Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ecclesiophilia

I am an unreconstructed ecclesiophile. I love (phileo) the church (ecclesia). I love the idea of the church because of the wisdom and power of God that it displays. I love the practical expression of the church in local churches. I love one local church in particular and regularly reflect on the kindness of God in allowing me to serve and be served by that body for over 19 years.

I say that I am "unreconstructed" because in modern evangelicalism the church has become little more than an add-on, an afterthought or at best of secondary or tertiary importance. The pressure to view the Christian life from this perspective is great. "Jesus and me" fits much better with our rugged individualism than does "members one of another" (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25) under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 5:23).

I suspect that it is the reduction of biblical Christianity to subjective experience that lies behind much of the spiritual malaise that marks American Christianity (which tends to be more American than Christian). Yet, biblical Christianity is inherently communal or congregational. Yes, one must personally and individually repent and trust Christ as Lord, but God intends such repenters and believers to live together in a church. It takes a church to raise a Christian.

Any attempt to follow Christ outside a sincere, covenanted devotion to other believers in a church will inevitably result in something considerably less than a healthy Christian. At best it gives rise to spiritual eccentricity. At worst...well, I fear it often results in missing Jesus Christ altogether. God has so designed the Christian life that we need our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We need to be disciplined by living in a covenanted relationship with them. We need the encouragement that comes from fellowship and the correction that comes from conflict.

I have often listened to brothers and sisters cite conflict or tension with fellow members as a reason for leaving a church. But that is never a legitimate reason for breaking fellowship and disturbing the unity of a church. If you are unwilling to live close enough to others so that they can offend you how will you ever learn to forgive one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)? If you remain so isolated from other believers that you are unable or unwilling share the sorrows of your heart with them, how will you ever experience the grace that ministers through fellow believers (2 Corinthians 7:6)?

God has ordained that local churches serve as outposts of heaven on earth. Where else can we find people of such varied backgrounds and dissimilar natural tastes not merely coexisting but sharing life together? Who can do that but God? All those natural walls that separate us from our fellow human beings are destroyed by the cross work of Jesus Christ, and He is building from all peoples (Jews and Gentiles) "one new man" (Ephesians 2:14-15). This is why Paul says that the "manifold wisdom of God" is displayed "by the church" to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:10).

How can those who love Christ not love what He loves? And if we love the church, should we not long to see local congregations flourishing in biblical vitality? Shouldn't we grieve when we see churches floundering and even denying the clear commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ (church discipline)? Should we not commit ourselves to pray and labor for the biblical re-formation of local churches across our land and other lands?

This is the great need of the hour and, consequently, the unavoidable call to Christians everywhere.

7 comments:

Jeff Wright said...

Amen, Amen, and Amen.

I couldn't be much more in agreement with you on this one.

I think that if God has taught me anything in the last year or so it is the importance of the Church.

Have you got "ecclesiophilia" copyrighted? I might change the name of my blog to that. :D

The Monk said...

"Should we not commit ourselves to pray and labor for the biblical re-formation of local churches across our land and other lands?"

Question (from a pastor's perspective): Considering the state of "typical" Southern Baptist churches, is it better and wiser to spend our time and efforts planting churches rather than going into established churches knowing that "bloody" conflict is inevitable in the work of reformation?

Paul said...

Monk,

My own answer to that is that it is not an either/or, but a both/and. I think the only way we could properly abandon reformation within existing congregations is to give them us as behond the pale. I also think that we have to take a long-term approach.

God has called me to an existing church that in many ways needs the kind of reformation Tom is talking about (what "American" church doesn't?). But that means that I can't approach my ministry here from the typical SBC pastor's position that if it doesn't all come about in 3 1/2 years then I'm off to another place.

I'm not suggesting that that is what you are saying. Just to say that, unless God has himself given up on the American church, some will be called to work from within existing churches while others will certainly be called to establish new churches that don't have much of that baggage to overcome.

Scripture Searcher said...

SIN SEPARATES us from God and from other Christians -
our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is easier to separate from others - even go down the street or across town -
and start a "new" church than be the caring, loving encouragers of those we know, and who know us.

Aaron L. Turner said...

I have to say that in the last several months, the local church has become more precious to me than ever before. And as Tom has said, there is one local church that is particularly high in my affections, and that is the one that I have the privelege to serve as pastor.

I believe that the church is inextricably connected to the Gospel. I believe much of the power of the gospel is seen in the working of the healthy New Testament local church.

It give me great pleasure to think that God has called me, and is allowing me to spend my life ministering to one of His churches, for His glory.

Brethren we who get to give our lives to the local church for the Glory of Jesus Christ are truly blessed! May we never get over the wonder of it.

Rusty said...

amen. I was greatly encouraged by your post!

I have only recently held a healthy view of the local church in the life of the believer - and what a joyous thing it is to understand. The church is not an 'add-on' like you said, it is an essential part of the Christian's life.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Dan Paden said...

I'm posting a link to this one on my blog. I have several occasional readers, floundering on the edge of the emergent/post-modern church, who need to read it.