Re-Defining Church (pt.2) Relationship

Relationship.  Am I right?

What is the church to begin with… you know, as defined in scripture?  It is 1) the body of Jesus (1 Cor. 12:12).  Interesting… the body of Christ.  The church derives its identity through – and only through – its relationship with Christ.  Being of His body identifies us with Him.  Christianity, itself, is a degree of relationship with Jesus.

If you know about Him, but are not in an active relationship with Him, you are not a Christian.  You must be born again (John 3:7).

Another prophetic allegory of the church is: the BRIDE of Christ (Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 21:2).  If the first type did not verify relationship, this one surely does!  What is a bride?  She is a man’s most treasured, and intimate relationship!  The relationship He can be most delighted in, and excited about! I can think of no relationship type that better exemplifies excitement, vitality, passion.  There are other loves, and other ways of relating, but the love of a groom for his bride is fresh, invigorating, even mystical in a way.  The beautiful, and erotic intimacy of a love won – a relationship that was newly made by the choice of those involved to go deep into intimacy with each other, the complete liberty in marriage to fully pleasure one another!  Get your sanctified minds on, now I’m not really talking about sex; there is a deep spiritual union (not sex, spiritual) of heartfelt intimacy with Christ.  It is God in the scriptures who uses a bride and bridegroom as an example of His relationship with us.  As excited as a single is when they have found their ‘true love,’ so excited the Lord is about the church.  A living, vibrant, present, passionate love.

Our relationship with God is supposed to be fresh, and exciting.  God is passionate about you!  He loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son… RELATIONSHIP.

The church is not an organization.  It is Christ’s most beloved and cherished relationship – compared in scripture to a lover.

The church is also compared to a temple (2 Cor. 6:16).  In what way is the church compared to a temple?  In that Christ dwells inside the Christian!  Again, this is a comparison used with direct regard to our relationship with God.

These are a few metaphors that God uses for the church.  All of them pertain first-and-foremost to our relationship with Him.  Of course, as we will discuss as we continue, the church is also a community of believers in relationship with each other.  But why does God’s scriptural description of the church predominantly speak of our relating to HIM?  Easy.

What is the first, and greatest commandment?  Jesus plainly answers this question, as recorded twice in the bible (Matt. 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-32), so there can be no doubt what the first, and greatest commandment is:

Mark 12:30 & 31
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:. this is the first commandment.

31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Each individual’s personal relationship with God is PRIMARY.  Church is FIRST: you, and God.

The SECOND commandment has to do with loving others.  It, also, is ESSENTIAL but we must also remember that the second is SECOND to the first, and primary commandment.  I emphasize the importance of this because many in our day turn this passage into a message of humanism, and thereby expel the power of it.

I have heard often – even from the pulpit – that these two commands are one and the same, and therefore, if we love man, we are also loving God.  Now, there is some Truth to that – but only as long as we order our affections the way God tells us to.

Since these commandments are very much one-in-the-same, let me point out just one distinction between the two commandments; Jesus says that we are to love God quote: ‘with ALL THY HEART, and with ALL THY SOUL, and with ALL THY MIND, and with ALL THY STRENGTH.’  (Emphasis added, of course.)

For the second commandment, He says, quote: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor AS THYSELF’

Have you ever noticed that?  In speaking of the love of God, Jesus uses the utmost degree of every part of our being.  We are to love God with everything within us, and with our full and undivided attention, and energy.  We are to love God more than anything in the world – more than we love ourselves.  Man, on the other hand – according to the second commandment – we should love ONLY as much as we love ourselves.

Double-take?  Let me explain why that’s an important distinction to note: If we love our neighbor more than we love ourselves, we are in idolatry.  If we love our neighbor more than we love ourselves, our affections are out of balance.  When we love someone, we seek to please them – but man is sinful; what pleases man is not always good.  If we love man more than we love ourselves – we will do all we can do to please whom we love, and will find ourselves in obedience to the sinful whims and desires of man.

It is appropriate to love God with all that you are, and all that you have, because God is perfect.  If we seek to please God in all we do, we will find ourselves living a life of righteousness.  If we, then, love men as we love ourselves, we will not spend all of our time and affections in PLEASING that person (a correlating principal can be found in 1 Cor. 7:32 & 33), but in doing what is actually BEST FOR THEM – we care about them as we do for our own soul.  Now that I initially shocked you with the point, I will meter it out with a grain of salt – Jesus said we are to love our neighbor ‘as ourself,’ that is really a statement of degrees: we love others proportionate to our love of self.  It is okay to love others more than we love ourselves – Jesus commends the greatest love as love that lays down its life for its friends (John 15:13) – yet when our love for our neighbor far outweighs our love of self, it is disproportianate and becomes idolatry.

The two commandments are one in the same in that when we put the first one first, God gives us power through His Spirit to love our neighbor as we ought.

