“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:15-16)
Last year, we bought a fixer-upper. The problem with a fixer-upper is…well… you have to fix it up! Appliances need to be replaced, wallpaper has to come down, cracked floor tiles need to be removed, we had to drop our deck, etc. etc. etc. And I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m not the most handy person in the world! Shocking, right? Inevitably, I will dive into a project, then reference YouTube tutorials, then ultimately call my brother (a contractor) or my stepdad or my grandfather or…someone, anyone who has been through this before and can walk me through it.
Our society has become increasingly individualistic. Emphasis is placed on self: self-awareness, self-realization, self-esteem, self-worth, self-identification, self-actualization, self-truth(s), self-perspective, self-interests… you get the point. This emphasis on self has bled over into the Church and has been fodder for man-centered theologies that promote self-growth, self-help, and self-sanctification. But, I would humbly suggest that this is not how the Bible presents Christian growth and maturity. Rather, it is almost assumed throughout the New Testament that sanctification takes place within community, vis-a-vis the Church.
To put it simply, the Christian life thrives in the context of a healthy church. Just like my fixer-upper, when it comes to living for King Jesus, I’m in over my head! I need help. God has provided corporate worship as a means by which the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to sustain and grow my faith. But, God further uses the Church as a place of discipleship. Believers are to encourage one another (Heb 10:25), minister to one another (Eph 4:11-16), and bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). We have each been given spiritual gifts in order to edify the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12). When I feel stuck, I can phone-a-friend- someone that has been here before or that can provide wise counsel from the Word of God. When we cut ourselves off from the local church, we step outside of God’s ordained means for sanctification and growth. Self-sanctification is an oxymoron.
But, it needs to be said that for many, this has not been the normative experience. Instead of being encouraged, exhorted, and equipped, some have been belittled, shamed, and ignored. I am well aware that not all local churches are created equal. Therefore, if this has been your experience, let me try to encourage your heart… Healthy churches do exist. The solution to spiritual hurt or abuse is never isolation. Find a healthy church- one that preaches the Word, one that is Gospel-centered, one that doesn’t wear “evangelical masks,” one that will walk beside you in the chaos… Because, frankly, it’s a huge blessing to be able to call your brother in the middle of a mess and ask, ‘Where did I go wrong?’
Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Matthew S. Rickett