I have been reading Jerry Bridge’s book entitled “True Community” and reflecting on some of Biblical teachings concerning the church as a community of believers. In his book Bridges makes the following statement:
There are many organizations both secular and Christian, who members work together to pursue common goals. Some of these groups may call themselves communities. But Biblical community goes much deeper than sharing common goals, though it ultimately involves that. Biblical community is first of all the sharing of a common life in Christ It is when we grasp this truth that we are in a position to begin to understand true community. (page 11)
This is a truth that is not talked about nearly enough in the church today. Too often we think of the church the way we think of other organizations and communities we belong to, but this is a mistake. The defining characteristic of a Christian community, the thing that makes the church different than any other organization in the world, is our union and communion with Christ.
Both individually and corporately we need to fundamentally change the way we view our walk with Christ. The truth is that if we don’t learn to abide in Christ and to share His life on a personal/individual level we will never experience true community in the church. But the flip side of the coin is also true, if we don’t understand the church as a community of believers sharing a common life in Christ we will struggle to abide in Him. It is not an either/or proposition it is a both/and. Nevertheless, we start to experience true community by learning to abide in Christ.
In the second chapter of his book mentions four ways that people today try to live the Christian life.
- Those who try to live the Christian life entirely on their own, by their own effort and willpower.
- Those who try to life the Christian by simply turning it “all over to Christ” We might call this a passive approach to the Christian life.
- Those who have a partial dependence on God. They try to do it themselves until they get in trouble and then call on God.
- Finally, there are those who have discovered the Biblical approach to the Christian life, which Bridges calls “the abiding-in-Christ way.”
In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him,he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Bridges sums up this way of living by pointing out that those who live this way have “learned that he needs God’s help not just beyond a certain point but in every aspect of life. He doesn’t pray for help just during crisis or stressful times. Rather, his prayer is, “Lord, enable me all day long, for with You I can do nothing.” (p.29)
As Pastors we are pretty good at identifying when our people are putting personal preferences ahead of Biblical principles but we are less able to identify this trait in ourselves. A couple of years ago I was teaching a Pastoral ministries class for a local Bible college and we were discussing the observance of the ordinances. Most of the students came from a traditional southern baptist background and were used to observing the Lord’s supper in a fairly typical manner — i.e. the elements were served by the deacons and distributed to the congregation by passing the plates around. But students from other backgrounds came with a variety of ways that the elements were distributed — some had the people come forward to receive the elements, others had stations where the people went to receive the elements. In addition, there was a noticeable divide in the class over who could distribute the elements — some argued that only men could distribute, others argued that they must be ordained etc… The interesting thing about this discussion to me was that nearly every student believed they were practicing the Lord’s Supper was not only right but that the other ways were wrong.
That debate went on for the better part of an hour and every student made passionate and theological arguments for their case about why their way was the right way. Not one of them, however, could point to a clear passage of Scripture that gave support to their argument. Every student in that class was serving as a Pastor in a local church but not one of them could separate their own personal/denominational preference from Biblical mandates. In fact, the majority of them ended up arguing the case for their preference as if they were basing it on a Biblical mandate.
I am convinced that this is a problem in my own ministry and suspect that it is a problem in yours as well. Over the years, I have counseled with a number of Pastors who were having various troubles in their churches. The trend that I have noticed is that while we are very adept at seeing where I our people confuse their personal preferences with a Biblical mandate, we are blind to the problem in our own lives. So let me give you a few key questions to ask yourself:
1.) Is this really important? Adrian Rogers coined it this way many years ago, “Is this a hill on which I am willing to die?” The sad truth is that often Pastors simply can’t decide what is important and what isn’t. We are willing to die on every hill, no matter how insignificant the matter, that we fight worthless battles. So the first question that I ask myself is “Is this really that important?”
2.) What does the Bible say? When faced with a decision take the time to actually sit down and think through what the Bible has to say about the matter. Notice that I said, “what the Bible has to say” not “what does your favorite preacher/author have to say about it.” Frankly speaking, we need to stop resting the authority for matters of faith and practice in the hands of the experts and return it to where it belongs— the Bible. We all have our favorite authors and Pastors but the truth is that they are not the authority for the church. You are not ready to make a decision until you have made an honest examination of what the Bible says about the matter.
3.) Is this the right time? When you are leading a church you need to make a set of clear priorities. Sometimes Pastors fail simply because they try to make too much change too fast. God has sent you to the church for the long haul, be patient and willing to set things of secondary important aside in order to get get the more important things done.