For the past few weeks, I've been making The Case For Going to Church. I've been trying to clear up confusion about what the local church is and what it is called by God to do. First and foremost, a local church is supposed to regularly gather for worship (see The Local Church: A God-Glorifying Family). Second, and what we'll focus on today, is that the local church is a beautifully blended family with deeply loving relationships.
Jesus Died For A Blended Family
The gospel is not a story about a local god or even a regional god of a particular tribe, people, or language. The gospel is the story about God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Ruler of all nations, who loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son...to do what exactly?
The Apostle Paul writes in Eph 2:13-20, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ...For through him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with Godâ€™s people and also members of his household [family], built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone."
Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son, came into the world, lived, died, and rose again to save people from the power of sin and death. Jesus brought light and life into a world of darkness and death. He did this to unite people from, "from every nation, tribe, people and language." (Rev 7:9)
So ever since, by faith in Jesus, people from all over the worldâ€”regardless of ethnicity, culture, or backgroundâ€”are saved and are united into one new, radically inclusive, beautifully blended family/household (v. 19). This is astonishing. What other family, nation, or tribe is like this?? What other religious story is like this?
In Christ, God is uniting diverse people as brothers and sisters for all eternity. So, we do not gather for worship as a crowd or an audience but as a family. And we are not united by our common interests, preferences, or politics (as powerful as those connections may be!) but by Christ alone. A local church is an expression of God's beautifully blended family.
So, how does a local church relate to other churches? As my immediate family belongs to a greater extended family, so a local church belongs to the universal Church. That Holly and I and our three kids don't live, eat, work, and play with our aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins every week doesn't break our relationship. So the fact that our local church (Appleton Gospel Church) doesn't gather every week with all the other Christian churches in the world doesn't break our relationship, either.
Deeply Loving Relationships
Because God is forming a new family in Christ, we must ask, What does this mean for our relationships with other people at church? If we are family members, brothers and sisters with a common Father in heaven, then our relationships must be the same as any healthy family: deeply loving relationships.
What helps form deeply loving relationships?
- Paying attention, listening, and caring
- Inviting someone over for dinner, dessert, or coffee
- Asking how you can pray for someone (and then actually pray!)
- Making a phone call or sending an email, text, or note during the week
- Smiling, being friendly, and initiating a conversation
- Sitting with someone on Sunday
- Sharing your possessions, time, gifts, and money
- Sharing your needs with others (and accepting help)
- Confessing sin, forgiving, and reconciling
- Encouraging and affirming
- Being honest, respectful, and humble
- Bearing one another's burdens
- Speaking the truth in love
- Rejoice with those who rejoice
- Mourn with those who mourn
Now, I know it's not always easy to worship God or spend a good deal of time with people who have different likes/dislikes, preferences, opinions, and politics than you have. People are wired very differently! And it's downright challenging to form deep relationships with certain people.
But in our deference toward othersâ€”and the humility, love, grace, and patience that unity in diversity requiresâ€”God is greatly glorified. Loving people who are different than you (culturally, ethnically, etc.) is a unique and beautiful glory that is impossible to give God on your own.
This is why being committed to regularly gathering to worship God with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is so important. This is why being committed to regularly meeting in a Community Group, men's/women's ministry group, or Bible study that is part of your local church is so important.
This is why it isn't super helpful to jump from one group to another in a church or to sample from a variety of ministries from churches in a region (as wonderful as those experiences might be). There's simply no way to build deeply loving relationships with people you see only a handful of times in a year. Finally, there's no way to replicate deeply loving relationships online. Social media can supplement in-person relationships, but it can never replace them.
People cannot be fully loved from a distance.
So what do we do? Let me leave you with the encouragement of the author of Hebrews:
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one anotherâ€”and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Heb 10:24-25, emphasis mine)