Tim Kerr, Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church, a recent church plant in Toronto affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries, recently came to the home church of my wife and I, Hespeler Baptist Church in Cambridge. He shared a burden of his heart in the area of discipleship and mentoring. A comment caught my attention. I do not have it verbatim but the gist of it was, your spirituality is tied to the local church. Now readers of my personal blog, will know that the concept of the local church is of incredible importance to me. My three post series on The Primacy of the Local Church, there have been the culmination of strong teaching on the topic while I was in seminary, and much thought about the subject including living it out in the context of the church. My clarion call in much of my preaching on the local church is “the local church is God’s vehicle for accomplishing His will in this age.” The church is primary. Every believer should be an active part of a local church.
Yet, we live in a day and age when spirituality is viewed in very personal terms. My spiritual relationship is good when my personal relationship with God is good. My relationship with God is good when I am doing my personal Bible study and prayer. There is no concept that your spirituality might be affected by your body life, that is your relationship to the local church. The crux passage on this issue in my mind is Ephesians 4:11-16.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Here Paul is informing the Ephesian church about gifting noting that there were those in the church that had been given specific roles by their gifting from God with the express purpose of building up the faith of the church. These people were designed to teach the people so they knew what the Word said and would not be deceived by untruth but embrace the truth of the Scriptures. The capstone though is that there is a focus on growing in Christ as a body. Each part is necessary for the church to grow. Nowhere here does it say that we grow in our faith in Christ alone. We grow in our faith in Christ in the context of the body of Christ. The body of Christ, the local church, is necessary in the life of the believer for growing in faith and godliness. We were never meant to go it alone. We were always meant to be part of the church of Jesus Christ. And you cannot grow spiritually apart from that which Christ died for, the church!
When thinking about spirituality, let us never divorce what we need to grow in Christ from the local church. The local church is the place we grow in Christ as we learn, study, serve, and fellowship. So, the spiritual thermometer of your life should never just be about what you do alone with Christ. It should be what you do with Christ in His body. How you live with other believers, how you treat the local church, how you serve it, that is how you will grow in your spirituality. Christian spirituality IS local church spirituality.
Amen! We are called to be part of a family and families get together. We are called to be part of a body and as Paul so succinctly puts it one part of the body cannot say to another ‘I don’t need you’.
Thanks for checking in Helen and I’m glad you agree! I just wish most Christians agreed. The biggest problem facing the churches today is the lack of a proper “church identity.” May we all seek to put the church first!
Tim Chester makes the same point in his book Total Church on the chapter on spirituality regarding private versus corporate worship.
Thanks for the heads up. I have Chester’s book (a review copy) but I have not read it yet. I am eager to read it though!
This past Sunday I was sharing some of this in the morning message. Looking at the “body” illustration, every part of the body serves an important purpose. Each part supports the other parts. When one part hurts or is not fulfilling its purpose, the body is affected. If you stub your little toe, the entire body responds. If you drink a cold glass of water when thirsty, the whole body feels better. When believers are using their gifts, talents, and lives for God’s glory in the church, the body benefits and matures. So many believers have such an independent spirit and do not see the importance of body life. I remember one example used by a well known evangelist where he removed a coal from a fire. Later he showed the individual, that he was encouraging in the faith, how that coal had become cold while the other coals still in the fire were hot. I think that “lone ranger” spirit also puts us in greater danger of falling for false doctrine. We lose the caring protection of other saints. Body life also helps keep us in better balance and not going off on tangents. Thanks for your good words Allen.
Thanks for your note Uncle Wayne. You’re summation here is even stronger than what I wrote. Your people will have been blessed to hear a challenge like this the past Lord’s day. May we as pastors seek to see each part of the body integrated into the whole body. Sort of spiritual “re-attachment” surgery! :)
Ryan Martin has some similar thoughts here at Immoderate: http://is.gd/Wix6
Thanks Jamie. His post complements mine quite well!