20 November 2008

"Deep Rooted" Follow-Up 2: Isn't that cultish?

QUESTION: You keep emphasizing commitment to a particular group of believers. Are you saying church membership is covenantal on the order of marriage? Isn't that a little cultish?

M.M. I certainly would not say that church membership is covenantal on the order of marriage.  It would be hard to say that the bible has something comparable to this:

“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.  (Malachi 2:16 NIV)

for leaving a church, but being "overly-covenantal" is not the error that needs to be guarded against.   No one is seeing a trend of people over-committed to the relationships in their church.  The fact is that the trend is continually moving away from any formal commitment to a specific collection of believers.  This is a trend that must be addressed for the sake of 1) sanctification, 2) truth preservation and 3) Christ's glorification.

I had a great follow-up conversation after "Deep Rooted" that developed a reasonable metaphor for the role of commitment to the local church in the life of the individual.  The local church is much like the vise of a jeweler. A gem cannot be polished without the vise and a believer cannot be sanctified without commitment to other believers.  Consider Hebrews 10:24-26 

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 if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (Hebrews 10:24-26 ESV)

If salvation gives us a new heart with God's Law written on it, and Jesus summed up the Law in the Great Commandment, then the goal of our salvation is to make us loving people.  The more our lives are characterized by a love for God and a love for people, the more we are conformed to God's image - becoming holy (sanctified, set apart) as He is holy.  So after ten stunning chapters on the supremacy of Jesus Christ as our High Priest and the glory of the new covenant, the author of Hebrews tells these believers to be involved with each other and not neglect meeting together, because it is so critical to our sanctification!  

The author of Hebrews places a stunning value on the role of a committed group of believers spurring each other regularly to love and good deeds. He warns that we could wreck our faith and no longer participate in the "better hope" promised in the Gospel simply because we neglected meeting together.  We could step out of the jeweler's vise, no longer be polished and profane the Blood of the Covenant.    

Is God looking for cultish commitment?  Well that will depend on your definition of a "cult" (which is a tirelessly misused word).  It seems clear that God is looking for relationships that are together often and don't bail in hardship because these kinds relationships are required for sanctification.  

Truth Preservation
David Wells hints at it in this post but gives a penetrating analysis of the loss of truth as a result of the loss of COMMUNITY in his prophetic (written in 1993) book No Place for Truth (follow this link for some great, clarifying excepts).  

In this book, Wells describes the affects of the industrial and informational revolution on the communities we live.  In the quiet, interdependent existence of Americans 150 years ago there was space, mental space, to consider truth.  Lifelong participation in a church community as the center of social life, provided for believers a place for truth (mentally) which solidified their beliefs.  When we discuss and practice our beliefs in consistent community, these beliefs find a deeper place in our souls.  In fractured and inconsistent community, we continually hit the reset button in discussion and practice.  New environments require time to develop trust and transparency and, in practice, we can transition through dozens of different communities in a single day (following media, interacting online, at work, at home, etc.).  

Add to this frenzy of daily, short-duration relationships a propensity to leave a church community because of unresolved conflict or personal "preference" and you have an environment where Truth does not take root.  Three passages from 1 and 2 Timothy come to mind:
if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. (1Timothy 3:15 ESV)

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2Timothy 2:1-2 ESV)

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2Timothy 2:22 ESV)

I see Paul saying that, for the sake of truth, remain in committed community.

Christ's Glorification
This one is fairly simple.  
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 ESV)

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:35 ESV)

If we break fellowship with one another for extra-biblical reasons like:
-unresolved conflict
-better jobs
-better houses
-better climate
-better music
-better (by better I mean more engaging) preaching
-better leadership
-better buildings
-better, better - you get the point...

we exchange our priorities for God's.  His number one priority?  His glory.  When we give up on each other for faulty reasons, we forfeit participation in the unity that would bring Christ glory.  

Our culture doesn't want to hear any of this.  Some of you may be offended.  I will simply ask you one question.   Who is offending you?  Is it the edginess of the Bible that is requiring something beyond your comfort?  Consider that carefully.  Much is at stake.  

Cults require commitment to falsehood at the expense of reason.  New Testament churches require commitment so that individuals might be sanctified, truth might be preserved and Jesus Christ might be glorified.

Choose your churches carefully, because to participate biblically, you will bring serious commitment.  


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