I often think about the state of the American Church. By American Church I mean the broad spectrum of professing Christians who live in America. I am deeply concerned, and have a deep sense of sorrow for this portion of God’s Kingdom. Why? The reason is the stubborn way so many Christians in America insist that faith is personal. Of course faith is personal, but it is also meant to be communal. Now I’m not saying “go to church”. I’m saying that we must BE the Church. For us to effectively be the Church we must learn how to be communal. No, I am not suggesting that we all move into communes. I am only suggesting that we learn how to be a real part of each others lives.
Let’s take Jesus as an example. Jesus spent three whole years eating, sleeping, traveling, and just living with His disciples. They were very communal. His disciples knew what each others weakness were. They knew what each others strengths were. They were like brothers. Yes, they fought. Yes, they had times where they probably would have rather been somewhere else. But, they were communal. They did faith together. They learned from Jesus together. They learned what it meant to be a follower of Christ, together. So, where does this leave us. Well, we could all move to the desert and try to replicate the experience the Disciples had, but I don’t think that is what we are called to.
I am convinced that we are called to do something far more radical. I believe that we are called to die to ourselves. I believe that we are called to die to our need for our lives to be private. I believe that we are called to die to our sense of entitlement. When I say this, I mean our sense that I do something, then I expect something in return. I mean our sense of justice has got to change. We have to be willing to be wronged, without seeking revenge. We have to be able to swallow our pride, and allow others to be first. We have to learn what it means to strip away all of our worldly conceptions of what is just. The world’s sense of justice has no place for real love and sacrifice. We have to learn how to strip away the veneer, and begin to be real with each other. We have to give up on this overdeveloped sense of individualism that we have learned to hone. The American mantra is “pick yourself up by your bootstraps and dust yourself off.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 says “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Individualism isn’t scriptural.
Many American Christians, as well as other non-believers, have picked up “Judge not or you to will be Judged”. (Matthew 7:1) Somehow there doesn’t seem to be any room for 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In Jesus’ own words, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17) It is clear that Jesus did not mean that people should not be corrected. So what does He mean by do not judge? I believe that it is far more faithful to Scripture to say that we ought not judge someone unworthy for God’s kingdom.
I am convince that we Christians are far too harsh on each other when we do actually correct one another. Romans 15:1-4 encourages, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” The call is clear. We must learn to open our lives to the scrutiny of our fellow believers. This is sure to be uncomfortable, but it is the only way we can learn to really BE the Church.
There are two other key things we need to keep in mind as we try to be the Church. The first is that we must remember that we are all sinners, but that does not mean we have license to sin as much as we want. Paul exhorted Timothy saying, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Peter wrote,
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” 1 Peter 3:15-16
If we are to be the Church, then we must embody Scripture. We must learn how to be loving, without throwing out truth. We must learn the difference between bearing with our brothers and sisters, and enabling them. We cannot afford the old individualistic ideal of “Jesus and me”. We must learn to think communally as Christ did saying,
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one__I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Jesus wanted us to BE the Church. We cannot do this by ourselves. The Church is a body made up of parts. We must learn how to begin to function as part of the body, or else we (the American Church) will die.
Until Next Time. May God cause His face to shine upon you, may He gracious to you, and may he grant you peace.