for the leaders and members of your church to be more committed to the Gospel and a shared goal of maturity in Christ.
  • Pray for God to use you for his purposes in the lives of others, to point them to his love, trustworthiness and sufficiency.

PRAYER

For those who do not participate in a Gospel-based community of faith:

Father God, please help me to tune my heart to hear you speak through other believers. Please lead me to a community of believers where this will be possible. Please give me the desire, courage, and trust in you to seek spiritual maturity with them.

For those now participating in a Gospel-based community of faith:

Dear Lord, thank you for the great privilege of sharing life with others who seek you. I pray that you would strengthen and deepen our relationships for your glory. Please help us to grow even more in our ability to discern and submit to your will.

SHAREABLES (copy and paste)

(https://twitter.com/) (https://www.facebook.com/)

FOOTNOTES

[1] 1 Timothy 3:14-15

[2] The Barna Group found that the percentage of Americans who had not attended church in the past six months rose from 34% in 2004 to 47% in 2013. 5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church

[3] See blog posts The Best Evidence of Saving Faith and Seeking Jesus through Fellow Believers.

[4] Matthew 28: 18-20; Jude 20-21; 1 Peter 4: 10; Ephesians 4: 13, 15

[5] Hebrews 10:24-25

[6] Proverbs 27:17, Colossians 3:16

[7] Romans 8:38-39, 1 Corinthians 6:17, Galatians 2:20

[8] John 8:1-11. Sheila Walsh, “Fully Known, Fully Loved” (May 13, 2015, http://www.womenoffaith.com/2015/05/fully-known-fully-loved/.)

[9] John 16:33

[10] John 13:34-35, 1 Peter 4:8, Colossians 3:13-14

[11] C. S. Lewis, “The New Men,” chap. 11 in Mere Christianity, Adobe Digital Edition (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2009), 223. An excerpt containing this quote may be viewed here.

[12] Ephesians 2:19

[13] John Piper, “God Strengthens Us through Others,” Desiring God, April 4, 2017, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-strengthens-us-through-others.

[14] Ephesians 4:11-16

[15] See blog post The Best Evidence of Saving Faith.

[16] Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer, “Struggling Well: True Faith in Real Life,” Chapter 4 in Recovering Redemption: A Gospel Saturated Perspective on How to Change (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014). Kindle edition, 76–77.

[17] Sensing the spiritual health of a church can be difficult without active involvement. Allow time and involvement to get a broad perspective, as no church composed of humans can be perfect. Seek God’s guidance in this, as it clearly is his will for us to be in churches that are submitted to him and he will be faithful to guide you. For guidance on elements of both kinds of churches, read Raymond Ortland’s The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (9marks: Building Healthy Churches) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

[18] Matthew 7:13-14

[19] Titus 1:16, 2 Timothy 3:5, 1 John 1:6

[20] Ephesians 4:1-3, 11-15

[21] Philippians 2: 1-11

[22] John 10:27, 21:15-17

Join me in my passion to live for Christ

Join my email list to receive my latest posts delivered directly to your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!