What should define a healthy church? (Part 3: Connect with God’s Family)
We are spending a few weeks answering the question, “What should define a healthy church?” Last week we talked about the necessity the Word of God, and having God’s Word be the plumbline by which we live and act.
Today, I want to talk about the how a healthy church connects with God’s family. It is impossible to be a healthy follower of God or a healthy church if you are not connected to God’s family, God’s community.
As western thinkers, we tend to process information through an individualistic lens, but this is contrary to biblical culture. The biblical world (and much of our world!) is communal in nature and it is impossible to understand all that the Word of God teaches without understanding this communal piece. So, what does the Bible teach?
You are a communal creature, created for community. Human beings are communal to the core. The trinitarian view of God is that he is a communal God. One God, three persons. In Genesis 1:26, as God prepares to create mankind, he has a conversation: “Let us make man in our image.” Think about that: the first thought of humanity is a conversation within community. It is in the imprint of that communal God - a God who exists in relational terms (Father & Son) that we are created.
You are recreated to experience restored community. The story of Christianity is one of our relationship with God the Creator being severed by sin and then restored by the rescue mission of God the Son. Jesus’ existence is not about teaching us good morals or nifty one-liners - it is about dying so that we could have restored community with God, our Creator.
As a follower of Jesus, you are recreated into a new family. Just as we were born into a family, followers of Christ are reborn into a new family. Jesus calls you his real family (Matthew 12:48-51). The Apostle Paul, who wrote about half of the New Testament, says that you are adopted into God’s family, co-heirs with Jesus as your brother!
You are a people, not isolated individuals gathering together. We do not join the church as if it were a club, scouting out our options and then deciding if it is worth our time. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been reborn into a people - a new tribe. You are not an isolated individual who has decided to believe in a set of dogma, you are a new person part of a new people. This is why the scriptures say that Jesus is the head and we are his body - being a part of the corporate community isn’t an option, it’s your new identity.
The community you ARE (not have) as a follower of Jesus is the truest form of community that you can have in this life. Funny, but nowhere in the Scriptures does it tell you how to become a community. What the Scriptures do clearly teach, however, is how to function within the community that you have been placed. Community isn’t something we aspire to - it is something we are. Community is an identity, not a goal. Since this is the biblical reality, you are called to be devoted to fellowship, to this new community.
This means that if you are a follower of Jesus, you do not have an option to not be a part of a local gathering of God’s people (e.g. a church). Here you might say, “Well, I gather with a couple of friends on Sunday and we play golf and talk about God - that’s my church.” My response to you is that, yes, you are the church as the people of God, but the New Testament church also gathered, and gatherings were: under qualified leadership, diverse, intentional, organized, disciplined for holiness, celebratory of the ordinances of baptism and communion, gospel centered, and fueling for the mission.
Unless your golf game looks like that, you are operating contrary to the Scriptures.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” For the recipients of that letter, persecution kept them from gathering - they were afraid that they were going to die. The author tells them to keep on meeting together no matter what.
For us it isn’t fear of death. It is comfort, preference, busyness, priorities, and convenience. What’s easiest for me? That’s how we make our decisions.
If you want to be a healthy follower of Jesus, you must be connected to God’s community, and if you are a church, you are called to function in that community with grace and truth. It is crucial that we don’t ignore this piece of our identity. We cannot be healthy without it.