Why Church? Family . . .

Take a moment and think about a Christian person who really bugs you. It might be something about their personality that rubs you the wrong way, or it may be something about the way they express their Christianity that drives you nuts, perhaps because you think they are nuts. It might be someone you know personally, it might be someone you know from the tv. One would hope it is not the person you are married to. Now I have some good news and I have some bad news. First the bad news: If you are a Christian you will be spending the rest of eternity with that annoying person. Now the good news: You will be mature enough to handle it by then!

But perhaps the person you think of is not so much “buggy” but hurtful. Perhaps you still feel the wounds and are harbouring ill feelings toward that person. On the one hand you will be spending eternity with that person, on the other hand, by the time that day comes, you will have matured considerably in Christ-likeness and grace. The trick for the Christian though, is that the Kingdom realities we look forward to in eternity, we are to reach toward, grasp and bring back to our day. We cannot pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” and not make a serious commitment to forgiveness and grace. All too often Christians have left churches to escape people they don’t want to forgive, not realising that there is a wonderful family reunion ahead. Why not act like family now?

Paul calls the Church the “family of faith” in Galatians 6:10, and there is much to show that the first Christians considered themselves that very thing. An interesting exercise would be to read through all the letters and underline all the times the writer calls the recipients “brothers.” It would be over one hundred times. Then consider too, that this sense of family paid no attention to regional barriers, nor to which “church you attended”. How things have changed!

Since the Christian community is family, there naturally (and supernaturally!) arose a care one for another. We see this even in material matters in the very first description of the Church in Acts 2:

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:41-47 NRSV

We should not take this description as descriptive of some early form of communism, but rather as descriptive of people acting like family, and one modelled on the love of God. But this concern for one another was also for more spiritual matters also: “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” Galatians 6:1 NRSV. But how often do we actually see such deep conversations within the church family? Many attend church seeking an encounter with God (very important and much better than seeking an encounter with a well run service and a well written and delivered sermon), but miss out on encountering the people of God all around them. It is hard to have the difficult conversations of spiritual care Paul is commending when there are no conversations! I am grateful to be part of a church that can be incredibly noisy before and following, and between the services – so many conversations – so many messy lives colliding including my own – people acting like family.

So why bother with Church? That should be a bit like asking why bother with family.

Why Church? Becoming . . .

I met a remarkable man many years ago. He told me of his Bible study routine which included at least three hours of intensive study in the Word each day, this being a man who knew the Bible very well and could quote it from memory better than anyone I know. But what struck me about this man was not his Biblical knowledge, it was his seeming complete lack of grace. Showing my own sinfulness I must admit to hoping that he would not die during my time as pastor of that church lest I may be called to officiate at his funeral, something I did not want to do! My impressions of him and relationship with him would have made a eulogy difficult. Here was a man who knew his Bible, yet something was amiss.

I have a book that lists 4,400 guitar chords, of which I suppose I know about 20, enough to play a few songs at least. It is entirely possible,  given enough time and boredom, that we could learn all 4,400 chords, knowing exactly where on the fretboard to place our fingers. Yet if we have never practised playing, our fingers may not want to go where our vast knowledge knows they should go. Knowing the chords does not a solid guitar player make. Knowing the Bible does not a solid Christian make!

Ephesians 6 leads us to three words that are important for becoming a solid Christian.

First: Maturity

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV

As a pastor I don’t exist to simply convey information, any more than any parent exists to simply convey information to their child. Part of the work, and a fulfilling one I must admit, is to help people mature in Christ. Maturity in this passage is defined as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Looking at it that way, we all have some distance to go!

Second: Change

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV

We often hear things like “I was born this way.” How quickly we run from change, sometimes even denying the possibility. And how often we hear of churches resisting change, even in minor details like carpet colours. Yet change is what a Christian is to do! We are a people who are all about change!

Third: Imitation

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2

What a challenge, to imitate God! This is challenging to some because they would actually prefer to be God, and so like Adam and Eve try be something they are not. Others find the challenge rather in trying to do things they don’t think they can, like forgive or learn patience. But we must be imitators of God and all the wonderful character traits that we see in Him, we reach for and by His grace, and through His Spirit, we begin seeing in ourselves.

So why bother with church? Because maturity, change, and imitation of God works so much better with others. We are not likely to do well in these things without others, and amazingly, God wants to use us to help others do well in these things also. Sure, we can memorize the entire Bible on our own, but memorizing the Bible does not ensure our growth as Christians.  Jesus did not call just one disciple, but twelve. Discipleship always works best in bunches!