Kind of Like Marriage

Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For, were Jesus to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name beside this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. -Ignatius of Antioch, one of the early church martyrs (ca. 117 C.E.), Letter to the Magnesians 10

When men are called by any other name they cease to be Christians for they have lost Christ’s name and have clothed themselves in human and foreign titles. -Justin Martyr (ca. 150), Dialogue with Trypho 35

Never at any time did Christian people take their name from their teachers among them, but from the Lord, on whom we rest our faith. Thus, though the blessed Apostles have become our teachers, and have ministered the Savior’s Gospel, yet not from them have we our name, but from Christ we are and are named Christians. -Athanasius of Alexandria (340 AD), Against the Arians 1:2

I dislike calling people onto the carpet, yet sometimes it is a necessary thing to do. The more “I think about”: this issue, the more “analysis”: I hear about it, the more I read what others write on the subject, the more I have to conclude that the folks who have stopped going to church are wrong in their decision to do so. I don’t like saying this about my brothers and sisters, yet I have no option but to conclude that the church was never meant to be broken up and fractured the way it is now.

Yesterday’s sermon at “my church”: hit the subject of unity very hard. One of the things that Pastor Kauffman hit on specifically is that no matter what the problem, no matter what the issue, you do not leave the church. If your leaders are drunk around the communion table, if someone in the church takes you to court and sues you for everything you have, if something occurs that causes strife and conflict in the church, you do not leave the church. It actually occurred to me that it is something much like a marriage. No matter what happens in the marriage, you stay together and work it out, no matter how difficult it is to do. ((This symbolism is, perhaps, why the sanctity of marriage is so important.))

The fellowship of the Body is so very important for the Body functions better and more ably when it is whole. If people split off whenever there is the slightest amount of trouble (or even when there is a great deal of trouble), then the Body itself is broken into small pieces and is rendered impotent.

Titles and denominations are both terribly detrimental to the unity of the Body, as Pastor and Dr. Bebawi have “pointed out”: In giving ourselves titles, in following one teacher over another, we lose our focus on the One we _should_ be following. We forget that it is all about Christ and him alone. It’s not about “labels”: – it’s about being identified with Christ. It’s about joining with the Body, with the Church, and working from the foundation of our faith, that being the Gospel, to reach the rest of the world with the hope that we have. We may disagree on various points of theology along the way, but if we agree on the Trinity, on the depravity of man, on the personhood of Christ and His work on the Cross, on the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can be unified under God and we should work together to further the Gospel, no matter the problems and issues and conflicts that arise in our midst. We need to work through them, no matter how hard it may be to do so, so that the glory of God may shine in us.

Does this mean that God cannot use those times when people go off on their own? Does this mean that God is not present when they ‘do church’ in the coffee shops and private residences of our communities? Does this mean that God does not speak to and grow His children when they are absent from the Body? By no means, but I do think that the goal should be for these people to return to the Church as quickly as possible, for the strengthening of the Body and the edification of the saints. We are made all the stronger when we gather in greater numbers.

The Church is not perfect, that is sure, for it is still composed of as-yet imperfect people. Sometimes, the Church can be downright ugly, when people forget Who it is they represent. But how we the Church grow when those who most desire to do so leave it and turn their backs on it?

I appreciate the voices of those who have left, who have voiced their concerns and have spotted some of the problems within so many of our churches. But I feel that they have made the wrong choice in leaving, in depriving us of their vision and of their hopes. I recognize and realize that they are disillusioned and burned out and hurt, but we need them all the same. If we could give up our titles of Arminian and Calvinist, of Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic, I believe we could once again function as a unified Body and turn this world on its head for Christ. This will likely never happen, but it does not mean that we cannot, and should not, work toward that end. We will never be perfect this side of Heaven, but we do have perfection as a goal, and we should be taking steps, however small, toward that end.

So, please return to us, those of you who have left. We need your energy, your vision, your hope of what _could_ be and what _should_ be in our churches and in our Church. We need that inspiration, that continual renewal of vigor, especially where that vision has grown stale and stagnant. More’s the power when you are with us and when we are together as one for the cause of Christ.

