I recently connected to a local congregation in our twin cities
Believe me, it was not an easy thing to connect with this fellowship, especially when I have a tendency to break out in “spiritual hives” whenever I want to “commit” to a particular congregation. I have always had a phobia about “church membership” and it centers around true believers and followers of Jesus Christ are already members of the universal church, and in study on the matter, I have concluded that localized affiliation and belonging through a rite of connection, is foreign to the Holy Scriptures. It is an invention of organized Christian denominations for growing, developing and extending their “membership rolls.” I just don’t like that in the least and find it very intrusive and I seek to avoid getting tangled up in it. I have never believed actual “membership” was the same as actual “commitment.”
More reticent than committed
I have been reticent to “buy in” at times simply because I really don’t want to over commit to something I am not prepared to deal with all the “stuff” of what it means to “belong”
I have found in the past that there various degrees of “belonging.” Along with “membership” come along the general “expectations” which are all biblically explained and supported by their allotted “proof texts” so that you know the sober reality of what it means to “belong to the community.” Being an “adherent” and “non-member” seems so much less taxing and demanding and legalistic, and yes, it is rather like “common law marriage” which is really a comical irony of sorts if you think about it. “Common law” only refers that according to the common law of the land, the union between two consenting adults means you want “some” of the perks of what a real “marriage” has to offer, without the full “commitment.” In that sense, being an attending adherent church goer and active in some of the ministries of the local church, implies that you are not a serious church member, but you want the perks of participating in some of the ministries of the congregation. Oh, the irony. But I believe that this is true spiritually.
Caution & self preservation are hindrances to authentic community
Part of my own issue with this thing is that I am overly cautious with committing to something that may not end the way that it ought to end. It is part of my psychological and spiritual awareness that to be a member of a local church is to me as serious as my marriage vows. I would never and have never broken the vows I made before God to my wife and all the hundreds of witnesses who were there that 11th of June 1983 when I pledged my life for my wife. I really hold dear and treat that relationship seriously. Outside of my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I find the most important and responsible relationship I have is the one with my darling Lori-Anne. I am in covenant with God and my wife and the witnesses who were there that incredible day.
Comparing marriage to community commitment
In the same sense, our commitment to a local church is as serious as our marriage vows to our spouses. I came to realize this even more over the years, as I think upon those Scriptures that pertain to Jesus and the Body of Christ. I have always held these up as the ideals of what both Christian marriage between a man and woman means as well as the relationship between Christ and the Church universal. But when it comes to the “Church universal” I believe I deliberately look upon that as more theory than practice. By that I mean, that my relationship with my wife I take solemnly serious. It is for life. No breaking of covenant “until death do us part.” I feel the same way about the new covenant relationship I have with God in Christ Jesus. I am one with Jesus the very same spiritual way as I am with my wife spiritually, emotionally, and physically. That “union” with Christ has been sealed in the blood of Jesus in redemption. I can truly embrace that as an eternal relationship, where the bond is strengthened throughout my life as I walk with God, study the Scriptures and am transformed through the renewing of my mind (Romans 12) and through serving God as I serve others through the leading of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4). The implication in the Scriptures is that the relationship with Jesus is expressed in community. Being a believer is not about being the “lone Ranger” or the “lone stranger” for that matter. Just as God spoke of humanity when addressing the need of man to have a woman and said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), God also said through the apostle who scripted the letter to the Hebrews (I believe it to be Paul) when he said, “Do not forsake assembling with the saints as some do” (Hebrews 10:25).
So do I take “gathering with the saints” seriously?
I think the gravity of being “committed” to God in relationship extends to our human relationships with fellow believers in more profound ways than I am willing sometimes to acknowledge. I believe part of my own problem is my own journey where my relationships with fellow Christians have not been the best. In fact they have been some of the most problematic. I have experienced more sorrow and pain at the hands of other Christians than I have from anyone who would never claim to be a “born again Christian.” That kind of spiritual abuse and rejection can over time dull your spiritual awareness of the importance of really putting in deep roots in Christian community. Sometimes it is so excruciating that you want to scream your lungs out! You want to pull up the stakes, pack the tent, and leave the campground in the middle of the night!
The internal relational issues of the heart
There are those of us who have relationship issues when it comes to people of faith, which we rarely ever have with people who do not acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I believe this is because over time we develop a mindset that has certain “Christian expectations” when it comes to relationship and community with other believers. Those expectations can get in the way and hinder as much as they can motivate. The issue lies within each of our hearts in all the “internal junk” we carry from our past that has not been processed or dealt with appropriately. We often carry the residue of past relationship issues and they are often below the surface only to explode to the surface when someone happens to be the trigger of an encounter, person, or even that bear a similar resemblance to the situation at hand. I have seen this happen to people with sometimes devastating effects simply because the person never worked through the issues and never dealt with their own heart situation and come to reconciliation with all the issues, with God, and the people involved as well as their own hearts. The same manner in which an open wound can be seared by a heated instrument to close a wound so healing can begin, the fire of God will often burn our hearts which includes pain and sorrow over a broken relationship and the disappointments that accompany that fractured relationship. Sometimes the heat of conviction from God hurts more than the wound, just as the heated blade that sears our open flesh can cause momentary pain that is beyond definition or expression. It is a necessary pain to go through in order to begin to truly heal.
