Frenemies of Christ ~ Repost from Gary Shogren

I thought this was a great post on what exactly “church” is (and isn’t) , and why we do church in the first place.

Church: "EVERY-body's invited!"
Church: “EVERY-body’s invited!”

Have you met the guy who says:

Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus, but I’m not a “churcher.” I have fellowship with my Christian friends, we pray

together, we talk over coffee, we discuss the Bible, we have a commitment to hold each other accountable. These guys are my “church.” And they are more serious than regular church members about their faith. Doesn’t that fulfill God’s expectation that I meet with other believers? [1]

By all means, get together with other believers. Church is not what you do for an hour on Sunday morning. On the other hand, being the church must include a regular, open meeting with all types of believers who draw together at a predetermined place and time. Meeting with a friend requires a special invitation; everyone is invited to the church meeting.

Sociologists and students of brain chemistry have proven that, no matter how broad-minded we think we are, “like” gravitates to “like”. It’s not in our nature to feel comfortable around people of different personalities or education or politics or level of spiritual zeal, and our brain is hardwired to resist diversity. This is why it’s a constant battle if any group survives without breaking into cliques or splitting up. It’s a miracle, literally, how any church can stick together.

At church you run into those you like, those you don’t, people you look down on and people with whom you connect. When you pull back from a non-homogeneous assembly (Community Church, let’s say) and pour your energy into people who are like you (St. Arbucks, if you will), you are sifting through God’s people and selecting out those with whom you have empathy. And it is at that point that we might swallow a misunderstanding about the gospel.

This verse sounds way too harsh to apply to this scenario, but hear me out:

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars. (1 John 4:20)

A comment about style – John wrote in black-and-white terms: life/death; righteousness/sin. You are righteous or you are sinful; you are in the light or in the darkness; you love or you hate. No shades of gray for John, no off-whites, no violet-blacks.

How does John define the verb “hate”? Certainly not as my dictionary does, “to feel intense dislike for or a strong aversion towards.” Under that definition, a Christian could be able claim, “Why, I don’t hate anyone! I can’t think of a single person toward whom a feel an intense dislike.” But for John, hate = whatever is not a positive expression of divine love and, as we would say, love that can only come through the Spirit. Hate is whatever is not-love. Hate is that which does not fulfill “Love one another deeply [or fervently, or constantly] from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

We might paraphrase 1 John 4:20 this way – Those who say, “I love God,” and do not also love their brothers or sisters with supernatural love, are liars.

“The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.” [2] We just re-watched “Casablanca.” My favorite bit is when Peter Lorrie as Ugarte says: “You despise me, don’t you?” Rick replies: “If I gave you any thought I probably would.” Non-love may include loathing; but also apathy, insensibility, scorn, avoidance, aloofness. It is not just crossing the street to avoid someone; it’s also nottaking the effort to cross the street to encounter someone.

When they asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” what happens in the story? Did the priest hate or loathe the injured traveler? Did the Levite? No, they just looked the other way. The point is, if they didn’t rescue the man, they were not loving him; as John would say, they hated him.

And who is my brother or sister? At the very least, all for whom Christ died, and particularly those within my church. The result of non-love might well be: “because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed” (1 Cor 8:11 NLT).

Here are some ways to be unloving to our fellow believers.

The Dropouts:

You just knew that Hebrews 10 will come along sooner or later:

And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25 HCSB).

As another version has it, “Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship” (CEV). The author is not speaking of “getting together” but of regular meetings of the whole congregation, to which all members are summoned. He uses a verb that is related to “synagogue,” the weekly constituted meetings of the Jewish community. [3] The author implies that the Hebrew Christians felt a strong temptation to “lie low”, since attending church meetings might draw attention to them, leading to persecution. [4]

On the other hand, here is an incident when Peter stopped “eating with” non-Jewish believers (Gal 2:11-14). This may have entailed not attending regular church meetings where gentiles would be present. Paul says his motive was “fear” – probably he dreaded the hassle that stricter Jewish believers would give him; maybe he justified himself by saying that he was only trying to preserve peace in the church.

Peter was afraid of going to church because of the unpleasantness; the Hebrews were afraid of persecution. Poor excuses? Maybe so, but at least they had better reasons than simple distaste of other personality types.

The Posse:

If we handpick our Christian companions, surrounding ourselves with people with whom we are socially and spiritually congenial, we are not “doing church” – we are hanging with a “posse,” a hand-picked group of close friends to hang with.

The local church is non-homogenous, it is a group of people brought together by the cross. It is spiritually healthy for us and for others if we work with people we normally would not gravitate to.

Frenemies of Christ:

Let’s use another contemporary word, a combination of “friend” and “enemy.” One definition of a frenemy is “The type of ‘friend’ whose words or actions bring you down.” In this case, if I do not actively show love to all believers within my reach, whom Jesus loves, I make myself a poor friend of Jesus – I am a friend who causes him grief, a “frenemy.” I discriminate between people for whom Christ went to the cross.

