In previous posts, I have attempted to sketch out what it means to be a biblical Christian. It is a sad reality that not all who claim the name of Jesus follow Jesus in ways consistent with Holy Scripture. Evangelicals like myself immediately begin thinking of progressive denominations which seem to have traded a commitment to truth for acceptance within mainstream cultural movements. But before the heirs of Billy Graham get excited for a takedown of the “liberals”, I think we need to be honest about something. Our final discussion points to an area in which many evangelicals fail to be biblical. Not only are we called to discuss worldview and ethics. All of these other things are meant to be embodied within a living, thriving Christ-centered community.
Not only am I an evangelical churchman, but also a home-schooling dad who has spent time in the world of private Christian education. I have served in some parachurch contexts as well. And one thing that I have learned is that people who are after “the truth” are often people who will break relationships and burn bridges in order to get there. Families pull kids from schools, supporters turn from organizations, and churches split (and split again) all in the name of being correct on some issue or another. Now, of course, truth is crucial. Right and wrong are useful categories. Worldviews must be responsive to the way in which God has truly created the world. This church is a congregation which changed its own denominational identity. But you have to stop and ask yourself every now and then – “Am I really following the Lord if I am always leaving other Christians behind?” The sad reality is that many of us “conservative” types have destroyed community in the name of following God. And this, I suppose, is a violation of the third commandment.
It is a violation of the third commandment because the Lord values community. He has revealed himself and his ways to us through Scripture, and Scripture makes it clear that God is in the business of creating a people for himself. Yes, we matter to God personally. But we are created to be a part of a redeemed community – God’s ecclessia. The Bible is clear on this matter, and we could demonstrate the truth in a hundred ways. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s take texts from the beginning and from the end of the story.
When God called Moses to serve him by going to pharaoh and demanding the release of the people of Israel, the Lord showed Moses his “design” in liberating them – ” Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians'” (Exodus 6:6-7 ESV). So it is clear that the purpose was never to rescue a collection of individuals who then choose to associate together with one another according to preference and personality. Instead, the purpose was to rescue a people, a community bound together by covenant with God and with one another.
Then, jumping forward to the end, in Revelation 19 we are given a vision of the marriage supper of the Lamb – ” Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). Notice in this passage that there are one Lamb and one Bride. The church is the Bride of Christ. And the church is not to be divided. The church is one body (see 1 Cor. 12). If this is where we are headed – the marriage supper of the Lamb – then what kind of a people should we be on the journey there? If we are constantly leaving other Christians behind and destroying community, do we look like the kind of people who will be united together as one when “the end” comes? This is a serious question.
Of course, we must acknowledge that in our sin-scarred world in which we ourselves struggle with indwelling sin, divisions and misunderstandings and fractured relationships will remain. Our ultimate unity is not a creation of our own activity but a consequence of our union with Jesus. And if God has united us to Christ, the decisive unity has already been brought into being. So there is grace for all of our failures. The church will persist through all its divisions and divisiveness because Jesus said that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The church, like the Christian person, is justified by faith not works.
In the light of the grace that God’s people have received, we are to move forward in creating the kind of community that God intends for us. And this surely must be a requirement for anyone who hopes to use the adjective biblical in any truly meaningful way.
Resources to consider:
Elmer Martens’s God’s Design uses the above mentioned text from Exodus to demonstrate God’s “design” in dealing with his people in the Old Testament.
Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member provides a simple blueprint for building biblical community.