“in Christ” equals community in Christ

Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within. But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly). Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us.

2 Corinthians 7:2-9

Like any community and any person for that matter, there are difficulties which are not easy to work through. The letters in the New Testament are to anything but tidy churches. If there isn’t a problem which needs serious attention now, there will be one soon. And that’s in part because relationships and building them, seeing them mature, just holding on to them is neither automatic nor easy.

But the life of Christ is found in community. Yes, between oneself and Christ, but it never stops there. God never meant humans to live alone. As we’re told at the beginning of Genesis, that’s not good. I am convinced that just one of the major tactics of the enemy is to isolate us, make us feel like we’re alone, divide us, anything but promote unity. Unless it’s a unity set against Christian unity. And even that unity is more than precarious.

I believe there’s a true sense in the thought that we find Christ in each other. But that doesn’t mean in everyone, and not even everyone who names the name of Christ. And this is especially the case when we’ve been absent for awhile or when life has hit us particularly hard like when we face threatening opposition or feel that all is lost and we as well. We need each other in Christ.

This coming together is about appreciating God’s grace in each of one us in Christ, thankful for the strengths and in love looking over the weaknesses. Holding each other up in prayer. It certainly includes ongoing repentance along the way.

The difference between night and day, despair and an adrenaline of hope, life and death. All in the love of God by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

get rid of all ideals of community and self

…we, who are many, are one body in Christ…

Romans 12:5

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

What is meant here is that we must drop all the idealizations we have of church, of others, and of ourselves. That’s not easy to do, nor does it even make sense to us. Aren’t we supposed to hold to ideals for ourselves and others? Maybe on a certain basic level, yes. We have to get up in the morning, fulfill our responsibility during the day, care for our family, take care of ourselves, etc. What is spoken of here is something else. Expecting others to measure up to some ideal we have. Or turning away when people don’t.

We’re all in this together, for better and for worse, indeed one body in Christ. None of us measure up to ideals we impose on ourselves. What God has in heart and mind will prevail. But it will be worked out in this life only if we’re committed to hanging in together through thick and thin.

What we need to be about is simply committed to following Christ together. Realizing that throughout that will be the necessary confession of sin, caring for each other, even putting up with each other at times. But believing that God is going to do it, is in the process of conforming us together into the likeness of God’s Son.

In and through Jesus.

the heresy of Christian nationalism

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light….

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

1 Peter 2:9, 13-17

We are beset and besieged by a Christian nationalism which though present from the inception of the United States, is now bearing its full fruit.

Christian nationalism plain and simply is pure heresy. Heresy has to do with wrong theology and the wrong practice which results from that. And Christian nationalism at its core is idolatry. It doesn’t matter how it expresses itself, or who or what party is in power. When we see it as sacred so that it has God’s imprimatur or signature so to speak written on it, then we’ve entered into profane space, bringing into what’s sacred and of God’s kingdom something which is only provisional and subject to God’s judgment.

What is especially egregious about the present expression of this heresy is actually nothing new, but it seems especially rampant and endemic now. I speak sadly about its presence set in evangelical circles, but also found in other churches such as mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic. An easy manifestation of its likely presence is when an American flag is in a church building with a Christian flag.

We must never ever give what is provisional sacred status as if it somehow is part of God’s reign and kingdom in Christ. And yet that is what many do when they equate the sacrifice for the nation to be like Christ’s sacrifice for the world. Or see the nation in its founding as pure good and pure light, and as some ideal it is called to live up to.

We can and should appreciate the good that we find in any and every nation. The ideal within the United States that “all men are created equal” should be something appreciated, which we should hold up as a goal for which this nation should aspire. While we can appreciate all the good, we must not have a blind eye for what is not good, no matter where that may be found.

And more to the point of the post: We must never invest in what is not sacred, the thought that somehow it is. That God is on our side, or at least on the side of the United States as it was formed in the beginning. And yet this is what Christians did back then, and continue to do to this day. And that is blasphemy.

“You will know them or whatever it might be by its fruits.” Heresies often have the same effect as cults in the present day understanding of what cult means. It has a choke hold which won’t let go, no matter what the result. And as we see in the present day, the result is far from pretty or good.

To follow Christ together as church in God’s kingdom present now by the Spirit is something completely different, even antithetical to that. It is an existence of love for all, even for our enemies, just as Jesus taught. With the knowledge that there is only one holy nation and sacred kingdom. That of God in Christ. Only one Lord to whom belongs our allegiance. One word which we follow: The good news in our Lord and Savior, Jesus. In and through Jesus.

the priority of the unity of the body of Christ, the church

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours

1 Corinthians 1:2

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6

A priority which ought to mark every church is the desire for unity among all of God’s people in Christ, among all the churches. This is a difficult task since so many churches are given to an independent mindset with more or less the idea that only churches of their kind are truly Christian, or at least are the most sound and authentic to the Christian faith. That plays right into the hands of the spiritual enemy, actually coming from its hands as well.

