I'm beginning to think I'm dependent on Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church to stimulate me to write something. Maybe Hebrews 10:24 is being worked out on the other side of the world. His latest couple of blogs have certainly done that.
I grieve when I hear people recount their experiences of loneliness in the "church", as Alan's correspondent has recently done, and I'm sure the Holy Spirit is grieved also.
Whilst the local (and I mean "local", not the institution, the handful within a few minutes of another Christian) congregation is neglected this loneliness will continue to drive hurting, needy people away.
Whilst the ministry of making disciples, to which EVERY believer is called, and gifted, is, is not encouraged by leadership, even actively quashed, divine appointments for ministry will go unrecognized, and hearts made sensitive by the Holy Spirit will not be at peace.
Whilst the local elders, and individual believers, are selfishly focused on their own life, ambitions and expectations, that they cannot deliberately divert the time necessary to discern the symptoms which reveal the needs and hurts of others, opportunities to heal and succour will be lost.
Many times members of congregations, with great feeling, sing a song which includes lines such as,
"Brother, let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you ....
We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christlight for you
In the night-time of your fear....
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we've seen this journey through"
Sentiments which are wonderfully in accord with the principles of living the Christian life, according to Scripture, but which are forgotten as soon as the hearers exit the building.
I have vivid memories of the first congregation to whom we were first called to minister. A small country town congregation. A middle-aged woman, Hazel, came from a small community from “the other side of the tracks”. She was a member of the congregation. Diagnosed with breast cancer. She eventually had, what her doctor described as, “extremely extensive surgery”. She was completely disabled for much longer than usual.
Every time the congregation met they were encouraged to pray for her, and several would pray during the appropriate time during the meeting. Time after time her multiple needs, mostly practical home-making, were made known to them, both verbally and in the news sheet..
The congregation were folk who agreed, with loud “amens”, to all of the principles of the Scriptural “one anothers”. They would discuss how these principles could be practically put in practice, and had good suggestions for their fellows to exercise love, support, encourage, etc.
One day I received a phone call from Hazel. She said, “John, I’m confused. I’ve been a member of this congregation for a long time. Whenever help was needed I was always glad to do what I could. In these past four months I have been desperately in need of help, and I’ve received it abundantly, but only from my unbelieving neighbors, whom my brethren at church despise. Not one member of the church, other than you and your wife, have even offered help or visited me”.
Sadly, I have to acknowledge, as a very new, inexperienced pastor, I really didn’t handle the situation well, and simply accepted the situation with a very sad heart.
A few days later Hazel’s resignation from membership arrived.
Where is the evidence of a “new heart” of spiritually new born men and women in that congregation? How can the lost community around Hazel, including her husband, be expected to KNOW that these people were disciples of Christ “by their “love for one another”?
The attitude of this congregation towards the Biblical principles of love for one another is illustrated by one of their young, recently married, couples who approached me soon after our ministry to them begun, “Pastor! We felt it was our duty to come to you and warn you that this church is not very loving! Since we have been married we haven’t been invited to any home!”
My response to them was, “Well! How about you invite them to your home? If you show your willingness to love them, they may respond!”
The reply was, “Oh no! It’s their responsibility to show love to us first!”
The badge of discipleship and a genuine relationship with Christ is clearly what Jesus voiced in John13:35. The responsibility for wearing that badge is first person, not second person.
Let's say it till we believe it, "The responsibility is ALWAYS mine!"
Imagine the situation if Jesus had waited till we loved Him before He loved us!
Is it possible that the above mentioned congregation has now ceased to exist because of their lack of love?