This week I have been thinking a lot about what true Christianity is and what it must have been like for the early Christians. Reflecting on past experience, it seems difficult for many, myself included, to move from a posture of doing church because that is the way I was raised or because that is what my parents and family do, to realizing that a response to God based on individual faith is the true nature of discipleship. A few years ago, I had a discussion with one of my elders about this sort of topic. I asked him if he ever wondered if what we call “church” and everything involved with that term was real, or just something that we have conjured up in our mind so that we won’t feel alone or without purpose. He very quickly let me know that he has questioned this at various moments in life. I think it is human nature, or at least one of our societal norms, to question everything.
At any rate, my conversation with this elder turned quickly to how we know that we are a part of that one Church that is talked about in scripture. Do we have every detail correct and all others who do not agree with us are wrong? That is the kind of question that induces great debate. It is easier for me to look at this topic and say, “Well, I know what God says in His Word regarding His Church. And that is what I have to strive to be.” The question then is, “Am I (are we) being that Church?” I do not believe that it is a matter of having the right name on the sign, though I’m not suggesting we abandon our heritage. (Certainly, The Church is Christ’s.) I believe it’s all about following God’s will for His people. I do not presume to be the judge, for that is God’s task. My task is to work diligently to understand God’s will for me and follow it to the best of my ability, knowing that God’s grace will cover my failings. But there’s a question that is important to ask in this conversation.
Is it possible for a group of people to assemble under the auspices of being the New Testament Church while not being the kind of church Christ established?
Some may want to argue otherwise, but I would suggest the only answer is yes. There is much more involved in being the New Testament Church than simply gathering under the pretext of the Church of Christ. That’s not enough. As Christians, we should diligently seek to grow in our understanding of God and his will for our lives. One way we can achieve this goal is by continually studying the word of God. As we study and develop thoughts with respect to scripture, we ought to seek out opportunities to express our theology with others. There is a big difference in rolling something over in your mind and actually discussing your thoughts with someone else. Hearing their reaction to your thoughts can help a great deal in working through your understandings. Much like my conversation with this elder, we learn and grow from the mutual sharing of our individual study. God blesses us with opportunities to encourage and exhort one another. Not to say that I am not learning and growing through individual study, but I have learned so much more when I study and discuss with others.
Being the New Testament Church requires a full commitment to faithful obedience of God’s will. Sadly, many churches today are moving away from the truths of God’s word, believing that in order to be attractive to millennials we must be willing to give a little. This abandoning of fundamental teachings of scripture are causing great turmoil in the brotherhood. It breaks my heart to speak with people who are feeling compelled to leave their church families in search of another because of leadership decisions to compromise on foundational principles. Being the New Testament Church is not, and never has been, about what I want or what makes me feel good. Being the New Testament Church is all about what God wants, what brings honor and glory to him.
Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that I have everything figured out or that I have all the answers. This is certainly not the case. Far from it. One of my professors from Harding University spoke at a Teacher’s Appreciation Banquet several years ago. Something he said really had an impact on me and the way I will view my teaching from now on. As he was talking about making yourself vulnerable as a teacher he said, “We don’t have to have all the answers. It is okay to say, ‘I don’t really know.’” He was right. For a long time, as a young pup in ministry, I had been trying to have all the answers, and I felt pressure to supply the answers to everyone’s questions. After all, I was the teacher. Hearing this professor, whom I admire, say these words brought me to the point of realizing that it means more to the students when they know their teacher is intellectually honest and willing to make himself vulnerable to them. We cannot deceive ourselves into believing that we have it all figured out. But by the wonderful grace of God we have his word preserved for us. We can search out his will for our lives. We can know what he desires of us in worship. We can challenge one another to grow deeper in our understanding of the truths we find in his word. And we can share our thoughts and questions with others as we listen to theirs. God will help us along the way. He will strengthen us and give us courage to stand firm. Let’s stop playing church and simply be the church of God.