As we begin the new year (I know I’m 12 days behind, close enough) we must consider our role within the local body of believers, our role in the Covenant Community. (This blog could have/should have been the first in my series on The Church as Community). As Christians we are each called to a local body of believers. We are called to submit to elders (1 Pet 5:5; Heb 13:17), to pray for our elders (Heb 13:18), and to gather regularly as a local church (Heb 10:24-25). Parachurch organizations are not what we as Christians are called to (there are several great parachurch organizations and a plethora of bad parachurch organizations). As the Covenant Community, we are called:
- to excel for the glory of God in a local church;
- to express the gospel as a local church in baptism and the Lord’s supper;
- to edify each other in a local church;
- to be equipped by the godly men who serve as elders and deacons in the local church;
- to experience the Covenant Community through discipleship in the local church,
- to exalt God together in song when we gather as a local church.
As Christians we must strive to live within the Covenant Community, within the local church to which we have been called. Because there is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger” Christian. Christians belong to a local body of believers, a local church, the household of God, under the authority of godly men. I graduated from Cedarville University and I love the place but too many fellow classmates had there primary Christian experience outside the local church in traveling music teams, in University discipleship groups, in dorm bible studies. These are all great but they are all secondary. We are primarily called to the local church.
The local church as a Covenant Community, Jew and Gentile reconciled together, is established by the gospel. Human-to-human reconciliation or “racial” reconciliation is not at the heart of the gospel. The gospel is the good news that we can be reconciled to God through Christ, because “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
Yet as each believer has been reconciled to God and has been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, this establishes a community of believer who have all been clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Paul made it clear to the Galatians that as a group of individuals who have believed in Christ, the result is a covenant community, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs accord to the promise” (3:27-29). The Covenant Community is established from men and women of all national, social, and economical backgrounds and we as believers are reconciled to each other because we have all individually been reconciled to Christ. So although our reconciliation to each other is not at the heart of the gospel it is one of several outcomes of each believer being saved and is experienced in the local church because of the gospel.
Thus the gospel produces a local church that is: (1) a community built on the gospel; (2) a community sanctified together; (3) a community loving each other; and (4) a community serving each other.
A Community Built on the Gospel
Paul also taught the Ephesians that on the basis of the cross Christ has formed His covenant community: “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit” (2:13-22). The reality of the gospel in our lives implies that our lives are lived out in a local church. To not be a part of a local church is not know the Savior.
A Community Sanctified Together
Paul called the Colossians to sanctified living because Christ demands a newness of life from His covenant community: “But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all” (3:8-11). The gospel implies that we strive for sanctification together! Paul said similarly to the Galatians, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (5:24-6:2). Though ultimately, “For each person will have to carry his own load” (6:5). As the Covenant Community we must strive for sanctification together! To confront sin! To pursue Christlikeness!
A Community Loving Each Other
Paul instructed the Corinthians on how Christ’s body, the Church, functions as a living community together. “For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body —so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body —whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free —and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of this it still belongs to the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of this it still belongs to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body” (12:12-20). Paul would go on to tell them, “But desire the greater gifts. And I will show you an even better way” (12:31) and “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts” (13:13-14:1).
A Community Serving Each Other
Paul instructed the Romans that Christ had formed a covenant community that serves each other: “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me. For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice. Therefore accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God. For I say that the Messiah became a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises to the fathers, and so that Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy. As it is written: Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles, and I will sing psalms to Your name. Again it says: Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people! And again: Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; all the peoples should praise Him! And again, Isaiah says: The root of Jesse will appear, the One who rises to rule the Gentiles; the Gentiles will hope in Him. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:1-13)
To not be a part of a local church, that is the Covenant Community we have been called to, is antithetical to the gospel. Therefore, does the gospel and our relationship with Christ motivate us to live within the covenant community built on the gospel, pursuing sanctification together, loving one another, serving one another? In light of the gospel how are we as a Covenant Community demonstrating the world that we as a local church belong to Christ or does our neighborhood just see us as that building on the corner?