Thoughts on Building Community

NickImage

My pastor has asked me to present a Wednesday evening series on the marks of a church’s wellbeing. Much of what I am doing is thinking through Baptist distinctives from a different point of view. As these discussions are completed, copies of the visuals will be posted on the Fourth Baptist Church or Central Seminary web sites.

One of the matters I’ve been reexamining is the nature of the particular church as a covenanted body. Many Christians other than Baptists recognize the covenantal nature of the organized church. Not every assembly of believers is a church. To constitute a church, a body of believers must—at minimum—purpose to be a church.

At this point, however, a difficulty arises: true Christians disagree among themselves about many features of the church. They disagree about its form of organization, the number and function of its officers, the correct way of observing its ordinances, and the qualifications of those who will be received as members. They often disagree about the system of faith that the church ought to profess, about which aspects of the system leaders should have to affirm, and even about which aspects should be required beliefs for members.

When Christians disagree about how a church obeys Christ, they cannot all commit themselves to membership in the same church. Some Christians believe that a church is sinning if it does not permit the baptism of infant children. Other churches believe that a church is sinning if it does. Christians with these conflicting commitments cannot become members of the same church unless one side is willing to participate in what it believes to be sin. Separate organization is virtually mandatory if all believers are going to live in what they perceive to be biblical faithfulness.

A church’s covenant states the intention of a body of believers to organize as a church, but it does more. It also stipulates what these particular believers understand a church to be. It (with its attendant statements) specifies the church’s faith and order, its form of organization, its officers and ordinances. Furthermore, it spells out the mutual obligations that these believers are taking upon themselves toward one another.

These obligations are serious in nature. All church members submit themselves to the discipline of their church, which means that they submit themselves mutually to one another. They swear (for the covenant is an oath) that they will watch over one another, care for one another, and hold one another accountable for both private and corporate spirituality.

A church is not a social club. It is a covenanted body. People should never join a church casually or with mental caveats about what they will do if things do not go their way in the church. Church membership should be viewed less like a date and more like a marriage in the respect that both marriage and church membership begin with a vow before God. There is something deeply immoral about church-hopping, just as there is something disturbing about those believers who wish to attend a church while refusing the commitments of membership.

A church is a community. Church members cannot expect to fulfill their covenant obligations if they only meet each other during the public assemblies. The nature of their mutual duties requires that they develop relationships that go far beyond the gatherings of the church. They must experience a level of transparency and trust that comes only with knowing one another well.

In the past, and in more rural settings, these relationships arose naturally out of life in the larger community. Everybody in and around town knew everybody else’s business. Anonymity was virtually impossible. Modernity and urbanization, however, have brought a faster pace to life, along with greater individualization and privatization. Churches pride themselves on attracting a number of attendees that would have been inconceivable in the past. Anonymity is endemic to the situation. We are beset with a sense that our personal lives are nobody else’s business, and that word nobody includes the fellow members of our churches.

Nothing could be more deadly to church life. If a church wishes to function well, it must find ways to lead its members past the shallowness of superficial relationships, and it must do so without producing a multiplicity of small cliques that function essentially as tiny sub-churches. A New Testament church is no more a gathering of discrete factions than it is a gathering of discrete individuals.

A church has to do more than to foster special-interest groups (such as a youth group, a sportsmen’s group, a mothers-of-preschoolers group, a quilting circle, etc.). It also has to do more than assign members to small-group studies. While these activities may be a part of the solution, by themselves they cannot do more than to produce a congregation of cliques. In a large church filled with members who are unknown to one another, such activities are better than nothing, but they are not enough. They will not produce a body in which the members are genuinely fulfilling their covenant obligations to one another.

What more can churches do? How can they avoid the scandal of anonymous members? I’ll offer a few suggestions in the next essay.

Before the Cross
Jacques Bridaine (1701-1767), trans. Thomas Benson Pollock (1836-1896)

My Lord, my Master, at Thy feet adoring,
I see Thee bowed beneath Thy load of woe:
For me, a sinner, is Thy life-blood pouring;
For Thee, my Saviour, scarce my tears will flow.

Thine own disciple to the Jews has sold Thee,
With friendship’s kiss and loyal word he came;
How oft of faithful love my lips have told Thee,
While Thou hast seen my falsehood and my shame!

With taunts and scoffs they mock what seems Thy weakness,
With blows and outrage adding pain to pain;
Thou art unmoved and steadfast in Thy meekness;
When I am wronged how quickly I complain!

My Lord, my Saviour, when I see Thee wearing
Upon Thy bleeding brow the crown of thorn,
Shall I for pleasure live, or shrink from bearing
Whate’er my lot may be of pain or scorn?

O Victim of Thy love, O pangs most healing,
O saving death, O wounds that I adore,
O shame most glorious! Christ, before Thee kneeling,
I pray Thee keep me Thine for evermore.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

2171 reads

There are 7 Comments

Barry L.'s picture

"When Christians disagree about how a church obeys Christ, they cannot all commit themselves to membership in the same church."

