In yesterday’s post, we were addressing the all-too-common issue of perpetual church-shopping. For many, church-shopping has become a fad that feeds our consumer-craving; to get it all when we want, how we want, and from whatever churches we want. A safe distance is kept, where people can get to know me, but not too closely so that I can safely live how I want and consume where its convenient for me, all the while robbing ourselves and churches of spiritual growth and health. When challenged, a defense is often put up: “Well, the Bible never says I need to commit to one church.” While there is no verse that says that, everything about NT life in Christ implicitly declares it.
Four shepherd pointers were given to help us shepherd shoppers towards the joy of commitment to one local church. Here are the remaining four:
5. We are saved into the body of Christ. The “body” is one of the NT’s favorite analogies to describe the organic and mutually-dependent relationship of the church, with Christ as her head (Rom 12:4-5, 1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 1:22-23, 4:12-16; Col 1:18). At the local level, this must mean something. And it does: it means that the local church is to function like a body with many mutually-depenlonging dent membes (“so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another,” Rom 12:5). Under Christ’s authority, we have a responsibility to one another. That responsibility cannot be expressed in loosely-affiliated and carelessly-committed attachment to a local church.
What does that responsibility look like? Think of it in terms of the body-metaphor: in what way is a body part responsible to the larger body?
First, it belongs to something bigger than itself. A lung, for example, belongs to one body; that is its identity, in a sense. It does not belong to itself, but that body, along with the other body parts. So it is with us. We are saved into the Church, and express that exclusively by belonging to a church locally.
Second, it does not exist merely for itself, but for the one body and the other body parts. A lung exists to faithfully, behind the scenes, take in and put out oxygen for the rest of the body parts. As it does, other mutually-dependent body parts receive the lung’s care such that the one body functions well. So it is with us. As members of the body, we exist for the good of that one body (Eph 4:16), which is expressed in ministering care through our skills, resources, and spiritual gifts (all of which are often combined) to other members who depend on us. That happens most effectively in commitment to one local church.
Simultaneously, the body part’s existence is highly dependent upon care and support from the rest of the body. So it is with us. We receive Christ’s care through other members of the body, upon whom we are mutually dependent. To not do so, as a physical body , is crippling to our well-being as God’s people.
Of the lone-ranger shopper Christian, Spurgeon was quoted as saying, “You are like a brick getting kicked down the street, crying out, ‘I’m a brick! I’m a brick!’” Perhaps we could also say they are like a detached foot flopping around on
the ground and wiggling its toes. It may be a nice-looking foot, but it’s useless when detached from the body and depriving that body from which it is detached.
Third, any physical body part works best in one body, not many. Two or three human bodies that had to share one heart or lung would quickly grow weak and die. They would be deprived of the care they need to function properly while that lung or heart would also grow weak. So it is with us. When we are not plugged into one local church, we’re like that heart who thinks he can do well, for others and himself, while trying to function in multiple bodies. Sure, we can serve in some ways and get to know people at multiple places. But, overall, we do a disservice to ourselves and all of those bodies by depriving ourselves from maximizing Christ’s care through committed, consistent, and candid relationships in one local church. The best way to express our membership to the Body globally, then, is in one body locally.
Now, sometimes the argument is made, “Well, the body analogy in the NT is not talking about the local church, but all Christians in general.” But how are “all Christians in general” described and prescribed, in the NT, to express their identity in the body? At the local church level under called and qualified locally ruling leadership. So then, all of us as Christians are to express and apply our body-responsibility of the global Church in the local church, or we do not apply it at all.
Again, think of the physical body: as the hand matures in its ability to be the hand, and as the feet and ankles and knees mature in their ability to perform their function, while the eyes look where to go, the lungs faithfully supply oxygen, the blood delivers it to the muscles, everything moves together with marvelous precision under the head. So the most healthy and joyful local church is made up of committed and accountable members who see themselves as responsible to give and receive care.
6. We need to honor Christ’s sobering command to church-leadership. Every pastor’s secret favorite verse is Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” But it’s also the most frightening verse because of that little phrase, “as those who will give an account.” Whatever that is going to look like, it is not something pastors can take lightly. Leadership cannot faithfully keep an account of loosely-committed, wandering souls. Those who attend two and three churches are confusing leadership at each church. None of them are sure if, or where, the wanderer is committed. And that concerns him because he is called to give an account. We need to commit to one local church, then, to honor the accountability to which leaders will be held accountable.
7. We need local-church commitment to ensure we finish well. God’s means of grace given to NT people are there to ensure their salvation (1 Tim 4:16). The word, ordinances, vulnerable one-anothering relationships, and so on, are most purely dispensed by Christ through the local church. We need these big time. No, commitment to one local church does not bring about your salvation. But an aversion to it is a bad sign. Anyone persisting in non-commitment to a local church should not affirm themselves as spiritually healthy. I am not saying that non-commitment to a local church means non-conversion. But I am saying that persistence in non-commitment to one local church is a probable sign of either an unconverted heart or a believer in sin. It should rarely be thought of as spiritually healthy. Dever’s quote is helpful: “You should not join the church simply in order to be saved, but you may want to join the church to help you in making certain that you are saved” (9 Marks of a Healthy Church, 151).
8. We should be suspicious of any hesitation at the idea of committing to one local church. Finally, if, after these reasons, someone continues to insist that we are not called to plug into a local church, we must ask them, “Why would you not want to commit to one local church? Why would you not want the joy of total commitment to Christ’s body? What is your rationale behind not desiring the sacred joy of vulnerable, whole-hearted, sacrificial commitment?” Typically this surfaces another level of shepherding privileges, which, as we care for them, will further endear them to local-church commitment.
As we shepherd God’s people to the joy of commitment to one local church, the glory of Christ will be on display through a more healthy global Church. Locally, that looks like joyful, humble relationships where we are tightly-affiliated and joyfully-committed to one local body. People will get to know you. It will get messy. God will point out things you never knew, or perhaps wanted to know, about yourself, as a gesture of his good sovereign care. Set the example and shepherd others to do likewise. Watch what happens. More often than not, Spurgeon’s famous words will become your reality:
“Give yourself to the Church…it is the dearest place on earth to us… All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a Church on the earth? If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the Church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world!…the Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers. The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.” ( “The Best Donation,” (No. 2234) an exposition of 2 Cor 8:5 delivered April 5, 1891 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London).