Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: forbearance

The need for fellowship

I recently read something written by a young lady whose parents are very conservative Christians. She spoke of how difficult it had been to find a church where she could feel at home because she didn’t want to get into anything that felt like the way she had grown up.

I feel compassion for her, yet I’m afraid she has misdiagnosed the problem. It doesn’t seem that her parents were ultra strict, but they had no fellowship with other Christians with similar convictions. They tried various churches, but always had good reasons why they had to break fellowship with them.

Our daughter would probably be making the same complaints today if we had not joined the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite forty years ago. Prior to that time, while she was very young, we had attended a variety of churches for a few months or a year or two.

Our daughter was six when we began regularly attending a congregation of this church, and seven when we were baptized and became members. From that time on, most of her friends were children of our friends. We attended church together, visited in each others homes and followed much the same principles in raising our children.

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Fast forward forty years and we have a Christian daughter, a fine Christian son-in-law and four grandchildren, one of whom is now also a Christian. This is the blessing of following the leading of the Holy Spirit. I can’t see how we could be enjoying these blessings today if we had continued church-hopping, or even withdrew from organized church altogether.

We have known families who remained with one church, but held their own children to a higher standard than other families of that church did for their children. Their children rebelled. The parents meant well, but didn’t understand that Christian fellowship is of more value than getting all the details right.

We cannot raise Christian children if we hold ourselves aloof from other Christians. Yes, we need to avoid worldliness. Yes, we need to uphold moral and spiritual purity.

But we also need to avoid self-righteousness and a critical attitude toward others. Those things poison the atmosphere in a home and will eventually cause our children to rebel against us and all we tried to teach them. Or it may lead them to become lonely social outcasts, unable to develop a meaningful relationship with others.

God has made us in such a way that none of us are complete in ourselves. We need others to supply what we lack. The New Testament epistles have much instruction to help us live in fellowship with other Christians. This is important for us and for our children.

Above all, let’s not call it Christian fellowship when we are in full agreement with someone else about the mistakes other people make. Forbearance and forgiveness are essential for true fellowship. The most important thing is to see Christ in one another, whatever our ethnic origin or economic status. The people around us make mistakes. Do we see only the mistakes, or do we see a fellow Christian trying in weakness to follow the Holy Spirit? That’s the way we want others to see us, isn’t it?

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (1 Corinthians 3.11)

The path to Christian unity

Believers today are troubled – perhaps frustrated would be a better word – by the divisions among Christians. It was certainly never God’s plan for there to be these kinds of divisions (“there should be no schism in the body” 1 Corinthians 12:25). Yet schisms have been part of Christian history since shortly after the beginning.

The history of how all these schisms came to be can be a fascinating study, perhaps even a salutary one if it would teach us to avoid such schisms in our time. But if we’re just looking to find someone to blame . . . well, that’s the problem, not the solution.

So, here are some guidelines from God’s Word to show us what iut takes to have true Christian unity.

All members of the church must be born-again, Holy Spirit-led Christians.

Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Romans 8:9).

Baptizing babies won’t create a body of believers. Some will get converted later in life, many won’t. Child evangelism won’t do it either. Teaching innocent children to pray for salvation before God calls them leads to confusion when God does call a few years later. Reciting the sinner’s prayer won’t do it either, unless it goes much deeper than a mere recitation.

All members of the church must look to the Word of God as the source of truth

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (John 5:39).
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8:20).
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation (1 Peter 1:20).
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you (Deuteronomy 4:2).
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).

It is a common human tendency to think that I need to completely understand God’s purposes and plans. This has led to conflicting bodies of doctrine that may be intellectually satisfying, but which conflict with each other and with the Word of God. Differences in application and administration of the teachings of the Word will arise from place to place and era to era, but no room should be given to man-made doctrines.

All members must acknowledge Christ as the head of the church

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18).
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him . . . And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:10 & 22).

In order for a body of believers to function, men, and women, must be placed in positions of responsibility. But there is no provision in God’s Word for a leader to exercise lordship over fellow believers. (1 Peter 5:3)

There must be genuine brotherly love among all members

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently (1 Peter 1:22).
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Colossians 3:13).
Jesus [speaking of forgiving a brother] saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22).
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35).

The purity of the church must be maintained

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted (Galatians 6:10).
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:16-18).
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Ephesians 5:11).
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

When done according to the teachings of the Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit, actions to maintain the purity of the church will inspire confidence and trust in the brotherhood. It is when strife and sin are tolerated in a body of believers that suspicion and mistrust arise.

Hockey pool church

Every morning, in offices across Canada, folks check how their fantasy hockey team is faring in the office hockey pool. It starts in the fall with individuals picking an imaginary team from the list of active NHL players. The aggregate scoring statistics of those players then determines the winner of the hockey pool.

I have met people whose concept of the church resembles those imaginary hockey teams. They profess to believe in an invisible church, comprising all Christians from all the world. However, they do not want everyone on their team who calls himself a Christian. So the selection process begins. Most would not have wanted Fred Phelps on their team. Some would not accept anyone from the Roman Catholic Church, others would exclude most charismatics and the proponents of the prosperity gospel. Some would choose on the basis of doctrine, others on the basis of outward manifestations of the faith.

A person might well choose those whom he is willing to acknowledge as true Christians, but does this bear any resemblance to the church described in the Bible? The church is described in the Bible as a building or a body, with each member put in place by God Himself and able to function in a coordinated manner for the proclamation of the gospel, the nurturing of new believers, the revival of the weak and the maintenance of the purity of the church.

Not all people who call themselves Christians bear evidence of the work of God in their lives. Neither do all thse bodies calling themselves churches show evidence that God is at work in them as an organization. No doubt there are individuals in all of the churches who do show this evidence, but where is the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the myriad organizations each proclaiming a flavour of the gospel that is different from that of all the others?

Many people have thrown up their hands and withdrawn from this situation. This leads to what I have called the hockey pool churches, and their appeal is not difficult to see. If I can select those people who are sincere Christians in my eyes and restrict my fellowship to this cirlce, it may seem that I have finally discovered true Christian fellowship.

In real life, however, it doesn’t seem to quite work out that way. These phantom churches tend to be in a continual state of tension and flux. Often, the only thing they really have in common is their disillusionment with other groups. In extreme cases, this leads to the situation of a man I knew in Ontario. In his younger years he had belonged to a church that had split off from a church that had split from the Old Order Mennonites many years earlier. Eventually he and his family left with a few other families and formed yet another church. That still didn’t satisfy this man. His wife and children remained with that church, but he went searching for something better. Finally, he told me that he had found three men with whom he could have full fellowship. One lived in Pennsylvania, another in Ohio and the third in Tennessee. How long would that fellowship have lasted if all four had been close neighbours?

The church, as depicted in the Bible, is much more than the sum of the individual members. It is the visible testimony and evidence of the Holy Spirit at work, not only in individual believers, but in the organized body of believers. The New Testament has a lot to say about our relationship with one another. The most important characteristic of the church is unfeigned brotherly love. Scriptural doctrine is important, proclamation of the gospel is important, avoiding the pollution of the world is important, but none of these things matter if there is not genuine brotherly love. Where there is no true love, forbearance and forgiveness, there is no church.

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