Being part of the Body of Christ is more than the 31 flavors you find at Baskin Robbins!
My wife and I used to go for walks and stop for an ice cream at Baskin Robbins when we lived in a particular neighborhood when we were newlyweds. We loved looking at all those different flavors and mix and matching different scoops and toppings. Being part of the Body of Christ is not like being in a spiritual Baskin Robbins. We do not get to create our special treats of flavors and toppings. The people that make up each and every local congregation of Bible believers that constitute the authentic true Christian universal church is comprised of every ethnic, language and cultural group you can imagine. We do not create these people. These people already are in the local body of Christ and have come just as they are. All we can do is come alongside and accept one another as we are, and begin the journey of faith, by integrating and building relationship and community with all of this diversity of people, many of whom come from diverse places around the globe, especially so in our more cosmopolitan city centers. The point I am trying to make is that as Christians, our spiritual DNA is the DNA of God where through renewed hearts and minds, we embrace people exactly for who and what they are and we love them through the love of God that dwells within our own hearts. Whatever heart issues may arise, those triggers are cues for each one of us to deal with that internal junk that should be removed by repentance and trust in God to heal our hearts, so that we mature in character and life as we walk with the people God has put in our lives. We can commune when we come together in unity and purpose to love God and others intentionally, with trust and faith and a resolution to not run away when relationships become difficult.
So “buying in” implies that I really do put traction to my “commitment”
So after these few words on commitment and belonging and community really puts the onus on the individual to do all he can to connect with and engage with people that are part of the local Body of Christ. I am reminded over and over that the New Testament church gathered in all kinds of contexts and situations and it was never about having a “religious meeting.” There were apostolic meetings that were the “bigger event” and that event had little to do with regular church life. Regular church life is implied in the narrative of the Book of Acts as a “daily” coming together of those who were believers. It was that way in Jerusalem and when the persecution began under Paul and the Jerusalem religious establishment, the Sanhedrin, the believers dispersed by default, and in so doing began to fulfill Acts 1: 8, going to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the outer regions of the known Mediterranean world. When You read of Paul’s inner circle, with people such as Aquila & Priscilla, you see them going all over the Roman world, going from Greece (Corinth) to Rome working in tandem, complementing the work of Paul, and even going ahead of him to Rome to set up the base of operations for the spread of the Gospel there. They were known for their hospitality and for mentoring leaders like Apollos. The church gatherings were in homes, estates of the wealthy, in the woods, anywhere a cluster of people could meet. Their faith was an intimate and personal one that permeated all the relationships each believer developed in their daily walk with God.
Applying the New Testament model of relationships
If I am to model myself after the believers I find in the pages of the New Testament, I need to engage in whatever means I can with what is taking place in the larger context of church body life and ministry as well as engage in the smaller clusters of people that meet during the week, and those whom I meet one on one. You need to have all these facets express themselves to have a healthy personal walk with God, and even more so as you come alongside what God is doing in the local church body.
So for me to really commit I need to come alongside with what is going on. I want to encourage the servant leaders there, and offer them my assistance in any way that I can help in the life and ministry of the church congregation. For me to do this requires commitment and risk.
Committing to a local church body is “risky business”
In life we assume risks every moment of every day. We balance them out and evaluate them, sometime logically and over a process, and sometimes we don’t give it a second thought. No matter how we assess and assume the risks involved in being a part of an organized enterprise like a church body, you are going to have to assume the risk.
In the insurance industry of which I have been a part of over the last nearly 20 years, the whole industry is based on analyzing “risks” and the costs involved in reimbursing those people who have had a claim for damages done to an assumed risk. The same way your property is valued and assessed as a viable risk assessment for an insurance policy on your property, you and I analyze and asses the risks involved in engagement in the lives of people and in church ministry.
In the end if I am going to truly buy in I need to agree to and assume the risk that I will get hurt
There is no escaping it. I will get hurt, get disappoint, get rejected, get used by someone. Name it and it has already happened and it will happen again. I cannot do the “turtle” and be engaged at the same time. I need to intentionally walk with people in relationship and deal with the issues that arise as they come. Buying in means I am assuming the risk.
I haven’t been this way before too often in the past, but I think that now, I can assume more and more of the risk. I want what God has for me in community and I want to contribute to the community. That is my risk assessment and I am buying in! How about you? Are you committed where you are? Are you buying in? Are you willing to assume the risk?
Peace & Grace
~ Samuel M. Buick