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Me as "Individual" vs. "Me-in-Community"
A Vision of the Congregationally-Shaped Christian Life
The following is an extended quote from Tim Chester and Steve Timmis in Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 43-46:
The New Testament word for community is koinonia, often translated by the now anemic word "fellowship." Koinonia is linked to the words "common," "sharing," and "participation." We are the community of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14) in community with the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9)–sharing our lives (1 Thessalonians 2:8), sharing our property (Acts 4:32), sharing in the gospel (Philippians 1:5; Philemon 6), and sharing in Christ's suffering and glory (2 Corinthians 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:13.). The collection of money by the Gentile churches for the poverty-stricken church in Jerusalem is an act of koinonia (Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 9:13). Our community life is celebrated and reinforced in Communion, where we participate (koinonia) together in the body and blood of Christ: "Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says, "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you?" (1 Thessalonians 2:19). The church at Thessalonica is Paul's investment in the future. His future is bound up with them and their progress in the faith. He will boast on the final day not in what he has done but in what they have done. He has staked his reputation before God on them. He goes on, "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord' (3:8). The NIV has added the word "really." It is literally: "for now we live." Paul's life now is bound up with the church.
The prevailing view of life today is that of an individual standing on his or her own, heroically juggling various responsibilities–family, friendships, career, leisure, chores, decisions, and money. We could also add social responsibilities like political activities, campaigning organizations, community groups, and school associations.
From time to time the pressures overwhelm us, and we drop one or more of the balls. All too often Church becomes one of the balls. We juggle our responsibilities for church (measured predominantly by attendance at meetings) just as we juggle our responsibilities for work or leisure.
An alternative model is to view our various activities and responsibilities as spokes of a wheel. At the center or hub of life is not me as an individual but us as members of the Christian community. Church is not another ball for me to juggle but that which defines who I am and gives Christlike shape to my life.
According to this model, Bob and Mary do not drop church. Instead, their life as persons-in-community enables them to retain their sanity! For others in the church, some of their engagements (work, leisure, friendships) will adjust for a season as they share responsibility for the new children.
In our experience, people are often enthusiastic about community until it impinges on their decision-making. For all their rhetoric, they still expect to make decisions by themselves for themselves. We assume we are masters of our own lives. ' "It's my money, it's my life, it's my future," we say, "so it's my decision." In contrast, in The Crowded House (editor’s note: “The Crowded House” was name of Tim Chester’s church at the time) we "expect one another to make decisions with regard to the implications for the church and to make significant decisions in consultation with the church.” A married man must take into account his wife and family, consulting with them over significant decisions. It should be the same in the family of God. Paul says: "in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Romans 12:5). My family owns a car. It belongs to us, and so we are responsible for it, and we make decisions about it together. In the same way, in the Christian community we belong to one another, and so we are responsible for one another and make decisions together. This is not a process of "heavy shepherding where the leader tells people what to do. Our statement does not say decisions are made for people. It says they are made with regard to the community to which they belong.
Imagine a young couple, Bob and Mary, who are involved in a local congregation. Mary gives birth to twins. Bob and Mary are now facing the prospect of trying to cope with babies who constantly need feeding and changing. In the first model, juggling the church ball alongside the new family responsibilities becomes impossible. Bob and Mary decide they will have to forget being involved in church activities on anything more than a minimal level for quite some time. So they make a unilateral decision to absent themselves from much of church life.
In the alternative model, it is not only Bob and Mary's issue when the babies are born. It is an issue for the whole church. The congregation takes on some of the responsibility because their identity and life is that of persons-in-community. So perhaps a couple of people go around early each morning to bathe the babies so Bob and Mary can have time together over breakfast. Or someone offers to take Bob to work for a few months so that on the way Bob can sleep or read his Bible, or they can pray together because Bob is not getting much chance to do these things at home. Bob and Mary may not be as involved in the church meetings, but they are more involved than ever in the life of the community.
Note from PJ: Steve Timmis was investigated for spiritual abuse. Any good or true biblical principle can be distorted and misapplied. While acknowledging and being cautious to not fall into sin or unwise distortion, it is important for us to embrace and walk along the path of the biblical truth of life in partnership with your local church fam.
I encourage the members of Bethany Baptist Church (BBC) and all Christians as church movers to reframe their self-identity from “me-as-an-individual-Christian” to “me-as-a-Christian-and-covenant-member-of-BBC.”
As T4G Article 14 says,
We affirm that the shape of Christian discipleship is congregational, and that God’s purpose is evident in faithful Gospel congregations, each displaying God’s glory in the marks of authentic ecclesiology.
We deny that any Christian can truly be a faithful disciple apart from the teaching, discipline, fellowship, and accountability of a congregation of fellow disciples, organized as a Gospel Church. We further deny that the Lord’s Supper can faithfully be administered apart from the right practice of Church discipline.
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