14 thoughts on “Kind of Like Marriage”

  1. I knew someone was going to ask that question. :) Primarily the latter, but it can be the former, as well, depending on the circumstances. In this article, though, it was those people who leave altogether that I was addressing (the emergent folks come easily to mind, since there are emergent Christians whose blogs I read and with whom I have had several discussions). If our core beliefs match, the ones upon which everything else is built, then there should be no reason for our churches to split, for new denominations to form, or for Christians to forsake the fellowship of the Body, particularly since doing so is counterbiblical and dangerous to one’s spiritual walk.

  2. The reason I ask is because what you are saying sounds a bit stringent. I agree, though, that there are too many “splintering” faiths. I am a firm proponent of finding a church that matches you, and where you are fed. If that means leaving a church that you and your family have attended a long time, so be it. The walk with Christ is more important than the group of people – not that the people are not important. But growing in Christ is more important on the scale. Too many look to their church as a social group, hence why there is so much splintering, I think. You are there for a higher purpose, not just for a pot luck. But if your focus is how well you get along with people, and people stop getting along, it is easy to see where some get it in their heads to create their own group with their own rules.

  3. I agree that there are legitimate times where switching churches is necessary. But people give up far too easily. I really believe that we would have far fewer churches in crisis and teaching heretical doctrines if more Christians would stick to it and try to resolve the issues before choosing to leave. Who knows? Maybe the problems would get ironed out and they wouldn’t have to leave. But I think we tend to throw in the towel before we can find out. People would rather run from conflict than face it and fix it. It’s not easy to face conflict, but it is a part of being in the Body of Christ. We’re supposed to build each other up, and we can’t do that if we’re running away at the first sign of trouble. Sometimes, the problems can’t be fixed, and we have certainly seen that, where the vast majority of the church is deadset against changing. That is one of the places where getting out is likely legitimate, but it should be with the intent of finding another church that is teaching truth and not in quitting church altogether.

    Great observations!

  4. Church is wherever two or three gather and share the word of GOD. The building we go to is not going to take you to heaven, it is NOT going to save you.

    Jesus Christ is the Only way to Heaven and saves you by His Grace.

    I feel when it got to a point of dreading to go to the Church house on Sunday that is when the word of GOD was being hindered reaching me.

    There was so much opinion in the building and when it began to be spoke at the alter, chorus practice, but the last straw was talking about it in my child’s Sunday school room with her about how she shouldn’t be like me. Well that is a cult and it is time to move on. So don’t tell people ‘no matter what happens’ because there are things that happen that are red flags to ‘GET OUT’.

  5. I respectfully disagree with your first statement. Church is not where two or three are gathered to share the Word. The Scripture only says that where two or three are gathered together, there will I [Jesus] be with them. What Jesus did say that the church is the entire body of believers, united under Himself.

    I do agree that the church building is not going to take us to heaven, nor is the Church itself.

    I further agree that the only way to Heave is Jesus Christ.

    I am sorry that you found yourself in a church that consists of so much gossip and pain and strife. Those are not pleasant churches to be in (I’ve found myself in a couple of those, as well). I do believe, however, that we should do whatever is within our power to rectify those problems. The ‘no matter what happens’ is not actually as written in granite as it sounds, but it is intended to give an idea of just how serious and important maintaining the unity of the Body is.

    Sometimes it is not within our power to bring a local body of believers to acknowledgement of the problem and to repentance for it. Sometimes, the entire local body has fallen into sin and refuses to see the error and correct it, thus blocking all our best efforts to heal the blight that festers in the wound. It is in this instance where I do think that parting ways and seeking out another local body of believers is justified in the sight of God. But again, I believe that effort should be made to fix the problem first, before the parting takes place. Sometimes, entire churches can be brought to their knees before God as a result, and it is a beautiful, humbling thing when it does. This cannot take place, however, if no one tries, and it is often those who have been most hurt by the situation who must endure the hurt a little longer to make it happen. It’s not fair, to be sure, but it is a work of love and sacrifice that makes the Body as a whole much stronger and testifies to the power of the Gospel to work miracles in people’s lives.

  6. Jim,
    Right. The church is the entire body of believers….not the physical meeting place. So, I must consider that for hundreds of years the physical meeting place of the church (as described above) was not some Romanesque theatre-looking-thing with everyone facing the front listening to one person from a pulpit for an hour on one given day of the week…and then following set programs for “growth and spiritual devlopment” for the rest of the week. The church began, thrived, and flourished in an entirely different “setting” and was something we probably wouldn’t even recognize as “church” based on what we’ve grown up with in our culture.

