I vividly remember as a young pastor going to see a very saintly old lady in my first church in Ashton called Gran Dixon. As we talked about things over tea and several compulsory slices of cake Gran began to talk about Sunday’s sermon. I was looking forward to this part of the conversation as Gran always wanted to talk about the sermon and I had thought Sunday evenings had been a rather good one. I had been preaching on ecclesiology, on what the church was. I knew I had quoted some great theologians and in my own opinion had done a pretty good job on the relationship of the church to culture. Gran’s comment floored me, “Pastor I never realised church was so complicated until your sermon” I suspect the Holy Spirit used Gran, as He so often did, to administer a much deserved clip round the ear to a cocky young preacher with far too high of an opinion of his sermons.
Now in one sense Gran was right, Church is complicated. I have shelves of books about the church and add more to those shelves it seems every month. `No subject is getting more attention at the moment in Christian circles than the church. During my doctoral studies I have had my own “Gran Dixon moments” and thought, church really is complicated, as I have struggled to get my mind round some concept or even just understand what is actually being said. The existence of so many denominations with so many different forms of church government and worship tells you that church must in some sense be complicated, its not a subject around which there is an easy or clear consensus.
While understanding church may be complicated I think I have come to realise that being church is anything but. Reading the New Testament again I was struck by that “catch phrase” that appears in the writings of just about all of the writers, “one another.” You can’t read very far in the NT without coming across this phrase. That very fact tells me something about the church which isn’t complicated, its about people, its about community, in that sense its not complicated at all. I think it was American president Bill Clinton who had a slogan to help him keep the main thing, the main thing, in his campaign, that read “its the economy stupid” I wonder if God would like all church leaders to have a sign up somewhere which reads “its about people stupid.” If there should be one of those banners up in church building which should read “its about one another stupid” Church is not mainly about buildings, its not about budgets, its not about the colour of the decor in the ladies loo at its most basic level its about people. A huge part, maybe the predominate part, of what it means to be church is about people and importantly how they treat one another.
The NT writers, unlike me, don’t complicate what it means to live as the church. Being church means very practical things, loving, caring, forgiving, encouraging, challenging, and serving one another to name but a few. I took a leadership class once from someone who had been the pastor of a mega church. He described the vision he had for the church he planted, where it was to be in the city, how many acres of land, what size of building and how many people would attend. I applaud his vision, there is no virtue in dreaming small or in the church being small. Nevertheless that’s not the kind of vision I have for the church we are involved in birthing here in Edinburgh but I believe my dream is as big as his was. I dream of a church which is a community that treats one another the way the NT calls on us as Christ followers to do. I know there is no perfect church and no perfect people and that we will have to wait for Christ to return to experience fully community as God has intended it. Yet I am sick of the status quo and excuses which either makes something else the main thing in church, like the programmes we run or never aspires to become more fully a community which reflects and makes tangible the Kingdom of God.
Ecclesiology may be complicated but being the church is not, we can all love others, care for them, build them up, refuse to be bitter with them. We have no excuses, living as the church is not complicated or hard to understand, no the challenge lies in living this out and becoming the kind of community committed to treating one another in these ways. I gathered the “one anothers” below to remind me of my vision for the church and what my commitment to the church should be, to treat others in this way. Maybe I could invited you to share my vision, or better, God’s vision for the Church and commit yourself to it? Now that’s not complicated is it?
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.
Live in harmony with one another.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Romans 15:6-8 (in Context) Romans 15 (Whole Chapter)
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
1 Corinthians 1:10
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
, serve one another in love.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
1 Peter 1:22
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.
1 Peter 3:8
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
1 Peter 4:9
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
1 Peter 5:5
Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because,God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble
1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
1 John 1:6-8 (in Context) 1 John 1 (Whole Chapter)
1 John 3:11
This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
1 John 3:23
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us
1 John 4:7
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 John 4:11
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:12
No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
2 John 1:5
And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.