I am a fan of smaller, less formal churches. But if anyone imagines that meeting in a house is the answer to our problems, since “it’s the way they used to do it,” remember that it raises as many questions and creates as much friction as it solves. And a house church model did not keep Peter or the Hebrews from disengaging. Plus, only the Spirit can create love for one all other believers.

To be sure, some churches are shows, and it doesn’t matter if the service is traditional or contemporary: preachers or singers are the stars; people attend and their donations are the entry price. Instead, the church meeting must be what God says it is: an assembly for prayer, confession, healing, Scripture reading, teaching, mutual encouragement, regular observance of the sacraments. A service that combines a few songs and a long sermon is not following the apostolic model; a service that has a bit of prayer and a byte of Bible reading is not apostolic; a meeting that consists in platform-and-pulpit-banter would not be recognizable to Paul, as would be a church where no-one knows you or bothers to find out. I can also testify that I have attended church meetings, where I came out more spiritually drained than I was when I entered.

Let the church bear its responsibility to be the church, and let us bear our responsibility to be the church.

To quote an early church father:

Make every effort to come together [a word related to the term “synagogue”] more frequently to give thanks and glory to God. For when you meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are overthrown and his destructiveness is nullified by the unanimity of your faith. (Ignatius to the Ephesians 13.1 Holmes).

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(more from Gary Shogren can be found at www.openoureyeslord.com)

NOTES:

[1] So that I don’t kill this essay with a thousand qualifications, I’ll add:

A. Yes, much of what we have said about Christian posses could also apply to cliques that exist within a church. These realities do not overturn my argument.

B. A note about the church of the apostolic era. (1) Paul’s churches typically met in small rooms, crowded apartments or in villas the size of medium homes today. The early home church in Dura Europos accommodated perhaps 50, and that would be the larger size of other home churches in the Roman Empire. This means that the average gathering would have been from 10-50 people. (2) That sociological information means that the early church had an entirely different dynamic than its counterpart of today. When Paul said “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26), he seriously meant that on any given Sunday a high percentage of attendees might lead at some moment. (3) All things being equal, the larger the church today, the less likely it is that an individual might provide leadership during the church meeting; a smaller percentage of people contribute music, teaching, leadership, and the church becomes professionalized. I say “all things being equal”, since a large church with a thriving cell group ministry might have a “flatter” leadership pyramid than a church of 75 in which one pastor does all the ministry for the group.

C. Meeting over coffee is an excellent place for mutual accountability or for mentoring, both of which are of great value.

D. Of course, even if we associate with a conventional church, there is still an element of picking and choosing one that suits us, that looks like us. It’s an important topic, but for another day.

[2] This aphorism found on a slip of paper, delivered via a cookie baked and stuffed at Wonton Food, Inc., Brooklyn, New York. I thought it sounded familiar, and I found out that it came from Elie Wiesel.

[3] Ceslas Spicq captures it thus: “…in Heb 10:25, episynagōgē is a religious term, designating not a “grouping together” or a society of any sort, but a meeting for worship, at more or less regular intervals, of Hebrew Christians in a set place, in a certain ‘house’ in an unknown city”. See Spicq, Theological lexicon of the New Testament 2:64.

[4] “The avoidance of public meetings on the part of Jewish Christians may have been caused by the understandable desire to escape persecution, whether from the Romans or from the non-Christian Jewish community. Perhaps in the light of past experiences (see vv. 32–34) as well as threats concerning the imminent future (12:4), it was deemed wise to avoid attracting attention.” D. Hagner, Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 166.

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3 thoughts on “Frenemies of Christ ~ Repost from Gary Shogren”

  1. Where did he get this from?

    “being the church must include a regular, open meeting with all types of believers who draw together at a predetermined place and time”

    I don’t see anything that makes that necessarily true.

    1. Are you saying you don’t see that it’s true? Or that it’s not biblical?

      I’ll give that this statement may not be contextually biblical, although there are several references Paul makes of groups meeting in various houses for various reasons, I think if you were to read that above quote within the context of the rest of the post he gives a rather detailed reason as to why he feels the statement is true. Whether or not you feel it is true is another matter. Being as a statement may or may not be biblical does not negate the fact that there may be inherent truth, or at least common sense, to it. It does not make it wrong, it just doesn’t make it biblical. Whether or not a person agrees with a given statement also does not negate that statements validity.

      Do you disagree with Gary’s entire premise here of the necessity of a regular gathering with people (with similar and differing views)? Or just that particular statement?

  2. All I know is that when I miss my Sunday church meetings, I become spiritually weak. I am also very grateful that everyone in my church is given an opportunity to serve the congregation. Over the many years I have been a member, I have been blessed to be called to be a music director, primary children’s teacher, adult Sunday school class teacher, early morning ( 5 days a week) seminary teacher for teenagers, president of the Young women’s organization, president of the primary children’s organization, a counselor in the Relief Society organization, volunteer for unwed birth moms, etc. I don’t list these to brag—–just to emphasize the wonderful opportunities for growth and service that come from being actively involved in organized religion. Sure, we can find opportunities to serve everywhere and our service should not be limited to the confines of the church. But, there is something sacred and very fulfilling about being united with others in the cause of Jesus Christ.

Talk to me, even if you disagree! I'd love to hear your comments!

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