A church is not worth its salt which fails to make unity within its own congregation a priority, and makes expression of the unity all have in Christ a priority as well. Decades back, ecumenical for me was a dirty word. Instead, we ought to downplay our differences as much as possible, and highlight our agreement, indeed our oneness in Christ. I would think on the ground that means churches should participate in ecumenical associations: Protestants with Catholics with Mennonites with Baptists with Pentecostals with the Orthodox and so on. 

The cosmic powers of this present darkness along with sin, death and “the flesh” are out to divide and destroy. Christ by the Spirit is present to redeem, save and heal. We can hopefully learn to appreciate our differences as distinctives to be brought into the whole. Yes, we have our different theologies, and that often seems to make the push for unity strange at best, and certainly strained and sometimes it can make it seem worse than that. But we can learn much from each other if we can look past our differences. Without thinking we have to be in complete agreement. It is only in and through Christ that complete unity will be found, and completely so at his return. Until then we’re to seek to find unity where it may be found by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

Especially the first sentence of the last paragraph was written under the influence of Tim Gombis’s excellent book, Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry. My application of that, so that what is amiss here cannot be blamed on Tim.

what should be at the heart of being “a Christian?”

…and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3:10

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

I really ought not to presume that I can say what is at the heart of being a Christian, what that essentially means. Of course it involves so much, at the center (or heart), entering the life and worship of the Triune God. But to boil it down, just what does it mean for us on the ground who have to live in a world either not familiar with this special grace, or even being opposed to it? At least having to live in the same kind of world in which Christ lived.

The heart of being a Christian on the ground, in this life surely amounts to simply seeking with others to follow Christ, to imitate Christ, to be like him. Of course this involves a process, and prior to that a commitment to do so. All the teachings, sacraments and ordinances are to that end.

It is not a matter of simply having assurance that one’s sins are forgiven, and that someday they will be in heaven. Understood correctly, that is part of it. But too often people see Christianity as just a means to a future salvation, without sufficiently realizing what is at the heart of that salvation for the present. Of course based on what Christ accomplished for our salvation in the past. But this salvation is very much present as well as future, and involves salvation not only from our sins, but from our old selves, into the new person in Christ, partaking of Christ’s very nature and life. And that involves a participation together in which God is conforming us to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:15).

For myself, I just realize how far short I fall. But I also realize that the Spirit is indeed at work, partly with giving me something of that realization, though some of that is my own thinking in ways that are not helpful, and certainly not given by God. We simply need to be aware that being a Christian means being a follower of Christ, along with other followers. Something I hope to be day after day. With others. In and through Jesus.

submitting only to Christ’s rule, not to human rule(s)

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

Colossians 2:20-23

There is a tradition among churches and denominations of certain rules or standards which are imposed on everyone. Sometimes this is not a set rule, but just something people have grown accustomed to, so that they practice it themselves, but don’t necessarily see it as binding on others. In other cases the church itself actually sets the rule, so that certain codes have to be upheld. Oftentimes these are dress codes, as well as rules about what one can and cannot do, like on the Sabbath Day (usually Sunday in Christian traditions) or on other days as well. Perhaps television is forbidden in some, or maybe certain media venues are forbidden. Or whatever.

And this can look quite holy. Certainly good intent can be behind it, but according to Paul it plays right into the enemy’s hand. Those who have trouble submitting, or who don’t quite meet such standards can be looked down on, division can set in, all matter of wrong can emerge: pride, judgmentalism, etc. Instead we have to acknowledge that we’ve died with Christ, that our identity is in him, and that we take our directions individually and together only from him.

That means we have to pay close attention to Christ’s teaching in the gospels, his example, and how that is followed through post-Pentecost and in the letters which follow. Christ is no longer with us in person as a human on earth, but he is very present with us by and in the Holy Spirit. So as church and from that as individuals we take our cues and directions only from Christ. Not from humans. Leaders who are attentive to this can help us in this way, but we all have to be committed only to this. This is where our spiritual life comes from informing and forming all of life. In and through Jesus.

it takes a community

I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14

While this is pulling a passage out of context, nevertheless the main point Paul made from this verse is true: We in Christ are in this together, and we all need each other. And each and everyone of us has our part to play. It’s a matter of learning to discern together what the Spirit of Christ is saying to us, and what the Spirit is doing. This is not a lone ranger faith, but one in which we are dependent on God and interdependent on each other.

Other places make it clear that God gives leaders to help the body grow and who are responsible for oversight (Ephesians 4; Hebrews 13). But though they have their special role, they too are blessed by the give and take in the body of Christ, in community.

