The Church, Christian Unity and now that I’m old
God has many great ideas. The Church is one of His greatest!
By “Church”, I mean those who are true Christian believers, as opposed to “church”, which can be a building or organisation and includes some who might be classed as nominal Christians. The fact I have often blogged concerning the church (e.g. “Church and churches; prophets, priests and the Brethren”, 6 weeks ago), is testimony to the fact I consider this to be an important subject, and one worthy of a revisit. But this is not going to be a deep dive expounding the 111 KJV references to “church” (Greek: ecclesia)!
As many readers know, my early influence church wise was with the Plymouth Brethren. I recall in my youth being told a joke by a PB elder along the lines of a man who died and went to heaven. He was given a guided tour by St. Peter, where different denominational groupings were pointed out. Then they came to a huddle behind a wall. Peter told the man to keep quiet as this group comprised members of the Brethren in their former lives and they shouldn’t be disturbed as they thought they were the only ones there!
While the illustration is theologically flawed, there is an element of truth. Some of my early PB mentors were suspicious of those who claimed to be Christian, not in the PB camp, and refused to have anything to do with anything they regarded as ecumenical in nature. Things changed and quite quickly for me when I went to university and decided to join the Christian Union. To my surprise, many of the active CU members were Anglican and, moreover, they were fervent in their Christian faith and surprisingly doctrinally sound.
Moving on, of all church groupings, the PBs were the group who I was most involved with. I left a PB “assembly” eight years ago because it decided to close due to dwindling numbers etc. I then joined a Strict Baptist set up, as much because we were on a similar theological wavelength and this was approved by my wife and 15-year-old son. Between joining my first church and now, and as I have moved around geographically, I have been actively involved in many different ways in churches, generally at the low end of the market, usually Evangelical, ranging from those who were strongly Reformed to those strongly Charismatic, with a variety of views on assorted matters that are generally agreed not essential for salvation, including different ideas concerning my special “thing”: community involvement, as well as those who were not particularly caring for any of these things. While treading softly because of my early indoctrination, I have also had dealings with Catholics and Liberals, as much because of a shared interest in community involvement. While I have been active in all sorts of ways in church life, as age, infirmity and gumpiness have caught up, these days I often feel a bit like a horse put out to pasture, although I am ever conscious of the need to be faithful to God and let Him do the rest.
Not long after I became a Christian, aged 15, I was introduced to a booklet written by an Anglican clergyman titled “Journey into Life”. This made an impact on me because of its clear and accurate Gospel presentation, and this by someone who was not even Brethren. I also recall his exhortation that on becoming a Christian one needed to join a church. He used as an illustration coals in a fire. If one coal were to be taken from the fire, it would cease to burn bright. While there are other reasons for having fellowship with other Christians, like it giving one the opportunity to serve, this was a pretty powerful one and I have adopted the practice ever since, noting there is no such thing as a perfect church. Sadly, I have seen once enthusiastic church members no longer in regular fellowship. Reasons include losing keenness for the things of God they once had and thus be part of a fellowship or leaving, having been put off by church people.
I might be wrong, but my impression as we have seen huge changes in our world in recent years (something I blog about regularly as part of my church contribution as watchman on the wall), this has impacted on the church and rather than Christians being known by their love for one another and being one in Christ, just as Christ prayed, I have seen too much of the opposite happening. Regarding my own Evangelical camp, I have seen those more progressive types preoccupied with wokeism and traditionalists acquiesce to all sorts of false narratives, notably the Corona pan (scam) demic. Rather than agreeing to disagree or disagreeing agreeably, Christians have all too often been defellowshipped, often subtly, because of their refusing to accept the status quo or going along with “conspiracy theories” etc., by those who see things differently. Of course the reverse occurs when despising those seen as less spiritual. For some it is their excuse to withdraw from church life. If we take the view the big battle continues to be between God and the Devil, the Devil has been having a field day with his divide and rule strategy as applied to Christians. I say this not because I am better / special, for I see a lot of my Christian life as a failure, but rather recognise that in Christ I am a new creation. In my dotage He has given me a job to encourage my brethren and pass the baton to the next generation.
This all begs the question of what to do about getting the church on the sort of track described in the Bible. While I might be accused of extremism, the first thing to say is the true Church has ever been a remnant and has little to do with denominational structures and personalities. One of my discoveries as churches were shut for face-to-face meetings, or only when imposing big restrictions, all this being as a result of agreeing to Corona lockdown, was finding those outside my own church circle, who I could relate to: encourage, be encouraged and find ways to carry out Christ’s Great Commission. Part of the “new normal”, a term coined by the Great Reset / “build back better” brigade, could include how church is done, including replacing failed leaders with “randoms” who God chooses and recognising members are not pew fodder but have vital roles to play. Three pictures I discovered early on in my Christian journey, concerning the Church that have wide applications, were Body, Bride and Building and, if we take the teaching linked to this seriously, as we ought, it will radically impact all what we do.
A week ago, I attended the funeral of Garfield Jordan (see here for my tribute). Garfield, along with his brother Gwyn and cousin Andrew, taught me a powerful lesson. They were /are real Christians, doctrinally sound and committed to serving the Church even if disagreeing with the way things are done. It could be said, they had the heart of the one they served / serve, that of a servant. I suspect there is a lot of healing needed for the Body of Christ, a spirit of repentance and a resolve to move on, and in doing so sharing real fellowship. All of us need to find that right balance between being beholden to the truth and making allowances for those who see things differently, including eating humble pie. One reason I do not hold to the Pre-tribulation Rapture teaching from my early PB days is, when Jesus returns in glory, I see it will be for a glorious Church and not a bickering one that has part lost its way. Moreover, His Commission to make disciples of all nations still holds and is not yet completed. God’s great idea, the Church, working together in unity, is His way of getting the job done.