Whether we like it or not, the moment we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, that is, from the time we become a Christian, we are at the same time a member of the Christian church—even if we do not permit our name to be placed on a church roll, even if we refuse to identify ourselves with a particular congregation and share responsibilities with them, even if we absent ourselves from the worship of a congregation. Our membership in the church is a corollary of our faith in Christ. We can no more be a Christian and have nothing to do with the church than we can be a person and not be in a family. Membership in the church is a basic spiritual fact for those who confess Christ as Lord. It is not an option for those Christians who happen by nature to be more gregarious than others. It is part of the fabric of redemption.
There are Christians, of course, who never put their names down on a membership list; there are Christians who refuse to respond to the call to worship each Sunday; there are Christians who say, “I love God but I hate the church.” But they are members all the same, whether they like it or not, whether they acknowledge it or not. For God never makes private, secret salvation deals with people. His relationships with us are personal, true; intimate, yes; but private, no. We are a family in Christ. When we become Christians, we are among brothers and sisters in faith. No Christian is an only child.
But of course, the fact that we are a family of faith does not mean we are one big happy family. The people we encounter as brothers and sisters in faith are not always nice people. They do not stop being sinners the moment they begin believing in Christ. They don’t suddenly metamorphose into brilliant conversationalists, exciting companions and glowing inspirations. Some of them are cranky, some of them dull and others (if the truth must be spoken) a drag. But at the same time our Lord tells us that they are brothers and sisters in faith. If God is my Father, then this is my family.
So the question is not “Am I going to be a part of a community of faith?” but “How am I going to live in this community of faith?” God’s children do different things. Some run away from it and pretend that the family doesn’t exist. Some move out and get an apartment on their own from which they return to make occasional visits, nearly always showing up for the parties and bringing a gift to show that they really do hold the others in fond regard. And some would never dream of leaving but cause others to dream it for them, for they are always criticizing what is served at the meals, quarreling with the way the housekeeping is done and complaining that the others in the family are either ignoring or taking advantage of them. And some determine to find out what God has in mind by placing them in this community called a church, learn how to function in it harmoniously and joyously, and develop the maturity that is able to share and exchange God’s grace with those who might otherwise be viewed as nuisances.
Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).
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