This needs to be emphasized in a culture in which the individual largely takes priority over community. That is a flaw. Each of us are valued as individuals in community. Yes, God values each of us individually, but we find our true life, even ourselves in community, along with others. We fit together as one, learning to settle into our God-given place, giving and receiving. In and through Jesus.

dreams and thoughts of what could have been

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Life makes philosophers of us all? Well, at least for those who take it seriously, though actually everyone has some philosophy meaning outlook on life. We can look back and see better, but mainly how God saw us through in spite of ourselves. And how hopefully we’ve come to see that what really matters is simple faith in and obedience to God. And to understand that our faith rests in the faithfulness of Christ, so that we follow together because of that. That can surely make all the difference in the long run.

If in your stronger more youthful decades you can put your all into following Christ in a community of followers of Christ, and seek to simply live in and from that reality, you will be truly blessed. Toward the end, the strength just isn’t the same, and the heart is often burdened down with the weight of other’s struggles, not to mention the inevitable troubles of life. And for most of us there’s regret and a wish that we could undo something or some things, and do other things all over again.

Lean on community in Jesus, and seek to be a follower of Jesus along with other followers of Jesus. Seek humility, above all just seek God’s love and will in Jesus by the Spirit, and with the desire to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves. We’re in this primarily not for ourselves, but for others. Together, Christ’s body for each other and to be light in the world. God will take care of things. And in the end will bring a good end, weaving everything somehow in that for good. Far beyond us, and I doubt we’ll ever fully understand it, but all will end well.

In and through Jesus.

just do your part

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

I would like to take just a slightly different turn then what I think this passage might be precisely saying, but then add that this turn is I think an apt illustration of how this might actually take place in the living vibrant organism, the church.

When we gather on Sunday as Christ’s body in that specific time and place there are those who have their special roles. Some to lead in worship and liturgy, maybe another one or two to share something, one or more to read Scripture, another to give the message, perhaps lead in a discussion and give the benediction. And there’s the life together beyond the meeting time, though my focus here is when we gather.

There are times in any organism when some members might have to pick it up and do extra because another member is down or struggling for whatever reason. 

What we need to guard against, and what I want to emphasize here is that we need to be relaxed even if we are that one who is down and may not feel ready, indeed may not be up to or be led to contribute during the service at all. It is Christ by the Spirit who actually directs the service. None of us do, or at least we’re not supposed to. We direct only in a secondary sense under the direction of Christ.

That said, while we should prepare for our part when on assignment, we should relax into the attitude that we ultimately are never in charge. And that on those weeks where we feel more like the lame man who needs healing than the ones given authority to heal, we should simply accept that, find our place, and wait on the Lord during that service. Believing Christ is present and will help us. Not thinking at all it depends on us, because the moment we think that, the life giving flow and direction from the Spirit is replaced by something else.

Instead we simply find our place, content to do and be whatever Christ might have us do or be, even if that means nothing at all, except to receive what Christ might give us from another part of his body.

In and through Jesus.

what does Christian mean?

…for an entire year [Barnabas and Saul] met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Acts 11:26b

We can ask over time what anything comes to mean. There’s always inevitably the baggage of history, and some of that behind the name Christian is not pretty, including right up to the present day. I’ve heard that it may have been derogatory when first coined in Antioch. True Christianity for sure would upset the status quo.

Christian has basically meant those who adhere to and practice Christianity. And so much can get lost in that, as well as there being different emphases in different traditions of Christianity. In our time, in my lifetime, it seems to mean those who follow certain traditions such as Sunday gathering and whatever else might follow from that. There’s usually a profession of faith in Jesus and often an emphasis on the impact the faith has on the life to come, at least in the minds of many. Yes, teaching might bring focus into the present life, and often does, but it seems to me based on observation and on what much more knowledgeable and wiser people have said that there’s a missing piece, arguably the most important piece of all in one aspect.

Yes, it’s all dependent on God and on God’s grace. But what I’m referring to here is the simple goal of following Christ, becoming like Christ. From my nearly five decades of being a Christian, that doesn’t seem to me to have been much of an emphasis, not much in our minds at least from what we were taught or at least in what really hit home to us. What should people think of ideally when they hear the word Christian? And what do they think of? And that includes not only those who are not Christian, but those who are.

I’m afraid being a follower of Christ not unlike the Sermon on the Mount has at best been put on the back burner, if not taken off the stove entirely, as something just not for us today. This is a grievous error because what follows the gospel accounts Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in our Bibles comes from and is based on what Christ taught, the Spirit directing the churches through leadership on how this worked out after Christ’s ascension and Pentecost.

All of our prayer, reading of Scripture, gathering together as God’s people should be to the end of helping us become true and better followers of Christ, growing together into maturity in Christ, yes into Christ likeness. Anything less than that is missing the mark and what it truly means to be Christian.