On Unity in the Community of Faith

Gregg Allison commenting on the Spirit as creator and sustainer of unity in the community of faith:

“Churches do not have to attempt to create unity among their members; the Spirit provides that for them (Eph. 4:3). What must instead happen is that churches are to work hard to maintain that unity, which seems to be fragile and undergo breakdowns because of the sinfulness of church members (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).

Mindful that they are natural enemies who have been brought together not naturally but by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, church members rely on the Holy Spirit to be able to express genuine love toward one another (Rom. 15:30; Col. 1:8) in an atmosphere of righteousness, peace, and joy fostered by the Spirit (Rom. 14:17).”

-from Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (118-119)

The Church!

How can we accurately emphasize and do justice to the significance of that word?

Church.

It’s a complex, multi-faceted word. Its definition seems to be clear; of course, that is entirely dependent within the context in which you find it. Even within those contexts, there is great debate on what is actually being conveyed, and what is not. So, it’s really not all that clear.

Does its usage encourage certain actions and forbid others? Are there prescriptions for what exactly it should be? How do we interpret and make decisions for the future of it? What liberty are we given to even do this?
Even though we have an idea of what we think it is, make no mistake: There is much to be debated about the church.

And these debates have massive implications. For they impact the course of Christianity in history.

One thing is clear, though, Christ thought very highly of it. And he spoke often to it. He left instructions for it to follow. He continues to sustain it, and always will. He died for it. It is His bride.

His inspired Scriptures speak to all areas of life, implicitly and explicitly. I don’t want to focus here, so I will refer you to a recent topical sermon by Mark Dever, The Sufficiency of the Bible for the Church.

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The church has surfaced indirectly in much of my reading lately. I was reading a book on evangelism and one of the best chapters was on the significance of the church. In a different book on Christianity and culture, the church took yet another prominent role.

Thinking about it now, it’s sad to me that I was surprised to discover such an emphasis on the church. This seems to be a commentary on today’s culture/society. My generation in particular.

I grew up in an age of individualistic Christianity. There was so much focus on the individual, and lack of teaching about the church, that we lost a vision for the church. We’ve broken down the Christian life so much that we have lost the context of it within the greater whole, the church.

Can the Christian life even function outside of the context of the church? It is even safe to look at different aspects of the Christian life outside the context of the church? I think we have focused too much on the individual at the expense of the unity of the church.

And oh how Satan has taken advantage of this. How prideful our hearts.

It still seems, though (within a few evangelical circles anyway), that we are slowly returning to an emphasis on the local body of believers, the church. I hope we are, at least, signifying an end to the individualistic Christianity that has plagued our churches, and has left us with a warped perspective on the truths of Scripture. The perspectives that are driving the machine of consumerism within Christianity that has blinded our churches. Mainly the idea that we are the ones to be served by the church, not vice versa. Giving allowance to the practice that we can hop around from church to church, never actually committing to any one community. What a great deal it is, though. We never actually have to become vulnerable. We never really have to open our lives to those other Christians around us. We never have to heed any of the actual teachings of the New Testament on unity and loving your brother and sisters in Christ.

We never have to experience trial in this area, which never allows us to grow as Christians.

Read that last statement again. This is not a good thing.

Let us grow! But this can only happen within the church. Thankfully this isn’t something you have to go looking for. This growth (in holiness) is something that can (and will) happen within the church you are currently a part of. God lead you to that place, to those people, for a reason.

Now instead of using the church to satisfy what you believe to be your longings of what the church has to offer, read the New Testament.

Open yourself to the perspective that you are a part of that church because God wants you to grow as a Christian, in the specific areas that make you want to flee to another church, as a follower and disciple of Christ.

Now don’t make the mistake of thinking this will be easy. Don’t think that everything will need to change except you. It is going to be a refining process, one that involves truly loving people, forgiving them when they wrong you, admitting when you are wrong, and the list goes on and on. But it is a beautiful process. It is one in which God receives glory every step of the way. It is a process that is only possible through the blood of Christ, in which we live.

It is the ultimate goal of our existence, of our life on this earth…

God preparing a bride for his Son.

Church Covenants

Does your church have a covenant? If you’re not sure, or you don’t really know what a church covenant is, I hope to answer those questions (and raise a few more) for you in this article.

Church covenants mainly have to do with Church Membership. So, this may be more of a discussion on the importance of church membership. And while church membership isn’t directly addressed in the New Testament we believe the early church had some way of keeping up with who was part of the church and who wasn’t. We see this in some of the practices of the early church, as in 1 Tim. 5. So, let’s presuppose you believe strongly in healthy church membership.

The church covenant is the the covenant that you would acknowledge and submit to when you join a local congregation. It’s a document, usually composed of points, written by the leadership of the church. It’s content informs the prospective member what they are entering into in terms of accountability with the congregation they would like to become a part of.

Not only has our culture gotten away from the importance of church membership (the broader issue) but many churches do not even have covenants anymore. Churches that do uphold a model of healthy church membership typically have covenants. I believe covenants can be a sign of a church who takes membership seriously.

This raises a few more questions for churches. Do you welcome just anyone into the congregation that wishes to join? What do you base their acceptance on? Is it even wise to allow people to join when they haven’t submitted to a church covenant?

If these questions are ignored, I would suggest that this could endanger the purity of the congregation. People need to know just exactly what they want to become a part of. And they also have to know that if, and once they do, become a member certain things are expected of them as members of the congregation.

We have grown far too passive in today’s church culture. You may have heard it said that we’ve become ‘consumers’ of church. No one (very few) approaches church today as “what can I give?” or “how could I serve this church?”. No, today our mindset is more along the lines of “what can this church do for me?” or “I just want a church that fits my lifestyle.”

Of course these problems are rooted in individualism, egocentrism. We’ve got to reclaim what it means to functions as a church body. We’ve got to learn once again what it means to be unified as a church. Ultimately because of the words that Jesus spoke,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, italics mine).

We must love one another so the world will know, as Mark Dever says, what the “gospel made visible” looks like.

I believe establishing a church covenant is one way to begin the reclamation process.

Begin asking other members how they feel about this issue and what you think you could do to encourage this growth in your church.

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I discovered another article this evening written by Matt Schmucker of 9Marks. It’s a comprehensive look at church covenants: Membership Matters – What is Our Church Covenant?

These are some of the best resources I know regarding church membership:
The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love
What Is a Healthy Church Member?
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church