The church is firstly each individual – each little lamb, and his/her personal relationship with the shepherd.  The church is secondly the flock of sheep that skip and play together – and this by extension of the first relationship.

There is a level, and degree of relationship among believers, which is supernatural, and exceeds natural friendships, and social connections.  It is not a degree of relationship which non-believers can have – it is impossible for the carnal nature to experience.

The word which the bible uses to describe this kind of supernatural relationship among believers is: ‘fellowship.’  I know, probably some other things come to mind when you think of the word ‘Fellowship’ …

Image result for fellowshipRight?

Its somewhat unfortunate that the word is so widely, and loosely used, and that it is applied to manner number of other things because it makes it culturally different for us to distinguish what True Fellowship is.  But when the bible speaks of fellowship it is speaking of a spiritual degree of relation that only those who have been born again – made new Creations – can experience.

Some of the best teaching, and definition for this supernatural degree of relationship is found in 1 John chapter 1.

In 1 John 1:7, the Apostle describes the dynamics of this relationship I have been speaking of in simple, spiritual terms:

But if we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from sin.

According to this verse from John, ONLY if we are walking in the Spiritual Light of Christ (maybe we could say: ‘in the presence of the Spirit of Truth’) can we have True Fellowship with each other.  That fellowship is marked by Jesus’ blood, and our purification from sin – if we are not FIRST in right relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, then we have no Fellowship.

A few verses prior, John declares the reason that he adamantly wants you to believe in Jesus Christ:

1 John 1:3a
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us…

John wants people everywhere to come into this same supernatural relationship one with another; the supernatural relationship which they only came to experience after they had come to know, and believe in Jesus Christ.  But let me finish the rest of the verse, it gets even better:

…and Truly our Fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we roll over the words in the bible like they have no real meaning.  In some ways its difficult to believe sometimes – the bible is chalked full of stuff that is so supernatural, and powerful that it seems to good to be True!

John declares here, that True Fellowship is with God – don’t roll over that, let that sink deeply into your soul.  Meditate on it; consider the ramifications of it; consume the power of it.  The Creator God, the Jesus of the bible want to be in a close-knit, personal union of spiritual Fellowship with YOU.  True Fellowship is only found in Jesus Christ.

There is a largely untapped spiritual gold mine of relationship.  The church is sitting on the vein, God is just waiting for us to dig in, and experience a greater fullness of Himself, and a heightened spiritual communion with one another.

If we began to view church not as organizations, or as public ‘services’ where we corporately gather together, but primarily as relationship, how different would our church practice become?  Bear in mind, I am not – for the moment – taking into consideration the particular dynamics of corporate ministry, or outreach, or of what the church does but setting a basic premise for what the Church IS.

I teased a bit in my last post on the topic about how becoming more ‘relevant’ or more culturally minded is not – in my opinion – the issue with why so many feel alienated from the church.  The more intentional we are about relationship, the more people feel wanted.  I think just frankly that it is the lack of personal, viable contact in relationships with people which is the root of the church-leaving pandemic.  When the organizations are more focused on the ministry dynamics than they are on the people they are using those dynamics to minister to.

In my previous post, I sort of teased on the meet-and-greet part of corporate services (remember this?)

5b07d-giphy(Yeah, so good, I used it again!)

Sid2Ahem… anyway…

The meet-and-greet is a pretty standard part of most evangelical church services.  I like that the emphasis is to mingle some with others in the room – unfortunately – as the habit has become part of the standard service it has become more just a part of the liturgy of modern evangelical churches (in most cases).

I daresay I am probably not the only one who has gone into a new church knowing no one, and hoping to use the opportunity to meet the people around me, only to find that they don’t even have an actual introduction in view, but are just cordially shaking hands with random people near them with a smiling “Good morning!”  A number of times in this situation alone, I will introduce myself, and have the person whose hand I am shaking give me a bewildered look, and then suddenly realize I am waiting for them to introduce themselves to me – they are so in the habit of the impersonal handshake and “Good morning!”  Routine, they don’t readily know what to do when someone tries to strike up an actual conversation.  Am I the only one who experiences this?

Not to make a protracted commentary on the dynamics of this one part of standard Christian church services, but obviously in most cases the format has become so familiar to us that we are missing the point of the exercise entirely.  A lot of real ministry could happen in the five minute meet-and-greet part of the service, or life-long friendships could begin… there’s potential in it, but without relationship in view its just a pointless, and awkward exercise.

The basis of our thinking when it comes to the church should not be denominations, organizations, or even primarily doctrine.

Mark 12:30 & 31
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:. this is the first commandment.

31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

=Church.

Now of course, doctrine, and ministry dynamics are also important, I’ll aim in that direction for a sequel post; this is just first things first.  The church is no organization, but people who are in relationship with God, and each other.

Image result for fellowship

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