Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Edgewood EdgeUcation: (Part 2) Body Member NOT Church Attender

(This post will also serve as Episode 40 of my Podcast.)

This is the second in a potential series of posts where I would like to introduce newcomers (and others) to Edgewood. In the first post of this series, I started by stating that, "At Edgewood Church, in Danville, IL, we are about the person... NOT the program." (You can read that post by clicking here.) 

In this new post I would like to very briefly tackle the topic of church attendance and maybe even touch on the concept of church membership. I will attempt to do this in two simple points. 

Point Number One: Church Attendance is Biblical.

Let's get this out there right away. No point in him-hawing around... in Hebrews 10:24–25, in the context of a passage that is elaborating on all that we have in this great salvation that Christ has worked for us, we can read: 

[24] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (ESV) 

So, there it is. In this passage, the author of Hebrews states that some have developed a habit of neglecting to meet together. If you speak with anyone, over the age of 50 about why we should go to church... they will most likely state this verse. (It will also, most likely, be stated in old Shakespearean English from the King James Authorized Version.) And they won't be wrong. 

There are many things in life that we might become neglectful about. We might not eat the most healthy food all the time. We might watch a little too much TV, neglecting other things. We might not spend quite enough time with our kids... or our parents. The list of things that we beat ourselves up over when we are neglectful could become extensive... but to neglect meeting together with other believers, is one that we are commanded not to do. You should attend church regularly, if for no other reason, because it is commanded in the Word of God. 

"But Matt" you say, "the title of your post ends with the words: '... NOT Church Attender.' Which do you mean?"

You would be right in bringing that to my attention. I wrestled with that title for ... OK... for only about 27 seconds, but I did wrestle with it. We live in a current cultural moment where there are, in my experience, way too many people that would fly the banner of Christian over their beliefs, but allow everything under the sun to "trump" their Church attendance. Any old thing beats it: from their kids sports, to their own work schedule, to family gatherings, to vacations, to minor health issues, to mental breaks, to just needing a day. It is increasingly difficult to have any sort of conversation about neglectful attendance because it is (purposefully or not) concealed under layers of genuine "needs" or "important" events. 

So I wrestle with even discussing this topic because, on the one hand, I don't want to come across as callous toward actual issues and portray a legalistic mindset, BUT on the other hand, I am also alarmed at the neglectful trend that is now, in our culture, quickly becoming thousands of individuals turning from neglect to total abandonment of faithful church attendance. 

Should Christians attend Church? Yes. Should they attend Church regularly and faithfully? Yes. By all Means. But even then, that is not all that we are called to do and created to do. If you are not attending -- start. If you are only attending -- you are missing the point. 

Point Number Two: The Church is the Body of Christ.

One of the key illustrations that Paul the Apostle uses to describe the people in a local church, is members of a body. The Head is Christ and the Church (the assembled people) is... or should I say, are... His body. Consider Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Ephesians 1:22-23, Ephesians 4:15-16, Ephesians 5:29-30, Colossians 1:15-18, and Colossians 2:18-19; just to name a few. 

Those of us who are familiar with these Bible passages that discuss the church as the body of Christ will typically apply these in the broad sense. i.e. Christ is the head of the universal Church. This is not an incorrect reality. Every actual Christian that has ever lived is a part of THE Church (emphasis on the capital C), the assembled body of believers across the globe and across time. Christ is our head, we are his body. He is the body's savior. He loves and cares for his body (the church), and he ultimately gave himself for the church. (See Ephesians 5:2, 23, 25.)

But... I would argue that the primary teaching of these "body" passages is completely missed if you do not seek to apply them to individual local churches. I am talking about reading these passages while thinking about actual people you know in an actual local assembly (church). 

Consider for a moment re-reading (or listening to) 1 Corinthians 12:14–27 through the lens of your church and the people who attend:

[14] For the body does not consist of one member but of many. [15] If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [16] And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [17] If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? [18] But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. [19] If all were a single member, where would the body be? [20] As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

[21] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [22] On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, [23] and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, [24] which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, [25] that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. [26] If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. [27] Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

It has a completely different feel... doesn't it? 