    I agree completely…people should not leave the church. However, I think people may need to reconsider what “church” is supposed to be or look like based on what scripture teaches us about our responsibilities to one another. Do you really think our current model is based on scripture or man-made convenience and tradition? Not that there are not good things…and yet…we seem more driven, so much of the time, by the man-made parts of “church” instead of true edification of the body within the framework of some sort of church setting…whatever that looks like. I don’t think I’ve seen it. I’m not ready to leave the one I’m attending…but I am ready to admit that it might not be the correct model.

  7. Oh, believe me, I’m not suggesting that the church is perfect. It is, after all, composed of imperfect people. It is always going to have its issues and problems. And I’m not suggesting that every church gets everything right. In fact, I doubt very highly that any church gets everything exactly right. I think it’s far too easy for churches to sometimes get lost in the details, to get focused on things that are less important and more trivial. I won’t even say that every church follows a completely biblical model, whether it be in its organization, its leadership, its hierarchy, its goals, its mission, etc. What I am suggesting is that the church is exceptionally important, both to individual spiritual growth and to the growth and health of the Body as a whole. I agree that a single weekly meeting is not enough, but I do believe it is important on many levels. Church is about fellowship, about encouraging and edifying one another, and that is definitely something that we should be doing every day of the week. There is definitely more to church than just one, two, or three meetings a week. There is more to church than programs and events. The church is about meeting the spiritual and phsyical and emotional needs of each of its members and of the community.

    My biggest point here is that we cannot be effective as a Church, as the Body of Christ, if we are constantly bickering and quarrelling and dividing ourselves over all of our differences. Every bit of time and effort that we spend in our fighting and in our conflicts with one another is time and effort that is being lost on building up each other and in reaching out to our communities. Now, time and effort must be spent to fix the problems in our churches, wherever possible. That is a necessary ‘evil’ if we are to ever be effective in this world. We have to be united as a Body in order to have a strong testimony before the world. But when no effort is being made to fix the problems, then that time and effort is wasted and will be something that we are called into account for later.

    I know a lot of people are disillusioned with their local churches for a wide variety of reasons. Unfortunately, our churches are not exempt from falling into the political trap. But I really believe it is all too important for those of us who find ourselves disillusioned to make a concerted effort to expose the problems in our churches, in a healthy, constructive, respectful manner, so that those problems can be repaired and remedied, rather than simply walking away feeling hurt and angry and bitter. I just want to see more people doing more to make our churches what they are supposed to be, rather than allowing their cynicism and angst rule the day.

  8. Hi Jim,
    You say: “I have no option but to conclude that the church was never meant to be broken up and fractured the way it is now.” How far back would you go? Otherwise, you’d be a Catholic, right?

    You talk about in a comment: “churches in crisis and teaching heretical doctrines…” Who decides which teachings are considered a heresy?

    I touched briefly on this subject.

  9. There is a time and a place for separation, when the group in question will not see the error of their doctrine and reform according to sacred texts. The Protestants were justified in their separation from the Catholic Church, but they have since divided into hundreds of additional denominations due to their inability to resolve other doctrinal issues. Many of these splits have taken place over trivial matters and should never have taken place to begin with. Instead of the hundreds of denominations we have now, there should only ever have been a handful, or in the best case, two – Catholic and Protestant. For so many of our denominations, our basic doctrines agree. It’s the trivialities on which we differ. Hence, there should not be the divisions that exist.

    Ultimately, Scripture itself dictates what is heresy and what is not. It is, in fact, extremely specific on what doctrines are most important, those that are fundamental to becoming a Christ-follower, a Christian. I believe that these basic doctrines are the only ones that are vulnerable to heretical teachings, since they are the only ones that must be believed in order for a person acquire the salvation of their soul. All other teachings found in Scripture describe what a Christian – already a believer – must do to live a righteous life. These teachings, as such, are not prone to heresy, since they are covered under the doctrine of grace. In essence, if a believer fails to live 100% righteously (an inevitability), he does not lose his salvation but can, instead, repent and receive forgiveness and continue on his walk.

    I realize I speak in general terms here, so this response may be somewhat confusing to anyone not well-versed in the Christian doctrine. I may, at some point in the near future, flesh this particular thought out in greater detail.

Have anything to add to the conversation?