In the previous blog we started looking at what Romans 12 has to tell us about developing a healthy body, that is a healthy expression of the Body of Christ. We saw that Paul encouraged us first of all to develop the right attitude to ourselves, now in verses 4-5, we’re going to see him move the focus to other people and the need for us to develop the right attitude to others if we want to cultivate Christian community.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5
After encouraging people to welcome one another in a worship service, I was told, in no uncertain terms, by someone that “I come to church to meet with God, not other people!” That person thought that they could have a relationship with God without having any meaningful relationship with God’s people. Although they probably wouldn’t have articulated it this way, in reality they believed that church was simply a building that had an event in which individuals who had some sort of relationship with God got together to individually worship God.
That attitude may be more common than we think. I remember Reuben Welch, a well known Nazarene preacher, talking about how looking out on a congregation one Sunday he imagined them all in those old style diving suits, each with its individual link, not to the surface but to God.
That particular church attender whom I offended I don’t think had never grasped one of the most fundamental fact about Christianity, Christian faith is personal, no one can believe on your behalf but never private, you don’t believe on your own, Christianity is communal, it is only lived out authentically in a community of believers. The idea of church as no more than a gathering of individual believers at a weekly event is a million miles away from how Paul describes it Romans 12
I have a whole book case full of books about the church, hundreds of thousands of words, all trying to explain what the church is and how to be the church. The interesting thing is that in the Bible when it comes to describing the church and how to live as the church the writers don’t really use words that often they prefer to use pictures, or metaphors
So they the church is
- A family
- An army
- A flock
- A temple
But there is one picture, one metaphor that they use more than any other. The most used picture for what church is and is all about is THE BODY OF CHRIST Its used here in Romans 12 to help us understand our relationship with other believers in the church, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body”
If we are “members” of the body of Christ like organs in a human body then we are
Now whatever else “the Body of Christ” means, it certainly means that we need to be committed to one another, as we need each other. Just listen to God’s Word explain our relationship to our fellow believers, that we “form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Church here is described as a community of shared lives, of people who belong to each, and need each other. Paul’s point is that we can’t belong to Christ without belonging to Christ’s body, the church and the church is composed of a community shared lives.
So what is to be our attitude to others in the body of Christ?
- we belong to them,
- they belong to us,
- we really need each other
What is being described here in Romans 12 is FELLOWSHIP. Fellowship is a word that I believe is devalued and diminished a great deal in the contemporary church. Just contrast what our average experience of fellowship is compared to this description of what NT fellowship should be.
“The only kind of fellowship many know in church is after a service when men stand around and ask each other superficial questions. Then they find their wives who are having similar conversations, and go home. But biblical fellowship has the power to revolutionise lives. Masks come off, conversations get deep, hearts get vulnerable, lives are shared, accountability is invited, and tenderness flows. People really do become like brothers and sisters. They shoulder each other’s burdens – and unfortunately, that was something that few of the people today experience growing up in church in America.” Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian
A growing phenomenon in “Christianity” is the concept of “believing without belonging” that phrase is used to describe people who are orthodox, who believe all the right things, but who choose not to belong to the church. These are often young people but evidence suggests that increasing numbers of middle aged believers are also dropping out of church. After 20 years of being a pastor I would also say there is another group, “attending without belonging” These are people who turn up to worship services on a fairly regular basis and yet always keep other people at a distance. They never get beyond the superficial in their relationship with other believers.
I know that many people have been hurt and disillusioned by church, in fact there have been times when I have felt church is almost too much effort and an impediment to following Christ rather than an inspiration to follow Him. However, things in the early church weren’t any easier, just look at Romans 14 where Paul describes two groups of Christians in a depressingly familiar church fall out. Yet Paul doesn’t recommend the idea of abandoning church instead he wants us to deepen our concept of church. He wants us to develop the right attitude to others, that we belong to them and with them in the Body of Christ, that we have bond as deep as any blood relative.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who was murdered by the Nazis was at times deeply disillusioned by his experience of church. Yet Bonhoeffer wrote these words, If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”
Bonhoeffer is saying we can either be part of the problem when it comes to church, and keep moaning and criticising that the church isn’t what it should be or we can be part of God’s solution and get involved in the church as it is, with all its flaws, and allow God to build to better partly through us. Paul is telling us here in Romans 12 that a crucial part of doing just that is developing the right attitude to others in the church and realising that we belong to them and we need them.
So how do we know what our real attitude is to others in the Body of Christ, we look at the depth of our relationship with others in the Church. If we dont have any relationship that go deeper than the surface and superficial, we dont have the right attitude. What we are talking about really cant happen just on a Sunday, to develop this kind of attitude we need to be involved in some form of small group to express this attitude to others in any sort of meaningful way.