“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” Ephesians 4:11–16.
As I have been reflecting this month I have been pondering a very important question. Is the church necessary? We live in an individualistic society. Our culture, jobs, entertainments, all push us towards a life lived on our own. Even as we interact with family, friends and coworkers we are more like ships passing in the night than intertwined strands of rope. Many people have applied this to their Christian experience and think they don't need anyone on their spiritual journey. Many will stay home and read what they want to read and watch what they want to watch and do internet searches and consider that sufficient for their spiritual growth.
However there is one large problem with this mindset… it is utterly inconsistent with God's working through history. When God reveals truth, He does it in community. Jesus did not choose one disciple but 12 and then he chose 70 more after that. He did not send them off alone but in pairs and always called them back together with Him. The disciples did not abandon this practice even after Jesus returned to heaven. In the upper room, awaiting the Holy Spirit, they were 120 together not each of them off on their own (Acts 1). As missionaries they always went out with at least two and usually many more. Whenever there was a question about teaching and doctrine they gathered together to discuss and study and pray through the issue (Acts 15). God worked through the community. As they began to articulate this in the New Testament they chose illustrations that required togetherness: flock of sheep (Luke 15), the vine and the branches (John 15), different parts of a body (1 Corinthians 12), different stones in a building (1 Peter 2), etc.
In Ephesians 4, Paul outlines some very important reasons why God always works in community. 1) Equipping the saints for ministry. 2) That there we can grow into the stature of the fullness of Christ. This tells me that it is not possible for me to reach the full stature of what Christ intends for me in isolation from the body of Christ. 3) The final reason gives a huge insight into why it is necessary to be in community. A huge part of God’s purpose for the church is to protect from false doctrines, trickery of men, and cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting. The church is Christ's safeguard against false ideas. No one is immune to wrong theology. Everyone can be mistaken, even if they are praying as they study the Bible. This is why God has given the community of faith. It is a protective creation of Christ Himself. It is in communion with fellow believers who are passionate about prayer and studying the word that we have our greatest safeguard against “every wind of doctrine.” Satan's tactics are described as those of a wolf or a lion. These are hunting animals who have precisely the same tactic for pulling down their prey: they isolate and destroy. The safety is in the flock or herd where the shepherd is, outside they are much more vulnerable. Does this mean that every person in a church will have correct ideas all the time? Of course not! That is the precise reason we need the church. It is in the church, in spiritually mature community, that wrong ideas can be studied and worked through and right ideas accepted and taught. All of this is called to be done by speaking the truth in love under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we can grow up into Christ who is the head. Because this treatment is, by necessity of length, partial, I will continue with another part next month. But this month I appeal to you to consider how you stand in relation to the body of Christ. We did not make it, Jesus did and it is clear that He isn’t changing His plan. Are we willing to embrace God’s plan for His family?