Ask Not What The Church Can Do For You But What You Can Do For The Church
Aug 30, 2010 by Craig Blomberg | 7 Comments
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
The blog I wrote that has received the most response over the last few months had to do with why believers need to be involved in local churches. Since I wrote that, I have run across still more friends of mine, of a variety of ages, including Denver Seminary graduates or employees, who are not attending church. Again, we’re not talking about those who were traumatized by abusive churches or people, but those who simply find it inconvenient, or who have become disillusioned with the institution, or who miss a good church from their past and can’t find a close equivalent. And so the excuses continue.
When you talk with these people, they continue strongly to affirm their Christian beliefs. Some have substituted church on TV or listening to Christian tapes or reading good devotional literature for live fellowship and worship with other believers. They continue to be involved in acts of service to their world and community and are wonderfully nice people to be around. What could be bad or wrong about that?
As long as the discussion remains centered around “me” and what “I” or “we” get out of or take away from church, possibly nothing. In our high-tech age that allows me to download MP3s of great sermons, cheaply purchase the most meaningful worship music for myself from itunes, and read prayers by others that better articulate my feelings than what I could compose myself, it’s hard for the local church to compete. Live music, preaching and extemporaneous prayers, quite frankly, may not be as good. Of course, I miss out on fellowship with other believers, but I can get that from friends, a small group, Christian co-workers, and so on.
What is missing in this conversation is what Paul discusses in Ephesians 4:11-13. All believers are given one or more spiritual gifts (v. 11; cf. also 1 Cor. 12:7, 11). The stated purpose of these gifts is to equip the rest of the people of God so that the Church as a whole may become increasingly mature (v. 12). Works of service to the world and community are important, but equipping believers who are not engaged in such works is also crucial. The unity of the Church is another recurring New Testament theme that is sadly lacking in too many places in modern Christianity. Our spiritual gifts need to be exercised toward that end as well. Those of us who know Jesus well enough to cope for awhile without the Church are precisely those who should be helping the rest of the Church to grow “in the knowledge of the Son of God” (v. 13a). All of this can be summed up, Paul concludes, as helping one another, as a corporate body, attain “to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13b). Clearly the Church at home and abroad has enough growing and maturing to do that we can’t afford a single Christian to sideline this use of their spiritual gifts by not being a part of a regular Christian fellowship.
The people I’ve talked to since my last blog about church who aren’t currently involved anywhere are among some of the most gifted and talented Christians I know. They have the spiritual reserves, so to speak, to get by probably for a good, long while without “needing” church themselves. The problem is the church desperately needs them. Maybe John Kennedy’s oft-quoted words about not asking what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country need to be applied to the church as well. After all, Jesus himself insisted it was better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). And boy did he model it!