Investing in a Local Church: Follow-Up Thoughts

November 9th, 2007

I have a few follow-up thoughts about my last entry on investing in a particular local church, as opposed to habitual church-hopping. The first have to do with some additional Biblical reasons, and then I have a thought about the way I wrote my last entry.

1.) Submission to elders, and examples to, um, youngers.

There are two similar passages, in 1 Peter 5 and Titus 2.

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight…not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock…Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another”. From 1 Peter 5:1-5

So, we younger people are supposed to be subject to the elders of the church. That’s a strange thought these days. Submission? Forget that, if I don’t like what they tell me I’ll just go to another church!

There’s something wrong with that attitude. It doesn’t mean the Elders Are Always Right, or we can never change churches, but our attitude toward church leadership can’t be flippant or dismissive. We’re supposed to be subject. And it’s hard to see how you can be subject when you’re not committed to a particular community.

Now, that passage talks about elders, and probably refers to the office of elder, not just any older person. But the Titus 2 passage is more general:

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned”. Titus 2:2-8a

So, we younger people are supposed to look to elders as examples. We need to know them and see them as they live their lives if we’re going to benefit from that multi-generational wisdom. And older people are supposed to be teaching us, both by example and by word. (We could probably generalize that: We’re all supposed to be examples to those who are younger, and take our example from those who are older. It’s related to discipleship.)

For both roles, I have a hard time seeing how it’s going to work if you’re not consistent with a specific group of Christians.

(Personal application: I need to find an older man at my church and start a mentoring relationship. I’ve been meaning to, but keep letting it slide. And I want to start doing something more intentional for those younger than me. Hopefully, the life I’m living is a good example, but a more specific kind of relationship would be good.)

2.) Discipline.

Related to submission to elders, there’s the matter of church discipline. How can any kind of discipline work if you’re willing to just switch churches lightly? The discipline modeled in Matthew 18 and 1 Cor. 5 seem to assume that it matters when you’re cast out of the group. That doesn’t work so well in our days of easy church hopping, with churches of various denominations on every corner. Figuring out how that works in our time can be a sticky problem, but at least it should tell you that when things are working as they should, being a Christian means (in part) that you are really in a local group.

3.) Thoughts on my post.

So, I’m writing this follow-up to hook in some more explicitly biblical ideas. That’s partly because these issues came to mind after I finished the original post, and it’s partly just on principle. There’s something I want to avoid: Talking about issues entirely in secular terms, or in the latest pop-psych lingo–“validation”, etc. I want my posts to “resonate with you”, but I want it to be because I’m communicating deep, powerful concepts about who God is, about his love and his righteousness, about the Church, and about what the kingdom of God looks like. I don’t want it to be because I’ve strung together the latest buzzwords that our culture thinks are “relevant”. I never want to be tickling your ears with merely human philosophy, or with empty feel-good phrases.

It’s not necessarily wrong to use trendy terminology, but we have to be careful that the philosophy & concepts underneath the terms are describing timeless biblical truths–the things that God has revealed for our growth and our sustenance and our maturity and our joy. The things that will allow us to see God more clearly and make us more like Christ, so that the world will see us and praise the Father.

So when I read through my last entry, and see a single Scripture reference near the end, I get a bit paranoid. I think it’s OK in this case. “Investing in a community” may be trendy, and it’s not scriptural language, but the concepts seem right–as long as we’re being clear that it’s not just community we need, but Spirit-filled, Christ-like, God-honoring community.

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