moorings and fellowship

Moorings is both a nautical term and used figuratively to signify a basis of security. It is known that more important than the actual content of what is presented is the fellowship as in friendships and relationships in helping someone to become aligned with this or that group. I think this has even been said for those in the church.

When I think of this in terms of the church, I’m thinking both of staying as well as entering. At the same time I wouldn’t suggest that one’s faith couldn’t and therefore shouldn’t withstand a barrage of conflict and difficulty from others, and worst of all, neglect. Nor am I suggesting that it’s all about loving others to keep them in the flock. Though love in the letter to the Colossians is called “the perfect bond of unity.”

As humans we have a strong sense of need to belong. Our identities are formed within that context, or malformed when it is lacking. Unfortunately the group or fellowship one might find may not be good.

We in Jesus are supposed to know the greatest love of all, God’s love in Jesus. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” This is a love which looks for the lost and is one heart with the found.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. So that whatever deficiencies we encounter in the church can be overcome. But a basic way this human need of belonging is met is through the gospel itself. A good news which tells the world and brings into reality through God the basis for this new life in the community, indeed the kingdom of God, the people of God, his sons and daughters, indeed family, in and through Jesus.

the importance of the church

The church takes on many forms and practices. And I would argue that we can see both “high church” and “low church” in the New Testament. I am thinking we need something of both. Baptism and the Lord’s Table do seem to have meaning more than just symbolic. And the church itself is called the pillar and foundation of the faith. The church also is to live out the call and imperatives to love one another in a variety of ways. The fellowship in communion with God in Jesus by the Spirit is experienced in some part by fellowship with each other. For me that is often what can open the door and bring me into God’s presence, it seems, on a Sunday morning. Of course it is not just a matter of conversing. We also are present to help each other in meeting important needs. And in love we hold each other accountable.

Church is not a nice option or help for our journey in Jesus. It is part of who we are. We are members of Christ, and in being so, we are also members of his body, the church. It is less important just what church or denomination we’re part of. It is most important that we are part of a local gathering. This isn’t just theory in thinking of ourselves as part of the church universal. This has to be worked out in practice, where the rubber meets the road in down to earth local congregations. There needs to be a commitment there, grounded in our Lord and in obedience to him. We are in this for better or for worse. We should never easily leave a church. The consumer mindset shopping mentality we need to reject. We need instead to be in prayer with the intention to stay committed where we are, as long as it is a gathering as church in which together we are trying to follow the Lord in accord with scripture. There sadly does come a time to leave, but it should be a last resort, or something not done easily. Although if the church is not really a church, then we need to find a church. Such would be true if the church has apostatized as in rejecting the resurrection of Christ or the necessity of Christ’s death for sins. Or if a church is not living according to the pattern given in the New Testament, perhaps being little more than a social club. Even in these serious cases, we should want to see repentance and change. But there is a time to leave.

In most cases we should leave only for good reasons that have to do with calling. It is true that at times people become convinced of this or that teaching which differs from one church to the next. Or one’s theology may line up more with one church or denomination than another. Even in these cases we should be slow to leave. Often there is room for variance, and sometimes the differences are really not all that profound or may in practical terms matter very little if at all. That may become evident if we can talk it through with the pastor or leadership of the church.

The church is foundational to us in Jesus. Our calling is linked to it, and we should never think of ourselves apart from the church. We are part of it, members of Christ’s body, to be lived out in commitment within a local church. Necessarily together in seeking to follow God’s call in Christ.

the tension between restoration and tradition

I am among those who appreciate restoration movements within the church, such as the Church of Christ, and the Anabaptists- among which I was raised Mennonite. There is something to be said about getting back to our roots and beyond the penchant for equating tradition with the inscripturated word, I mean, the Bible. That being said, in reality we all have and live in tradition, the “restorationists,” no less than all the rest.

