Lately, our church has been discussing the biblical basis for church membership and what that should look like. As Sam Allberry points out in this video clip (referring to Hebrews 10:25), the “opposite of not going to church is encouraging one another.” How can we encourage one another when we have no relationship? How can we obey all the “one anothers” of Scripture if we aren’t actually with one another on a regular basis?
Along those lines, it struck me that the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 says, “Forgive us our debts …” It’s not “Forgive me as I have forgiven others,” but is rather a corporate statement of our need for forgiveness as a body. (Not that we can’t pray it individually, but that shouldn’t be the only way we pray.) I think inherent within the prayer to “forgive us” is the need for forgiveness between members of the body of Christ. Just prior to these verses, Jesus had said:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
I don’t think it is inconsequential that the order in Jesus’ teaching is 1) reconcile to your brother, 2) go make your offering, 3) worship together as the body and confess your need for forgiveness. It is similar to Matthew 18 in confronting a brother for sin first privately and then increasingly publicly if he refuses to listen.
The point is that our actions as individuals do not just impact our own lives but also the body of Christ. God has joined us together through the blood of Christ, and “[w]hat therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). The sin of one member of the body affects the rest of the body, and we need other members of the body to help us walk in the forgiveness and newness of life that we have in Christ (Romans 6:4). As Paul pointed out in the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians, one person’s sin was a bad influence on all of them: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (5:6). Those in the church were told “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty … Purge the evil person from among you” (5:11, 13).
Obviously, some sins are much more visible than others, and some sinners require much more rebuke than others because of their hardness of heart. One person might need to be publicly disciplined while another needs only a quiet word from a brother. It is true that each of us individually can confess to God and receive His forgiveness, but it’s also true that God designed us to live in community. As such, we are meant to be exhorting and encouraging one another in our fight against sin. There is strength in numbers (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
After studying Greek in college, I realized that we need to read the Epistles from a corporate mindset. The vast majority are written in the plural, which does not come through in English, and we can miss a lot by reading from a singular, independent viewpoint. First Corinthians 6:19 could more accurately be translated (in Southernese), “Do y’all not know that the body of y’all is the temple of the Holy Spirit in y’all, whom y’all have from God? Y’all are not your own.” Paul isn’t just saying that each of us individually belong to God – though that is true – but that we belong to Him together and we belong to one another as well (1 Corinthians 12:14-20).
I know Christians who see no need to be involved in a church, and there have been times I’ve wanted to disengage as well. But I don’t think that is really an option for anyone who loves God wholeheartedly. He didn’t just adopt us into a relationship with Him as our Father, but into a family with one another as brothers and sisters. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), and many of the commands in Scripture are to be carried out in relationship with one another in His body. How can we choose to ignore those commands and still claim that we love Jesus?
In Ephesians, Paul writes about how we are to relate to one another. He didn’t totally change subjects when he hit 5:22 and started talking about marriage, he simply zeroed in on one type of relationship within the larger context of the body of Christ. The marriage relationship is intended to reflect the relationship that Christ has with the church (5:32). Being part of the body of Christ is not always easy, just as marriage is not easy. It requires sacrifice of time, energy and personal priorities, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21), nourishing and cherishing one another “because we are members of his body” (5:30).
If we think that church is something we can simply add on like a new hobby, we are missing the point. We cannot function as individual parts if we are not connected to the body. We cannot grow in Christ if we are not involved in the life of His body. As Pastor Matt said, “We grow together or not at all.”
So as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5)
© 2018 Dawn Rutan. Unless otherwise indicated all images are copyright free from pixabay.com. The opinions stated do not necessarily reflect the views of my church or employer.