For Edgewood does not consist of one member but of many. If Matt should say, “Because I am not Paul, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make Matt any less a part of the body. And if Denise should say, “Because I am not Norma, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make Denise any less a part of the body. If the whole body were a Charity, where would be the Mandis? If the whole body were a Bill, where would be the Donnies?  But as it is, God arranged the members of Edgewood, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would Edgewood be? As it is, there are many of us, yet one Edgewood.

I won't get into theorizing about the presentable or unpresentable parts. We all have those, but they are all important body parts in their own unique way. There is not a one of us who ought to look at any of the others of us and think, what need do we have of you? 

The meaning comes alive when we picture actual names and faces while we read that passage. I don't believe that we are to take this illustration too far and actually attempt to figure out what it means to be a hand, a foot, an eye, etc. In fact, the Edgewood body is not the same Edgewood body that it was 5 or even 10 years ago. (The same is true of me, but in a completely different way.) But Edgewood's body, as it is composed of the people who are here now, has different strengths and weaknesses than it did before. We have different character traits and different abilities. To recognize Christ as our head is to embrace who we are now, not what we used to be or what we think we ought to be, but who we actually are in Christ. 

I could say so much more on this, but instead I would like to end this post by discussing how an understanding of individual local churches being seen as the body of Christ will reveal two basic handicaps that plague many of our modern local churches. 

Supplemental Point... Number Two-Point-Five?  Handicapped Churches. 

One handicap that commonly shows up in smaller churches could be described as a body that regularly attempts to operate without all its parts. Some little churches have Eyes that are only there every other week. Ears that show up three times per month. An Elbow or a Big Toe that hasn't been there for three weeks. Even worse are the Hands or Feet that never miss, but also never participate, causing more of a hindrance to the body than a help. If anyone has ever had a non-working appendage, they know the strain that it places on the rest of the body as the other parts will attempt to compensate for the sake of the whole body. 

Almost as challenging as an absent part or a non-functioning part is the unreliable part. When you have a knee that you never know for sure if it will be there the next time you swing your leg forward, or if it will "give out" when pressure is applied can cause the rest of the body to tense up every time a step is taken. 

As I mentioned, these are the handicaps that have tended to plague the smaller churches. Larger churches can have the same issues, but there is a deceptive cure that has snuck into these larger churches that presents itself as a better body, but I have my doubts. What is that cure? It is the bionic arm of paid staff. The cyborg legs of the salaried ministry professionals. It is the positronic implants of the celebrity pastors. Many of these large churches are presenting a stellar performance of (as some would say) "... what it means to really do church..." The difference presents itself like a professional athlete compared to a player on a homeschool team.  The moves are amazing and beyond most little church's abilities... but how often do we need to watch one of these huge ministries get scratched revealing their lack of reality under the surface before we start to exhibit more caution in our dependence on them or hopes in them. 

The only big ministries or big churches that I have ever seen that are truly operating as the body of Christ are the ones where... when you get a peak under their skin... you find real people, volunteering their real time and putting their real hearts and souls, in a sacrificial way, into those ministries through Christ alone and only for the Glory of God alone. Solus Christus -- Soli Deo Gloria. 

Conclusion: Be a member. 

I know that some might argue that Church Membership isn't in the Bible. I get it. In the strictest sense, if one were to argue this point, they would be right. Sure, there are some hints and clues throughout the New Testament that churches knew who was and who was not a part of their local assembly: that in some way, the had a roll or a list where names could be added or removed.

But my argument for Church membership has changed in the last 13 years at Edgewood. And since these posts are supposed to be about introducing people to what Edgewood is all about, allow me to end this post by saying this: I don't want to present a logical argument concerning Biblical Church Membership. Instead... what I want to say is that every Christian should be a member of a local church the way I think that every hand should be connected to a wrist and every eye should be in a head. 

Sure, church membership is going to contain some of those similarities to any other membership... we are going to have rolls and lists. We will have member's meetings and even the occasional vote. But more than that. I will depend on you the way that I depend on my foot being at the end of my leg when I take a step. We are in this thing together not as individuals, but as individual members of the same body. We will hurt together, grow together, strive together... and one day... That Day... Enter Eternity together. 

If you are looking for a church that is attempting to do church this way... come visit the Island of Misfit toys... I mean... Edgewood. 

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