Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What is normative church involvement?

I've been studying the "one-another" passages with some students, and it makes quite a strong case that we are nowhere near biblical standards for time and effort devoted to the body of Christ. Consider this one:

Let the word of God richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another
This is a direct command given to all believers in the body of Christ. What would be necessary before this instruction could possibly be more than a dead letter?

To be sure, people would have to take the time to have the word richly dwell within them--so that would be a significant level of training. I doubt that any 5 or 10 week class can accomplish this goal. Probably several years of discipleship and learning are implied.

Then comes the part about teaching and admonishing one another. Would you take admonition from somebody who doesn't know you? How would that be possible? You would have to know someone relatively well to even be aware of what they need admonition for. This admonishing each other assumes that we know each other. And that knowledge would have to be way beyond the superficial level of relationships we see too often in the modern church, where everyone is too busy to spend time investing into relationships.

Let's remember, this passage isn't referring to the example of the early church, which we could possibly dismiss because our culture is different than theirs. This is a plain moral injunction that is not optional for Christians.

So, when I hear leaders arguing that "our people are just too busy for that," I can't accept that we are preaching in a way faithful to scripture. If our people are too busy to do what God calls on them to do, it's probably because they have too many idols in their lives. Their entertainment schedule, their aspirations to drive their kids to become super-kids, their fussing with their house, these are the things making them "too busy" to do what God says.

On every side, people are bemoaning the low state of the church today, but nobody seems willing to consider a change to the level of involvement seen in the New Testament--that's just too extreme for modern people. But we need to see that we are not just dismissing the time-bound example of the primitive church, but the New Testament itself when we say this.

If the "one-another" passages are too demanding to expect modern people to live them, then the New Testament way of life has lost all credibility in our world. If it's not too hard, then we should stop making excuses for our people and call them to the high standard envisioned in scripture.


Jon said...

Thanks Dennis.

I think I tend to read imperatives such as these and stop short of understanding God's reasons for issuing such commands. I see obedience as a means to make myself somehow more acceptable or pleasing to God (and people!). I am so works-oriented that I gloss over the indicatives, discount grace and fail to act as if I believe that God wants me to "have life and have it abundantly." I think I am giving up something better to follow God's plan.

Instead, I think we need to look at this imperative as a crucial means to enjoying the great gift of fellowship God has given us. He is our designer. He has proven his goodness by the costly gift of His Son.

"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" - Rom 8:32

Great point about idols. I used to shake my head when reading about the Israelites repeatedly turning to idols after all God had done for them. We are more clever about our idols these days. We disguise them as "good" or at worst, neutral. But they are the same at the core.

Randall Neighbour said...

Could you hear me shouting, "Amen!" all the way down here in Southwest Texas?

Keep pounding the nail into the board on this one. I like your style, your content, and I will write this over and over...

I sure wish you were my lead pastor. Pity I don't live in Ohio.