“Help Lord! Why is this happening? My church is breaking apart. I thought Christians were supposed to build each other up; not tear one another down. I am so confused right now. What is a godly church supposed to look like?” These are the prayers of young Tommy Fornost. His church is falling down around him. A third of the members are leaving for other churches in the community. When Tommy was first introduced to his church, he had enjoyed the openness toward visitors he found among the members. Within a few months, however, he began to see cracks in his new church. Members were arguing and fighting among themselves and church discipline was used to punish those not “towing the line” and now this…
I know for many of you, the above example is all too real. Those same questions may have run through your mind, and your view of the church is muddled at best. On the other hand, some of you may never have considered whether your church family is living the way God intended. To each of you, I ask that as I discuss this topic, you think deeply about the importance and beauty of a church following God’s biblical design.
What is the Church?
In the mid-20th century, a group of men worked together to produce a new Mennonite confession of faith (1963 Mennonite Confession of Faith). Within this document, they spoke to the question at hand. They believed the church to be first, “the fellowship of those who are in the kingdom of Christ, the assembly of those who believe in Him, the brotherhood of the saints. Second, the church is the “local assembly of believers. It is in the [local] congregation that the work of teaching, witnessing, and disciplining is carried on.” They believed that when you trust in Christ for faith, not only do you automatically become a member of the universal church – those who have been saved through Christ – but you also become a part of a local congregation.
What is the Point?
Now you may ask, “why join a local body of believers? Can’t it just be Jesus and me?” Yes and no. It is through Jesus alone that you are saved, but Scripture teaches that as a follower of Christ you will exhort, fellowship, and serve others within the local body. The confession puts it this way, “believers [are to] unite in the church for instruction and nurture, for worship, for inclusion in the witnessing and evangelizing body of Christ, for the observance of the ordinances, for Christian fellowship, and for the discipline of the Word and the Spirit of God.” The point of a local body of believers is to exemplify Christ to the world while encouraging and exhorting one another to stay strong in the faith.
A Loving Brotherhood
The struggles of Tommy Fornost’s church are appalling, and to those of you who have experienced the same, painful. This situation is appalling because it is a blackened and twisted illustration of what God intended. The church is to be, as the 1963 confession eloquently states, “a brotherhood under the lordship of Jesus Christ, a loving fellowship of brethren and sisters who are concerned for the total welfare, both spiritual and material, of one another… it includes sharing generously both financial aid and the word of encouragement, and a willingness to give and receive counsel.” The church is a place where brothers and sisters in Christ can be vulnerable with each other and deal with the issues of life together.
A Gentle Reminder
Believers are commanded by Scripture to hold each other accountable. In other words, because you are a part of the body of Christ, your local church is called to care for your spiritual walk which includes correction or discipline when you choose sin. I think the 1963 Confession of Faith expresses this well,
The purposes of discipline are to lead each member to full stature in Christ, to restore to full fellowship the members who fall into sin, to clarify for all members the meaning of Christian discipleship, to promote the purity of the church, to warn the weak and immature of the serious character of sin and disobedience to God’s Word, and to maintain the good name and witness of the church before the world.
This being said, we must understand that discipline is not to be done out of anger or bitterness. The apostle Paul tells us that, “if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…” As many of you know from experience, we often see church discipline being handled the wrong way. But when done in a spirit of love it can, and by God’s grace will, draw the believer back to a life of holiness.
Having read this article, I hope you don’t look at your church and feel disappointed or troubled by all the issues found there. Let me encourage you to see the opportunities for growth in those areas. Put your energy into encouraging those whom you see every Sunday and take an interest in their lives. Be honest, be transparent, and talk to your pastor about areas in which you would like to see improvement. Finally, my prayer is that this brief summary of a scriptural church will cause you to dig in and study the subject more with the intent of strengthening your local church.
|Aaron Beery and his wife, Sadie, live in Elnora, Indiana, where he serves as the Administrative Assistant at the Elnora Bible Institute. He enjoys playing the piano, singing, reading and horseback riding. He hopes to use his counseling training to speak into people’s lives in this sin-cursed world for the glory of God.