This is the second part of a three part series that gives a biblical perspective of the importance of joining the church. The first part helped us get a biblical understanding of the present dilemma of those who choose not to join a local church. This article supports that urge to become members by a brief biblical analysis. The third part is a series of study questions.
Biblical Analysis of Emerging Trends
People’s questions about the institution of marriage run parallel to the questions they have about the local established church. We feel for them. I have been married 28+ years. It is terrific. But how do you explain this to those who have given up on marriage? They have seen their parents or acquaintances yell at each other with such meanness that they do not want any part of marriage. How can I convince them that marriage can be a beautiful and wonderful relationship? Marriage is not the problem. The fault lies with those who were unfaithful in living out their commitments. Unfaithful people have so marred God’s plan and design, that marriage is no longer attractive.
In a similar way, these ‘outside insiders’ deep down have questions about the established church. Because of past pain or simply the lack of passion and mission, these Christians have great difficulty committing themselves to the church of God. The church has become offensive to them. They don’t dare to be affiliated with the church. Of course, I cannot say that the church has been faithful and true. But is the church any more pure because the ‘holy ones’ stay out of it?
In many cases, the church is no longer the church. Many churches have died. Others are on the way. The Lord warned that He would remove the candlestick of the unrepentant churches. But should we, or do we have permission, to question the whole established church? This is like saying that marriage is wrong because my parents had a bad marriage.
We have two strong statements that must thrust us into a commitment to the local assembly.
(1) God so love the church that He gave His only begotten Son for her. Do we dare refuse to be committed to what God so clearly committed Himself to? In Romans 5:6, He says that He had his Son die for the ungodly. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Why, then, do we dare say that we refuse to ‘live’ with imperfect Christians when our Lord died for her?
(2) The Lord still works with the church even though she has not perfectly responded to His love. The apostle speaks of the blemishes and wrinkles of the church (Ephesians 5:27). In spite of all the flaws, he still devoted himself to establishing these local assemblies. Jesus HImself in His glorified state is, as stated before, standing among the churches. Remember, it was this same Lord who warned each of the churches. He was working with them. We expect that some of the churches responded but others did not. If one church no longer has the Spirit of God, we better move on to another assembly where devotion to Christ is clearly expressed.
The Song of Solomon
The Song of Solomon is a tremendous love story of a bridegroom and a bride as well as a picture of the Lord and His church. Within the book is a progression of the three ‘My beloved’ statements.
““My beloved is mine, and I am his; He pastures his flock among the lilies.” Song of Solomon 2:16.
““I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, He who pastures his flock among the lilies.”” Song of Solomon 6:3.
““I am my beloved’s, And his desire is for me.” Song of Solomon 7:10.
There is a progression in this relationship that is shown through these statements. The writer goes from focusing on herself to a greater and more appropriate focus on her husband. She lives less and less for herself and more and more for him. She interprets life less from a self (me) perspective and more from a him (other) perspective (mission). (This is discussed more elsewhere).
The deepening of commitment parallels the deepening of intimacy. It is based on trust and the willingness to focus less on oneself. At first, the bride merely says that “My beloved is mine.” She cannot see that she belongs to him. She is far too self-focused on what she likes.
This is a clear picture of the immature, but at least she was willing to commit herself. And God, in time, strengthens her to grow ‘out of her self.’ Those that want the pleasure, the joy and security of being with Christ but without the demand of permanent love, service and settled life must wake up to who they want to belong to, Christ or the world. Their fears, perhaps, keep them from growing in faith. They allow the thoughts and fears of what could go wrong to keep them from doing what is right. But the Lord is patient and calling us closer still.
A Devoted Christian
A person choosing to live apart from a commitment to the local assembly can think their choice is the ultimate Christian lifestyle, but in fact, it is a step away from the church and looks far more like the world. We see the opposite happening when God’s Spirit fills His people. God’s people were gathered together when the Spirit of God first came upon them in Acts 1 and 2. Again and again they met, and here they saw the miracles that are recorded throughout that book. They bonded together as a body even though their lives and property were at times at stake.
