Has the life been sucked out of Church?
Are we all accountable to others?
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I think it’s still worth giving it a go, after all, what is there to lose? And so much to gain. How marvellous would that be, worshipping God together with like-minded people in freedom and expectation. Imagine the following Scripture as a write-up of your church in the Christian press, after a visit from a “mystery worshipper”.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
Let’s think again as to what the word “Church” actually means. Earlier we discovered that the Greek word translated as “Church” actually means called-out ones. The word identifies us as people of God, though it has been used to refer to the building in which we meet. If we take these two thoughts together, it implies that the folk who meet inside these buildings are all called-out ones. That is untrue, as there are very few church buildings that can boast a congregation of 100% born again believers! We need to change our thinking away from what is man-made, to what is God-made.
But then we can take this even further. Again I ask, what is Church? Looking through the Scriptures it is true that in many cases the references are to the Church at ... Antioch, or Jerusalem, or Corinth etc., single churches or local groupings of churches.
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. (Acts 11:22)
But in other places, what is being spoken of is the Church as a single entity, the complete Body of Christ, the worldwide collection of called-out ones.
But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8:3)
We can identify with the first, the local church, but, with over 38,000 denominations, it’s very hard to see our current Church as a single entity. The best we can do is to speak regionally, as in the English Church, or refer to the larger groupings as the Catholics, Pentecostals, Presbyterians etc.
One more time I ask, what is Church ... for you? Is Church just people you meet with in a building, whether a church building, a leisure centre or a home, or is your vision wider than this? Does your church meet with other churches for missions or campaigns or prayer? Do you feel just as connected with these folk or are there barriers, of doctrine or personality or strangeness? When you meet other Christians, say at college or at work, in the context of group prayer or just fellowship, do you see this as Church? Is there a spiritual connection, something that crosses natural barriers, or do we retreat to what is familiar when we think about “doing Church”?
And what about accountability? The need for this was driven home to me through a recent tragedy, the suicide of an old friend through the stress of work. This has affected me deeply. This friend, a kind and easygoing family man, was just not the type of person who would resort to such a terrible solution to whatever was troubling him. Had he no-one on whom he could unload these troubles? We can only pray that his soul was reconciled to God before the final darkness. There but for the grace of God we go came to mind, not just as a trite slogan, but as a reality, an understanding that being accountable to each other is a gift, an outworking of God’s grace in our lives.
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:12-13)
We so need to look out for each other, particularly so in the Body of Christ, so that we can correct and encourage each other and help each other through problems that may even sneak up on us without our knowledge and harden our hearts. We tend to be individualists by nature and we may come out with a whole load of excuses for not binding ourselves with others: I don’t need to, I’m accountable to God alone. Nobody needs to know my business. I manage OK by myself. All cop-outs.
Recently we spent a couple of days on Lindisfarne, Holy Island, off the North East coast of England and the cradle of Christianity in these lands. It’s geographically unusual in that it is only accessible when the tide is out and there are great dollops of time every day when the island is isolated from the mainland, cut off by the sea. No man is an island said the Christian poet, John Donne in the 17th Century, yet how many of us live much of our lives in isolation, cut off from each other, if not from God.
The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Living Hebraically is all about relationships, with God and with fellow believers. To get this right we need to be in the right place, with the right people, with God at the centre.
Isn’t it time we got serious? For many folk their church experience has become a habit, an obligation, even a chore. Perhaps it is because they haven’t yet responded heart and soul and mind to God’s free gift, in which case they are not the church, they are not the “called out ones”. You and I are the Church. As a church we have an obligation to reach the World, but first we must learn to live Hebraically, we must get our relationships right with God and fellow believers.
Surely the best environment for nurturing these precious relationships is in a manageable group of folk who meet regularly, are accountable to each other, who can help to discover and nurture each other’s gifts, and who can truly share in a safe, intimate environment. I don’t think that is ideally realised in a mega-church, an internet church or in a church system that sees you just as a passive pew-sitter, though of course anything is possible when God acts in the lives of His people.
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
Wherever God has put us, let us strengthen one another, as best as we can, with the gifts that He has freely given us.
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For the previous article in this series, click here.