Why is it that we belong?
There is a tension often in Christian communities – the tension of wanting more and more people to feel comfortable and welcome so that they may enjoy a sense of belonging to a body which likes to be together. Yet on the other hand, being a people who believe and respond to the Word of God – when at times that Word challenges, or confronts, or asks something of the person which is not that comfortable.
Which comes first? Belonging or Belief?
I ask this question because I really want 5pm Church to be a community where many people belong and that together we as a body can serve and support the many individuals in our church family to love and serve the Lord. But I am also concerned that we actually operate as the body of Christ.
One of the reasons why Paul writes to Timothy, his friend and younger minister of the gospel, is to ensure that he stuck to the main aim – boldly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2 Tim 1:8-11 he says:
Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life– not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
It is clear in this charge that Timothy may suffer for what he is called to do, as Paul himself did – and of course as Jesus did in order to destroy death and bring life. Despite that suffering, Paul continued as a herald, apostle and teacher – and he calls Timothy to walk in his footsteps. ‘Testify about our Lord’ (1:8) he says.
This is the background behind his final and most passionate plea to Timothy – probably his last.
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim 4:2)
I think it is profound that Timothy is called to stand and preach regardless of whether the listener is willing to hear or not. There is no ‘opinion worm’ used to measure whether what he says is favourably received by his listeners! Instead he is called to speak what God says – so that it will correct where the listener is in error, so that it will rebuke and call the listener to change, so that those who change will be encouraged to live a more holy life – to the glory of God.
Given that it is those in church who will hear preaching the most, this has implications for church going Christians. There are times when what is preached hurts! It hurts because it aims to bring the gospel to bear on the lives of the listener.
Now if 5pm Church wants people to feel that they belong, there will be a tension. Those who come will hear what is preached and possibly get hurt. In an individualistic world (such as the one we live in), if I am hurt, or offended, or put out, then it is likely that I will feel ostracized – in which case it may not feel as if I belong!
What is the answer? The wrong way forward here is to step back from proclaiming the gospel, to water down agendas, to say only what the world wants to hear, to be more concerned with social outings and community – so that it does not offend and people feel more included. Surely that will mean that people feel more comfortable and so feel that they belong! This is dangerous. What it will also mean is that Christians will be more worried about themselves, their world, or their individual agendas and that the more important gospel is pushed into the background.
A true gospel community, one where people truly belong, one where belief is placed before belonging – in fact it is recognized that it is because of belief in the gospel, that a person indeed belongs.
At Trinity City we want all who come to Church to feel that they belong. But more than that, we want all who come to Church to in fact belong – and belong because they have come to a saving knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
That agenda drives all of the ministries at 5pm Church.
Of course, if you belong, then you already know this!!