Within a church fellowship context, Jesus said: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~John 13:34b-35 (NRSV).
Some time ago a person criticised something I wrote as ‘church doctrine’; that it was ‘not biblical’. It surrounded the word “revival,” which can be quite a broad term, and not one estranged to concepts biblical (for instance—revival dependent on repentance—2 Chronicles 7:14). I found it rather strange that a Christian could, or would want to, differentiate between the church and what is biblical.
Surely these two are one and the same regarding alignment.
Can we truly love, follow, or obey Jesus Christ without accepting that the church deserves the same level of respect? After all, are not the Lord and his church betrothed?
It is granted that we should not worship the church, as we worship the Lord Jesus Christ, for the church has a different role. The church has an exalted role in the Kingdom purpose that will soon be revealed, and it will not be moved (Matthew 16:18).
We are all intrinsically part of that purpose. That purpose is to love one another.
Church Shows Us How to Love
Known as ‘sandpaper’ ministry, an iron-sharpens-iron metaphor, church facilitates our spiritual growth as we are compelled to love real, often difficult, people (as they are compelled to love us, even when we are difficult). The church is not full of perfect Christians; far from it.
We are sinners and we are all capable of any sin.
Bunny believers—those hopping serially between congregations, fellowships, even entire denominations; never calling one home—shirk the character challenge involved in growing with other believers under the leadership of those accountable to God for their shepherding. Perhaps it’s the same with those who stopped going to church.
They may refuse to be led. In this way they disobey God.
We would all have to admit, church can make us feel decidedly uncomfortable—but how else are we to learn how to love, submitting in difficult situations.
Love is a messy concept to learn. And the church can be a messy place to involve ourselves—neither we nor anybody else in the church is beyond reproach. We all make mistakes.
But, what church teaches us is correct and mature reproof—to facilitate and accept truth in love. This must be the practice of wisdom, to hold two balls in the air simultaneously: truth and love. Both the giver and receiver of reproof are required to exercise truth and love. In such ways mature love grows.
Qualities of the Very Best Witness for Christ
Jesus often spoke in riddles of simplicity—so simple were these concepts entire chapters of the gospels are devoted to one clear theme. But that very simplicity was ironically double-edged; many spin-off meanings can be derived.
In John 13:31-35 the Lord elucidates, according to the New Revised Standard Version, “The New Commandment.”
This is no part of the Bible we pick and choose to obey. It is a command; one with a result.
We are commanded to love each other; each within the body of Christ—the church.
This Commandment has far-reaching consequences. As a result, the world will see, by our submission, which is love, that we are Jesus-followers. It’s only when we don’t do this—when we don’t value the church, and its role in our life—that the world sees us as dogmatic, loveless hypocrites. (Their sentiment: “Call yourself a Christian... I don’t think so!”)
If we love Jesus, we will love the church. When we love fellow Jesus-followers, we show the world who is our Lord, Saviour, and King.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.