Local Church {Your Middle Age Relationships}

I love "the Bride" in concept. I am devoted to "the body of Christ" in theory. Its the reality of them both that bites, sometimes. And I should know.  I am here today, in this, the 23rd of our 31 Days of Celebrating Middle Age, with perhaps the stiffest challenge you will hear this month.  Maybe even this year.

Get your bad self into a local church. 

Not an internet church, not quasi-church, where everyone thinks exactly like you do.  No, go find yourself a local church that is organized (yep) and meets in one place regularly.  (Oooooh, if you do this, you are now the one who is thinking outside the box.  What used to be traditional is the new hipster.  You are the new renegade, trust me.  Everyone thinks Starbucks is a cooler way to be the church, and everybody is wrong, just like mass popular opinion usually is.)

Become part of a body of believers.  And if it doesn't bore you from time to time, it doesn't count. 

I'm all into loving my brother, until "my brother" is someone in my church who bugs me. I'm all about grace, until grace must be extended to someone who is so deeply under law they wouldn't know grace if it kissed them on the cheek...

Let's take New Testament Living to the next level - that of actually living it past the point of our pain. Can we take it the extra mile, into loving others all the way past our doctrinal differences, sacrificing the sacred cows of our deepest hurts sustained in church life, dismounting our Holy High Horses?

Whatever made us think that church life was warm and fuzzy? It never has been, and it never will be, not this side of eternity anyhow. In the words of one of the Great Dead Guys, Matthew Henry (I think it was) who said, "We do not yet live amongst just men made perfect...we live amongst 'just men' ", I'm thinking it is time that we get on with the program.

No one is saying "get over it", I'm saying get on with it, in spite of it. If you've left a church - a good church - go back and fix it.  Replant yourself, if you want to flourish.  God's program, His "plan A" is still the local church.

Sure, there is a church universal. She's awesome. She's as terrible as an army with banners. She embodies all that God is about in this hour - which is to demonstrate His Great Goodness to a watching world, through what seems to be uninspired vessels - thereby bringing many sons into glory.

But just as the God who dwells in unapproachable light came down from His greatness, into the womb of a woman....the church universal in all her splendor must become an approachable, human entity. The church universal is expressed and defined by each church local.

In church, this upcoming Sunday, I will tell myself (as I often do, silently), "This is the church. This is what 'church life' looks like." It may or may not be splendid to the naked eye.

That's called "bringing it home". That's called making our theology affect our biography. We all love the church universal. But try "having all things in common" with the universal church. Try imitating the faith of "those over you" in the universal church. (I suppose you could wear Rick Warren's hairstyle, or attempt Joel Osteen's accent, or try to preach like your favorite Christian Superstar...)

But try forgiving the universal church, bearing the burdens of it, and speaking only that which is good to the use of edifying....with and to the ethereal "church universal". How about simply "putting up" with the church universal? It can't be done.

Most of Christianity gets lost in the translation without the church local.

And a group of people have to have more than a creed and a livingroom and their own insecurities in common to actually BE a local church. We may begin with nothing but a creed and a livingroom and our own insecurities, but we don't remain that way...not and be a healthy expression of the local church.

Most of New Testament Christianity cannot be actually lived without the covenant relationships inherent in a healthy local church.

There. I said it.  I so hope you come back!  But even if you don't - if the many readers I have gained in this {31 Day} series all get offended and leave...I have to speak my truth.

Nah, it is the truth.  I hate that term "my truth" - as though truth is subjective, or there is no objective measure for it.

God’s covenant with us is prior to any covenant we make with each other. He chooses us, sets us apart, calls us to holiness, and enjoins us to love one another. But all this must happen in particulars. The commitment to live out the principles of the new covenant takes place with a specific people in a specific place. This results in a local church. Membership matters because particularization matters.

According to Jonathan Leeman (whose ideas I’ve borrowed in the paragraph above), submitting to a local church accomplishes a number of crucial things. Church membership:

1. Identifies us with Christ.
2. Distinguishes us from the world.
3. Guides us into the righteousness of Christ by presenting a standard of personal and corporate righteousness.
4. Acts as a witness to non-Christians.
5. Glorifies God and enables us to enjoy his glory.
6. Identifies us with God’s people.
7. Assists us in living the Christian life through the accountability of brothers and sisters in the faith.
8. Makes us responsible for specific believers.
9. Protects us from the world, the flesh, and the Devil
In other words, “the covenant commitment of the local church makes the invisible new covenant visible. It’s an earthly symbol, sign, or analogy of this wonderful heavenly reality” (The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, 267).
Kevin DeYoung
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