Tuesday, July 15, 2014
The Christian Community
I wrote in a previous blog post that the term Christian is a term that carries with it a very narrow and distinct meaning. Furthermore, I argued that the only proper source for understand the term ‘Christian’ is the Scriptures of Christian theism, also known as the Bible. I pointed out that from the very beginnings of Christianity, the term Christian was synonymous with Disciple. Without getting into too much technical jargon then, we can say that the Christian community is quite simply that community of people that have entered into the master-disciple relationship. This arrangement is governed by the biblical term we call the New Covenant. Ignoring what passes as Christianity in American and western cultures, I am going to talk about entrance into and life within the community of disciples of Jesus Christ as governed by the divine arrangement known as the New Covenant. It is this structure and this structure alone that the New Testament is talking about when it talks about the Church, when it talks about being a Christian.
To begin with, it is important that we make sure we are properly identifying the community of disciples, which we call in modern times, the Church. According to Jesus Christ, His Church did not exist until He built it sometime after Matt. 16:18. Christ said to Peter, οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, I will build my Church, indicating that the Church did not exist at this time and indicating that the Church would have a very specific identity as belonging to Christ. Jesus said that the Church would be His Church. This points to a very specific identity. A weakened ecclesiology has only added to the problem of the identity crisis around the terms Christian and Church in contemporary western cultures mentioned on my previous post. In Acts 5:11 great fear is said to come over the church. Paul is said to have persecuted the church. The church is said at one point to have enjoyed peace, meaning a temporary reprieve from persecution. The point is that when the Bible talks about the Church, it is talking about something very specific. It is talking about the community of disciples that have been called out of relationship with the world and into the master-disciple relationship with Christ. Jesus informed His disicples that no one in this community of disciples would be allowed to remain and fellowship if they insisted on living a lifestyle defined by unrepentant sin (Matt. 18:15-18). So the Church is a community of individuals that have entered into a master-disciple relationship with Christ whose lives reflect an attitude of intolerance toward continuous sinful living, an attitude of love for that community, and an acceptance of all that Christ teaches and demands. In other words, the Church is a group of people that have accepted without question or hesitation the teachings and ethic of Jesus Christ viewing Him as their Lord, their Savior, their Master, and their God.
So how does a person go from their relationship with the world to the master-disciple relationship pictured in the New Testament Scripture? First, they do not enter that relationship as an independent act of the will. Becoming a Christian is not simply a rational or emotion decision left to the discretion to the individual. Jesus said that a person must be γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, born from above, or born again. A human being is entirely unable to be born from above or to be born again. John tells us that Christians are not born by the will of the flesh, but rather, they are born of God. Water baptism does not make a person a Christian. Signing a card and joining a church does not make a person a Christian. Attending church your entire life does not make one a Christian. Reading the Bible and giving to the church and even to the poor does not make one a Christian. Getting emotional about Jesus and crying or feeling a certain way about Jesus does not make a person a Christian. Only God can make a person a Christian.
Unbelievers do not go through a process of hearing the arguments for Christ, evaluating them objectively, and then decide that Christianity makes sense. Unbelievers do not observe the love of God at the cross and consider that event and think that God’s love is pretty impressive and decide to join up. The Christian Scripture describes unbelievers as alienated and hostile in their minds toward God. In other words, the Christian message has no hope of being fairly treated in the mind of an unregenerate person. Either the unregenerate mind will reject the message overtly or covertly. Overt rejection is the outright disposition that Christianity is absurd. There is no question about this attitude toward the Christian message. It is easy to see. It is outspoken against Christ and the Christian message. The covert rejection of Christ and the Christian message is the more dangerous form. This can range of apparent acceptance of Christ, baptism, joining a community to the more simple wink and nod in the direction of Christ. Make no mistake about it, both those who reject Christ overtly and those who reject Him covertly are outside the boundary of the community of faith even though the latter group may appear to be inside the circle.
The entrance into the Christian community is granted by an act of supernatural work of the Holy Spirit on the individual. Titus 3:5 tells us that God saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word παλιγγενεσίας is an idiom literally meaning to be born again. It refers to a complete change of life and outlook. The work is said to be completed by the Holy Spirit as opposed to anything we could do. This is the only way for one to enter the Christian community. Jesus said I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me (Jn. 14:6) He is the door through which every person must enter into the community of faith.
Entering through Christ means surrendering to Him entirely. It means embracing His beliefs and teachings. It means pursuing his ethics. It means making His values your values. It means accepting His Word without question or hesitation. It is one thing to seek understanding regarding His word, but quite another to call it into question as being binding or true.
There is a clear demarcation in Scripture around those in a Master-disciple relationship with Christ and those who are in relationship with the world. The sons of God and the sons of the devil are obvious. How do we know? By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (1 Jn. 3:10). The Christian life is defined by a life of love and righteousness. It is not defined by a life of love as defined by the unregenerate mind. Both holy living and love define Christian living. It cares about truth just as much as it cares about others.
Michael Horton writes, “Jesus has been dressed up as a corporate CEO, life coach, culture-warrior, political revolutionary, philosopher, copilot, cosufferer, moral example, and partner in fulfilling our personal and social dreams. But in all of these ways, are we reducing the central character in the drama of redemption to a prop for our own play?” [Horton, Christless Christianity, 25]
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears (Acts 20:28-31).