Monday, April 10, 2006

Ephesians 4 and Church Health

I have been thinking a bit lately about the fourth chapter of Ephesians and what it tells us about church health- stimulated significantly by conversation with my fellow pastor, Lee Tankersley (oh, the joy of not being isolated in ministry!). There is much here so I may devote a few posts to various aspects. Here I want to take up particularly the language of verse 16 and its emphasis on each member. Having described God’s gifts to the church, the saints working in ministry and the pursuit of maturity, Paul concludes this section (4:1-16) by describing the body functioning properly. In this setting he refers to the body being “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” Of course taking the body metaphor strictly, not each member is a “joint.” But I think here the point is that the church coheres through the work of each member. This is supported by the immediately following words, “when each part is working properly.” This results in the body growing. There is a strong emphasis here on the necessity of the help of each member if the church is to be healthy. If any member of your local church is disconnected, failing to invest in the others and not receiving from others, your church cannot be healthy as it should- no matter what you do with marketing and programs. How seriously do we take this truth?

Writing in 1864, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, George Bethune spoke to this issue. He wrote:
“It is the order of grace that Christians are instrumentally dependent upon each other; as we grow they grow; and as they grow we grow. Whatever we do for their benefit is for our own; whatever they do for our benefit is for their own. Thus it is not only our duty, but our best interest, to impart freely of all God’s gifts to us for the benefit of our fellow Christians. There must be a communion [sharing] of prayers and acts and gifts, as there is a communion of grace. If we refuse this closeness of union to our fellow-Christians, we shall suffer doubly; for the Holy Spirit will not use us as the channels of his grace to them, nor can the effectual working through them reach us. Nothing but weakness and death can result from such selfish isolation.” (quoted in The Communion of Saints, 98).

How healthy are our churches then? How should this shape our pastoral priorities? Doesn’t this challenge much of the typical practice we see around us? It certainly would require us to work hard at building a real community in the church and teaching that each member is vital to the church. We can’t afford to just write people off saying (as I have heard leaders say) it would be easier to let them go than pursue them. Can we achieve this in a setting where people do not know each other? This will require the intentional investing in each others lives. Perhaps if we scale back the programming people would be able to do more of this.


Mark and Hannah said...

And truly, what does this say about our church roles when we are content to have hundreds never even show up? Hundreds never accounted for? Hundreds with no oversight for their soul?

Mark and Hannah said...

Okay, I was going for ROLLS, not roles....curse the english language!