A Christian is one who has lost himself in the identify of Christ. Yes, we all can agree on this. But the problem with those who question the value of the local church is that they cannot see the parallel truth, that Christ is in His people. They have a hard time recognizing that the ones that they avoid are the ones that they are called to love. In fact, they are not focused on Christ but are focused on themselves. They talk a lot about what Christ means to them but are unwilling to see that they are now bond servants to Christ. The real demonstration of Christ’s presence is seen by the carrying out of love not only limited to but definitely expressed within the confines of the local church, people who are bonded together in Christ in a local place. “And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). By loving those around us, we love Christ. Without this commitment to God’s people, we must question whether or not we have a commitment to Christ.
Understanding Our Choices
Unless we are numbered with His people, are we really His people? It is the ultimate question. We can understand, and Christ fully recognizes, that some have been hurt in cults and experienced other ungodly situations. God’s people have sometimes experienced more pain through Christ’s body then from the world. We understand these complaints against the church.
But what should be our proper response to these things? Should we live as if Christ is not working among His people? Are we to choose to aid Satan the Accuser in his all out attack against the church? Or should we, the Christian, the little ‘christs,’ return to living like Christ? Faith calls us to live in light of what God is doing and not what the evil one has done. Faith calls us to look beyond the scenes we have witnessed on earth and be shaped by what God has spoken. Faith is trust. If we doubt the very thing that God Himself has said, that He is involved in the world around us, then we have no motivation to serve Him. Christ is committed to building up the His body the church, and so, must we be. Many times we think of ourselves on a spiritual plateau, when in fact, our faith is very low. We do not believe God can or will work in His people. This is exactly where the evil one wants to lead God’s people, to a place where there is no hope and clearly no prayer.
The local church might be far from ideal, but it will be even less so without you, if indeed you are of Christ. By withdrawing from the church, you are part of the reason it does so poorly. If everyone with a complaint about the church, gave up on her, then indeed the church would be in an even more desperate state.
The solution is not to abandon the church but to revive her. She will be revived if we repent of our sins and turn back to her Lord. But as long as we are like scattered sheep, our faith will be chewed away by devouring wolves. We need to trust the Lord for His basic design of the church, just like we must trust Him with the design of marriage.
I grew up in a very broken home. I once heard a cell group discuss how horrible the situation was with the Samaritan woman that Jesus met. I instantly thought of my family that I grew up in. I suffered greatly from those who decided not to live by God’s design. If I only reacted to that shaping aspect of my life, I would join the many others who have questioned the value of marriage. If I had done that, I would never have been able to enter into the wonderful world of marriage. The glory of our marriage was not instantaneous but one that grew to be. Instead of giving up on God’s wonderful design of marriage, I committed myself to loving a woman according to the scriptures. I found that the more I conformed myself to what God designed, the better marriage became.
The so-called church that I grew up in was likewise a sham of a church. It was rotten. The preacher divorced his wife. He didn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ. Most people didn’t know the Lord in that liberal church. If I allowed my experience there to shape my life’s commitment to the church of God, today I would be in a most unholy place. I needed to allow God’s vision of the church, as stated in the scriptures, to shape my mind, expectations and practices. The more we live ‘by faith’ through what is revealed in the scriptures, the more we will grow in our trust in His ways. As a result, we will be richly blessed.
We need to grow in Christ. This means that we need to be committed to what He is committed to. My heart pains to see so many Christians hanging around the church rather than functioning as the church. May they pour back into the church so that the church is indeed the complete bride of Christ.
If we are the church of God, then we should be true to our name. The term ‘church’ comes from the Greek word ecclesia and is similar to the meaning of the Old Testament term, both mean ‘the called out assembly.’ We are called from the world into God’s presence. Although this article has not specifically targeted the emergent church, we do observe that its name has the exact opposite meaning of the church.
Our focus is on Christ and therefore we find ourselves assembled in His presence. Then we see that there are many others there also together with us. This is the church. We gain nothing from leaving or emerging from the church. That would only take us back into the world. Our only hope, notwithstanding all the past pain and sorrow found in the church, is faith in God’s Word which calls us to return to a full commitment to what Christ Himself has committed to - the church.
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 10:25).