19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
14 I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. 15 But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Just finished reading The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop (a very helpful book, by the way), and in the final chapter the authors provide a number of questions meant to help assess the character of your church that I thought were well chosen:
- Is your congregation clear on the gospel? If you were to ask random members of your congregation what the good news of the cross is, how would they answer your question? There’s no reason eave a congregation of new believers couldn’t be able to do this well. But in many of our churches, we’re not there.
- Is your congregation telling others the gospel? Church planting is the natural result of evangelism, and it won’t work well without it.
- Do your church members teach God’s Word to each other? Is yours a church culture where it’s normal to encourage each other with Scripture?
- Does your congregation take their responsibility seriously to guard each other from sin? Are those conversations both honest and grace-exalting?
- Is most of the pastoring in your church done by the congregation? Is it unusual for a pastoral problem to come to your attention where ordinary members of the congregation are not already at work?
- Do you already see a breadth and depth of relationships that cannot be explained by natural bonds alone? Have these types of relationships come to characterize your congregation?
- Does your congregation trust its leadership? Or is it still typical that disunity erupts when leaders make a challenging decision?
[T]he church consists of people who are incorporated into Christ and each other like the ingredients of a cake: none for himself, but instead each is blended with the others in the fellowship of love. Luther himself depended on the “consolation of the brethren” (consolatio fratrum) whenever he suffered inner turmoil and temptation – especially in the year 1527, when he was plagued by illness, the loss of friends, and various forms of Anfechtung. Communion meant true communication with Luther, through word and sacrament, in the giving of oneself to Christ and to one’s neighbor. Just as Christ emptied himself for the world on the cross (Phil. 2:5-11), so the Christian is to empty himself to his neighbor in love.
– Erich W. Gritsch, quoted in Embodied Hope, p. 132.
God freely employs the faith of others, expressing itself through prayer, to sustain and uphold the faith of the suffering Christian. Faith is not simply the means through which a person becomes a Christian but also the essential manner of the Christian life. The wounded believer often depends on other saints to sustain them through seasons of suffering…Yes, the individual was called to believe, but the faith can in fact only be lived within an organic connection to the locally constituted church. One of the regular ways the body of Christ maintains its health, even as parts of the body are attacked with disease, is for the other parts to carry some extra weight. When a person’s ankle is broken, they instinctively place more weight on the strong leg. This is not because they despise the weak leg but because it can only return to full health if its burden is borne by the other limb. Similarly, Christians bear one another’s burdens (cf. Gal 6:1-5)….Thus in our own distress, when we find it easy to doubt God’s grace and provision, the body of Christ gives shelter and sustenance under the canopy of their faith. As the body of Christ we can together face any worries about divine apathy, judgment, or abandonment. The flame of individual faith weakens when it is alone, but in true community the fire of faith illumines the night.
– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, pp. 126-127.
In its preoccupation with heart attitudes, Luke’s portrait of early Christian koinonia is a discomforting challenge to economically-comfortable Christians, relentlessly probing our motives. When confronted with another person’s need, is our first impulse to help or to edge away? To find a way to meet the need or to find an excuse for avoiding involvement? When brothers and sisters are in need, the normal response of people touched by God’s Spirit is to share together as members of a family do. How normal is the evangelical church today? Luke sums up the result of the Christian’s sense of family partnership, “there was not even a needy person among them (Acts 4:34).” His words deliberately echo the Lord’s ancient promise of blessing toward Israel, if Israel were to prove faithful (Deut. 15:4-5), “There will not be a needy person among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit as your portion. If you listen intently to the voice of the Lord your God to keep and to do all these commands that I am commanding you today.” This promise assured Israel of God’s blessing and material prosperity if Israel proved faithful to the Lord and His Law. Israel disobeyed and received a curse rather than blessing, but now God’s promise of a blessing that erases want is coming to fulfillment in the church, not through abundant harvests but through open hearts. The fulfillment of God’s promise through hearts turned inside out – from protective selfishness to risky liberality – is a more marvelous work of God than ample rainfall and bumper crops from Palestinian soil would have been. The practical koinonia in the church is the fruit of the Spirit who removes the curse, making dry ground fertile once again.
– Dennis Johnson
The tendency today is to minimize truth in favor of organization, and men are telling us with unwearied reiteration that the greatest tragedy of the world is the disunited church. But the tragedy, the greatest tragedy, as I understand the New Testament, is not the disunity of the church, is not the fact that the church is divided into groups and denominations, is not that we are not all in one organization, but that all the sections are preaching a false message and there has been a departure from the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. If we were all brought together and formed into one organization, that is no guarantee that the message preached would be true.
– Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, p. 128.