In Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, How People Grow, the authors point out that “to be truly biblical, as well as truly effective, the growth process must include the Body of Christ.” For someone who has been a part of the church since I was in my mother’s womb, that statement seems rather obvious, but I’m discovering that for many people in the internet and social-media age, this is not always the case.
Too often, we take our cues from our culture rather than from the Scripture. We are taught to be independent, so we approach our faith with independence. We are taught privatization, so we approach our faith privately. We are taught that hard work leads to success, so we approach our faith with a “works mentality.” And we are taught to be consumers, so we approach our faith as consumers.
No wonder so many people question if they need the church. We can do our shopping online. We watch movies online. We chat with friends online. So why can’t we grow our faith online?
Yes, there are some wonderful online resources for spiritual growth, but these should never be a substitute for what the Bible calls “fellowship.” My Granddad used to say that koinonia—fellowship—is like three fires built next to each other. As the smoke rises from each fire, you can’t tell which smoke came from which fire. They are integrated. And so should be our fellowship. We are first and foremost integrated in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are completely dependent upon Him. Secondly, we are integrated in relationship with one another. We also depend upon each other, and if we fail to be so, we will be spiritually malformed.
God created us this way—to be in relationship with Him and one another. Jesus thought so highly of this value of relationship that He said the entire Law could be summarized with these two commands: Love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).
But let’s be honest. Even if we agree with that theologically, how much do we live that out practically? Many Christians see the church as an organization providing services to meet their needs. We “go to” church as though we are going to the movies, and if we don’t like what was said or sung, we’ll find another church to “go to.” We also pay professionals to provide these services to meet our needs or wants. And if those professionals don’t meet our expectations or demands, we’ll find other professionals who will.
If we take our cues from the American culture, this modus operandi is completely rational and acceptable. But if we take our cues from the Bible, then we discover how theologically and practically this approach misses the mark. Do you know what the biblical definition of sin is? “Missing the mark.” Enough said.
Here are some biblical cues concerning what it means to be a church:
We are a community of people who are called into the fellowship (koinonia) of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:9).
Thus, we are united by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we should have no divisions among us (1 Corinthians 1:10).
We are individually members of the body of Christ, and although we are many, we are one body (1 Corinthians 12:12).
We suffer and rejoice with one another (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Everything we say and do is based on the biblical foundation of love (1 Corinthians 13).
We give and serve faithfully as one people united for the mission of making disciples of all nations (2 Corinthians 9:7; Romans 12:4-8; Matthew 28:18-20).
Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway, recently conducted a survey of inwardly focused churches that have not experienced growth but have experienced a great amount of infighting and division. In the survey, they found ten dominant behavior patterns of members in those churches. See if you recognize any: Worship wars, prolonged minutia meetings, facility focus, program driven, inwardly focused budget, inordinate demands for pastoral care, attitudes of entitlement, greater concern about change than the gospel, anger and hostility, and evangelistic apathy.
How different this list is from the biblical exhortation of what it means to be the Body of Christ. I invite you to read the following description from the Apostle Paul, and ask yourself this question: Do the following words describe me? “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:9-18).