 

Taken to a certain point there will be a bunch of churches of 1.  In fact, church hopping is mostly done by those who take this thought to the extreme.

 

I do agree with church members being more of a part of each others lives. Granted, we can't go back to the rural frontier churches where the only social event was churches, but in context of today's work and live environment we need to be close in interaction with our fellow church members, "bearing one another's burdens", etc.

Joel Tetreau's picture

To the rest of the SI community - Hello? Anyone out there? This was a good article and yet almost no one is over here - and so far no one is commenting. What's wrong?

Kevin,

Great article. I appreciate several of your observations and suggestions on how community can be built and how the end-product is higher degrees of corporate discipleship. I love the statement, "Church is not a social club!" I'm sorry that not too many will comment on this thread. You see in light of some of the other pieces here at SI - especially some of the more recent threads - this thread is rather boring! Now if you could explain how certain institutions and leading fundamentalist churches/ministries/leaders are missing "community" and point out those ministries by name - well the number count of the amount of "reads" would sky-rocket. Why? Well because sick minds want to know! Oh brother - maybe we all need therapy - or drugs - or perhaps the keswick guys are right and we need a second work of grace! Oh well.....nice try anyway Kevin.

Even if no one else looks forward to the next installment of "community in the church"......I do! You know on second thought - if you don't get much more of a response just write out your ideas on a 5 by 8 index card and send it to me in the mail - or we could just chat on the phone!

You know - community! - You gotta love it!

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

removed_jh's picture

Joel, Not to worry! I just had the opportunity to get back on and read this. I am intrigued and challenged, as always. While I am waiting ... I would venture this small analysis of church life. The great command(s) of loving God and loving neighbor is/are explained and demonstrated through the remaining one-anothers of the NT. The challenge to all of us in developing community is the constant battle of shedding and replacing the "have it your way" mentality, and the buffet approach of superstore consumerism (I'm just here to get want I want) for truly being devoted to one another.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Jeffrey!,

Outstanding. The implications of what you are saying here hit me hard when I was ministering different times in Asia. What I saw was both thrilling and chilling. These Asian believers are with each other "all the time!" Their ministry - their body life is total and it is constant. They sacrifice for one another. They pray with one-another. They together go and witness to friends, foes, neighbors. They get beat-up and thrown into prison with each other. Perhaps we have it so good in the West that we don't have to walk by faith (by and large) and so therefore we don't really need to build each up other up "in our most holy faith." I just wonder if OT concepts of "brethren" or "brethreim" didn't help the "one-another" of the early church. I mean what about Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Fantastic! "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hat not another to help hi up. Again if two lie together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

Can it be that perhaps some expressions of Western Christianity may at times not be as healthy as other expressions because we are so independent from each other that when our strand of the cord breaks - that's it! Turn out the lights Nelly - the party is over! If we would only be so close to each other that our walk with God would be "carried" - "rescued" when we fall. Ah but that demands I trust you. Can I trust you? Are you just like me? Well - I'm not sure I can trust you.

I don't know - will think through more of this. Outstanding! Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

josh p's picture

OK Joel has guilted me into replying. Just kidding, this was a good article. It was challenging for sure. Besides the helpful content may I point out that the poems are always excellent. We had a group over after church on Sunday and I read it aloud. Thanks Kevin!

removed_jh's picture

Joel, I cracked up at the "turn out the lights Nelly ..." I love me some good old fashioned country speak.

Seriously, I would agree that culture influences how we demonstrate body life. No doubt, the pioneer/settler/dig in and pull yourself up by the bootstraps approach embodied by a "John Wayne-esque" mentality can contribute greatly to a lack of connectedness and cooperation. Sometimes I believe I see a strong libertarian or anti-any-form-of-spiritual-authority-or-accountability streak in current church life that really weakens relationships as well. Almost as if reactions to the current political climate are being manifested in the local assembly.

Press on ... Sunday is coming

Jeff

pvawter's picture

Kevin,

I appreciate your perspective on this issue. When I read your post it seemed like you must have been reading my mind for the past couple of years. These ideas have all been bouncing around in my head. The comparison of church membership to marriage is important, and I've used it before to explain why church membership is not only biblical, it is vital. Just as it would be immoral for me to live as if I were married without entering into the covenant of marriage, it is immoral for me to live as if I were joined to the body of Christ without being joined to a local body.

jhowell,

I think it is interesting that you mention the "one another" passages in the NT. Clearly, these commands were given to be lived out in the community of faith, the local church. Whom are we supposed to love, honor, edify, receive, care for, serve, suffer with, speak truth to, forgive and pray for? Just anybody we meet? Or is there a specific group of people with whom we are to practice these graces? What an opportunity we have being members of a local church! How many times do we have the joy of forgiving a brother or sister who has offended us, or learning to put another's preferences ahead of our own, or rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.

As I read Romans 12:4-5 in preparation for tomorrow's sermon, I was struck by the fact that our identity as Christians is wrapped up in our identity with Christians. And so, as much as I'd often like to ride off into the sunset shouting "Hi-yo Silver, away!" I am reminded that there is no such thing in the New Testament as a Lone Ranger Christian.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.