A Body-Less Christian

A brother sent me an article that came out in 2013 by Kevin DeYoung and Jason Helopoulos trying to answer the question “Does the Bible Require Christians to Attend Church?” This brother asked my opinion on the article, so after my eye twitch from reading the title went away, I came up with this:

One of the points of contention that I have with standard thought on church (attendance) compared to how the NT talks about the church is this: standard thinking centers the gathering around (corporate) worship where the NT centers the gathering around mutuality and edification. This article, strangely enough, seemed to both nail the nature of the church and completely miss it, all at the same time. On the whole, the gross overemphasis on corporate worship as the primary mark of the church makes their attempts to “unpack some of the most common objections”  hollow. And since this was the main thrust of their article, I don’t really think they at all answered the question in the article’s title.

Having said that, Stott’s statement at the beginning is spot-on and I couldn’t agree more. There is no such thing as an “unchurched Christian”. DeYoung and Helopoulos get closest to this when arguing that the body metaphor requires that each part of the body needs the other parts to function. That’s impossible to do flying solo or floating around or listening to podcasts or reading great books by ginormous-church pastors.

Furthermore, the word for church (“ekklesia”) specifically means gathering or assembly. While I wouldn’t want to deny that Jesus and the apostles could divest new meaning in the term, we can’t ignore that “church” (better translated “assembly” or “gathering”) is by nature a gathered group of people—without detailing how often or in what contexts or what exactly needs to happen when together. And if assembly is tied up with what it means to be the church, then it has to be a definable set of people, not just generic fellowship with any Christian at any time. This is more obvious when you think about the fact that the one anothers fall apart without some context in which those one anothers can occur. For instance, how can we bear one another’s burdens without some grasp of who these others are that we’re bearing burdens together with? The NT envisions a rather defined group of people with whom we share burdens and confess sins and encourage one another.

Church “discipline” probably gets the closest to helping us see how important this defined group of people is. How can “the majority” cast out anyone without having an idea of who the group is to start with (cf. 2 Cor 2:6)? How can you take it to “the church” if the church isn’t a defined group of people? Should every discipline case be emailed to every Christian in the world so that “the church” can cast him out?

This is all just to say that I agree with the main thrust of the article, though I think they take all the wrong roads to get to the kinda-right conclusion. Because a Jesus-follower isn’t one alone—he’s part of the body with his own role to perform. The Spirit gives gifts to be used for the good of that body. Shoot, most of the New Testament was written to individual churches with instructions on how to relate to one another, a fact that’s impossible to do apart from—you guessed it—the church.

The only exception, scripturally speaking, where people aren’t tied to a particular body of believers are those who have been commissioned by the church as evangelists, missionaries, and/or apostles. Those gifts by their nature exist outside a defined “church”, but each have the goal of seeing distinct churches built through the gospel. So even then, they’re always tied to the church(es) they’re ministering to while with them. Those gifts by nature work that way as the God-appointed means of making more churches. Unless specifically sent out by a church to do the work of an evangelist/missionary/apostle, every Christian—by nature of belonging to Jesus—will be part of a defined assembling/family of Christians (a.k.a. church). How or when they gather and what they do when they gather are beside the point.

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The Righteousness of Noah

For too long (at least my entire childhood and beyond), well-meaning Christians have taught that because Noah was so good on his own merit, God had to spare him. Noah’s behavior after the flood seems to contradict this though (Gen 9:21), though that’s arguable if that makes the point strongly enough. Certainly the Scriptures testify that no person could be good enough before God.

“All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Ps 14:3; Ps 53:3)”

“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. (Eccl 7:20)”

Bringing an understand that God is the electing type, who calls us even when we’re dead in our sins, seems to further contradict the idea that Noah was “so good” that God wanted to save him. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world. (Eph 2:1-2a)” There’s no way Noah was good enough to earn his spot on the ark.

In reaction, we start to claim that there was nothing good about Noah. The only reason he was on the ark was because God put his favor on him. Apart from that favor, there was nothing commendable about Noah. He was just as wicked as everyone else, but God elected to save him despite his wickedness. But we read that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. (Gen 6:9)” How could he be blameless among the people of his time unless he was actually, to some degree, “good” (or at least better than the rest)?

This is one of those times where the real answer lies with the both/and. Did God save Noah because of his favor on him or because Noah was a good man? The answer is “yes.” Both are true because they could only be true together.

There is no goodness apart from God himself. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)” If Noah was good, it was because of God’s favor on him and at work in him. But on the flipside, there is no favor from God without goodness springing from it. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. (Rom 8:29a)”

The question to really ask is, “Which came first, Noah’s goodness or God’s favor?” And that’s an easy one: apart from God’s favor, there would be no goodness. God’s favor came first, which worked powerfully in Noah to make him blameless among his peers so that he could walk faithfully with God. There’s no scenario where Noah could have been righteous apart from God’s favor. Nor is there a scenario where God’s favor would have failed to yield righteousness.

The same was true with Noah and the same is true now: any goodness is a gift of God’s favor and dependent on that grace. And that grace is always effective to bring about the nature of God himself at work in and through us.

Even with Our Kids

One of the banners I’ve been touting for a long, long time now on my journey toward home-based churches is that ministry is mutual. I tire of the traditional church model that basically says you only do diligent ministry if you get paid for it. Otherwise, you attend a class or bring candy to the trunk-or-treat or coach some Upward basketball, and you’re good to go! Otherwise, let the paid guy do the work you (the customer!) paid for!

No, ministry is one to another. Serving one another, doing good to one another, caring for one another, bearing one another’s burdens.

But it turns out (as usual) I didn’t press that far enough, didn’t see that the “one anothers” stretch even farther than I had imagined. Today, my wife went to Facebook to confess her sins to others, to be an open book to a world that tries to hide anything unsavory. She posted, “This mama just finished a bratty tantrum by literally screaming at my kids for their noise level (oh the irony is not lost on me). I went to my room to breathe and cool down. When I came out a few minutes later, [one of my daughters] was finishing putting the three little ones down for nap. I want to be like my kids when I grow up, ready to serve quickly even when things aren’t going well, loving even the one who was just unkind to me.”

Slam. My wife is so much more open than I am and sees so much more clearly her sins and her savior. I love her for that.

So, I’m all slammed because I rail at the kids all the time, they’re so undeservedly loving toward this daddy, so quick to forgive me in those rare times I do ask their forgiveness. I’m already ripped raw when our dear friend Carrie Quillo chimes in with this encouragement (among the many other ladies who spoke encouragement) in the comments: “I pray that you will see that the Holy Spirit is making you like that. You saw your sin, you saw [your daughter’s] love and God used it to turn your heart back to love and service to your kiddos. Ministry is mutual even with our kids.”

Even with these little people who disobey me all the time, who rebel, who fight with each other, who test limits all the time, who have so, so, so, so, so much they need to learn from me, their wise and discerning father?

Obviously, I still don’t believe my own manifesto. Parent to kid is a one-way relationship, right?

“Ministry is mutual even with our kids.” Amen, sister.