Some people say they are spiritual, but not religious. That resonates well in a culture that views the word “religion” as something negative. They always note the failures of churches but rarely notice the successes.
Others say they are spiritual, but not affiliated. That works for people who don’t want to participate in efforts requiring cooperation. They have apparently concluded that commitment and devotion to groups is too much trouble. Any kind of membership is best avoided, supposedly.
Religion and affiliation imply organization, institution, policies, and politics. These things come into play when groups of people work together toward a common goal.
It’s true, working with a group can be challenging. Sometimes group efforts generate disagreements and conflicts. Then the negative aspects of politics surface. Power struggles and ideological divisions can be maddening. The results can be frustrating, causing more harm than good.
Why can’t we avoid the risk of organizations and institutions and simply pursue our individual personal spiritual lives on our own terms, at our own speed, to enrich ourselves? What does the Bible say?
When reaching out to believers in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote:
Just as we have many members in our one body, and all the members do not have the same function, in the same way we are many members in the one body of Christ, and all the members belong to one another. (Romans 12:4-5)
The various parts of the human body need one another to function and grow. In the same way, followers of Jesus need one another to serve God and grow spiritually.
God has distributed different spiritual gifts to each believer. These special skills are vital for the health of the group, the church. No individual believer has all the spiritual gifts that he or she needs to serve God well and to grow toward maturity in Christ. Every believer needs other believers to succeed at being spiritual.
The community aspect of Christian life is also emphasized in Ephesians 2. There, we read about something that I like to call the KOG, FOG, TOG.
KOG stands for the kingdom of God. Every believer is a citizen in God’s kingdom. Citizens need one another. Without patriotic cooperation, a nation is weak, ineffective, and vulnerable to its enemies. Working together, citizens are strong, secure, and productive.
FOG stands for the family of God. Every believer is a brother or sister in God’s family. Families may squabble at times, but they love one another and care for one another. God is our Father in heaven. His amazing love binds us together, enabling us to share our joys and sorrows.
TOG stands for the temple of God. Scripture tells us that believers are living stones in God’s temple, the place where he dwells through the presence of his Spirit. Only when they are carefully joined together do stones become a beautiful cathedral or sanctuary for meeting God and standing in his presence.
Each Christian is sealed with the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart. The presence of God in each believer draws Christians together into community. If someone has no desire for fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a danger sign that the Holy Spirit may be absent from that person.
These pictures of the Christian life all speak of unity in diversity. One body with different parts. One kingdom with different citizens. One family with different members. One temple with different stones.
More than unity in diversity, these depictions of the Christian church speak of mutuality. Believers have a mutual relationship with one another. The New Testament assures us that every believer is endowed by God’s Spirit with spiritual gifts. Every believer has an important contribution to make to the church, the body of Christ.
Group efforts can be challenging, but they are often extremely rewarding. If any group is worthy of our effort, it is the church.
I love Jesus. Jesus loves the church. So, I love the church.
Jesus doesn’t love the church because she earned his love or because she deserves his love. Jesus loves the church by the grace of God. We, too, should love the church by the grace of God.
May the Lord our God bind us together in Christian love,
Brother Richard Foster