It is surely worse than naive to simply think one can start over with the Bible, with the focus on the New Testament, and think one can find the primitive faith. Anabaptists in the stream of Menno Simons, found that out early on. You can’t put aside Christian orthodoxy such as what was hammered out in the creeds, along with the church councils in defining theology to scuttle heresy. Yes, the theology on God (Trinity, etc.) and Christ (two natures, one person, etc.) all has its value. There is no sense whatsoever in reinventing the wheel.

The tension comes with the thought that we need to find a tradition which can be traced back to the early church. Hence the move of a significant number of evangelicals to the Eastern Orthodox Church (while even more Eastern Orthodox convert to evangelicalism). And the search for a stream which would include more of a supposedly restorationist orientation, found in a group like the Waldensians.

To suppose there was one homogenous group of Christians in New Testament times, one church of apostolic purity, is to be rather naive, as we find in the New Testament letters and in Acts- in the witness of scripture, itself. It does become a matter of weighing everything, with a certain respect for the traditions we find within Christian orthodoxy, even while we may engage in some push back, as we together consider the witness of scripture itself. Theology needs to be rooted, pruned, and growing. The process involves many voices ending up with the same tune in different harmonies and variations. It is surely a pipe dream to think there is only one tradition flowing back to and rooted in the New Testament apostolic church. And that the church does not need to struggle through both what the faith means in its original context, along with the context in which the church finds itself, culturally in time. Yet we also need to learn from and respect tradition, yes from “the Great Tradition” (the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic) as well as from other traditions of the faith. Seeing the variants which are part of Christian tradition (such as found in Pentecostalism). Remembering all the while that there is no one set way of being church, even as we hold to and affirm our unity in all its varied expressions throughout the earth, as Christ’s body.

life in Christ is a life together

There is no doubt that our life in God through Christ by the Spirit is basic and fundamental. The vertical is always central in our lives in Christ. But the horizontal is never to be lost in that. Central to our lives in Christ, as well, is our relationships with each other in him. We belong to Christ, but we also belong to each other. We are members of Christ, members of his body. And so we are joined together by the Spirit so that our oneness is not only with Christ himself, or with God through Christ by the Spirit, but with all of God’s people, those who are in Christ and members of his body.

We neglect this simple, yet profound truth to our own peril and to the peril of others, we could say, the others. We don’t have any other choice in Christ, but to get along, to get past our differences, so that at least we can live well with each other in him. If we allow other factors to undermine our life together, then we need to consider just what is hindering that, confess it to God, and get rid of it. Working through problems is part of that, rather than simply pushing them aside.

Something will be missing if our lives are only plugged into God through Christ, into Christ himself. We also need to be plugged into each other. We actually are already joined to each other in and through Christ. We are to live that out. Our devotion to God through Christ is never only about ourselves and him. It is always also about ourselves with each other in him. There is no getting around it. Our fellowship in the Father and in the Son by the Spirit is a fellowship with each other. It is both at the same time. This is simply the way it is, organic and as real as the dynamic and interplay between brain and other parts of our physical bodies, from which comes the metaphor of the body of Christ.

Love is key here, the love of God in Christ and by the Spirit which is to permeate our relationship with God and with each other. It is no less than a communion of love. We interact with each other in that love, no less: God’s love in Christ. In this life in Christ, together.

knowing God personally and in community through Jesus

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

John is writing about an incarnational faith, one that is both material and spiritual. Somehow the very life of God was not just spirit, but matter, indeed flesh and blood in Jesus. And the disciples knew Jesus in the way we all know other human beings. In relationship, as a friend. So this knowledge was something very much down to earth, right where they lived. Yet at the same time, heavenly. Bringing both a fellowship to the community of believers with the Father and the Son, and to each individual within that community, eternal life. That fellowship ongoing, not only for believers and followers of Jesus during that time, but for us as well in Jesus.

I like what I read from Michael Bird in his recent book, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, on the importance of not only knowing doctrine, but knowing God in and through Jesus. What I especially liked from Bird was the thought that this knowing of God impacts our understanding of doctrine. One can of course perhaps understand what scripture says intellectually without knowing God. But one cannot grasp its intended meaning apart from that knowledge of God. In other words the knowledge is indeed incarnational, meant to touch and somehow transform all of life.

This knowing is both individual and communal. In other words we experience it as individuals and in and through community —in Jesus. It is strictly speaking not at all what we know about someone, though that is not cut off as if unimportant. One can know everything about someone without knowing that person at all. To know someone is far more than the sum total of everything we might know about them. But of course it doesn’t mean that what we know about them is unimportant. In the case of Jesus there is no doubt that we need to accept God’s revelation about him. Life is what it is in many details, about us. But at the heart of that is a relationship, indeed a fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit, which we believers and followers of Jesus enjoy together.

the fellowship of the broken

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, points out how as soon as we want to find the perfect fellowship, we are automatically disqualified from finding it (my paraphrase of the point he makes in many more and interesting words). Don’t even dream of being part of a church fellowship in which no one offends the other and there’s no need for forgiveness, and this ongoing. If you find such a fellowship, it will not be real but nothing more than a facade, or you will have failed to really get into any depths at all.

Those who are married know this especially well. You will have to deal with your brokenness on both ends normally sooner than later. You can do well in this if you accept this as fact, and part and parcel of life. And make amends through confession to each other and dependence on God through Christ for forgiveness as well as light to continue on.

What is especially tragic, but so very much like us broken humans is when we hold grudges, and fail to let go of the past and go on. It surely can take time for hurts to heal, but if one is in any true fellowship or communion with others, one can be sure that they will be wounded here and there along the way. We are wounded and we wound, by the way of course.

And so we need to settle down and avoid the thought that we want to flee from such. If we do that, then we are leaving community to which we are called in Christ. In a true sense we are leaving Christ since we are leaving his body. We need to remember that we are just as broken ourselves and that we need ongoing forgiveness as well. As we realize all of this, God can make us more and more like Jesus, a process which is with others in him.

the impact we have on each other

Going into this new year, 2014, I think of books which have had a major impact on my life, along the way. Of course the Book, the Bible being in a place all by itself. But other books, besides. But just as important as that, if not more are the people who have impacted me along the way, both for good and ill. I hate to say for ill, because I am sadly sure that I have hurt others at times in ways which require God’s redemptive work, no less. And actually in a true sense we are a mixed bag. We help and hurt each other in our relationships, though hopefully in and through Christ we are learning to live in the way of love and truth. Although in Jesus there is no way to make everything comfortable, since that is not what Jesus and the way in him is all about.

We have impact on each other just by being in each other’s company, being the people we are. That is a large part of what church is all about. In church a whole different dynamic is present by the Spirit, so that in God’s grace in Jesus we rub off on each other in all sorts of ways. In God’s love by the Spirit for good, even while we inevitably have to work through the hurts in our failings which we inflict on each other.

Actually, I am becoming rather convinced that an important place for change is to simply live in the melting pot of humanity. Particularly in the church and among other believers in Christ, but also among others. To enter into their world, and accept something of that world as part of us, as part of our own world. So that we can both give and receive from others, and in that process together find the one who has found us, God in Jesus. We need to remember too, that it is important that we love with no strings attached, even while we pray and hope for the best for everyone, in and through Jesus.

I know I have been impacted by those around me, through our church: Redeemer Covenant, through my work at RBC Ministries, through friends elsewhere such as online on social networks. Life as humans is lived in relationships and within community. That is where it finds much of its meaning. In fact the heart of all meaning is found within the Community of the Triunity of God as Father, Son and Spirit. We humans in and through Jesus are meant to be taken up into that Communion of God by the Spirit. We’re meant to live there, but not in some ethereal existence, but in a down to earth way. With all that is involved in our humanity in this life, and in the life to come within the new creation in Jesus.

And so I am thankful for the people I know and have known (as well as the books I have read and am reading). Wanting to do well by those nearest me in both my family, and in the family of Jesus. As well as all in this world, in my world, who regardless, are neighbors. That is what is foremost in my thoughts at the moment as we enter into this new year.