Bernie Diaz, July 25, 2017
Our Leadership team has learned quite a bit about the body life of a local church this summer, spending considerable time preaching and teaching the rather controversial doctrine of The Power and Gifts of the Holy Spirit from the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapters 12-14.
You might presume our primary lesson has been the understanding surrounding the contentious debate about the more miraculous ‘signs and wonders’ gifts of healings, prophecy and tongues found in that somewhat complex and difficult section of scripture.
While on the one hand yes, we have learned a great deal about these gifts- their form and functions and how they may be manifested in the local church (which can be heard at www.christcomchurch.org), on the other hand no, we haven’t completely figured out-unequivocally that is, how to reconcile the divide that continues between cessationists and continuationists.
Those are the two central positions of both evangelical and Pentecostal and charismatic Christians who are still wrestling over the question of whether or not these ‘charismatic’ (grace-given) gifts ceased at the end of the apostolic church age, or continue on throughout the church age until believers come face to face (“the perfect” of 1 Cor. 13:8-13) with Jesus Christ.
Regardless, what I’m referring to is the main theme of these three New Testament chapters, which I believe is Paul’s call for loving unity amidst the diversity of a local body of believers and the edification or building up of that body – or let’s say spiritual growth, that comes from and being in, a biblically based, community of faith.
Paul wrote: So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12).
Why should a local church be strengthened? We know we have been saved and sanctified to mature as disciples or followers of Jesus, so that we can glorify or make much of God, by multiplying and making more disciples for the kingdom of God (Eph. 4:11-16).
That’s the main ‘great commission’ mission of the church. We’ve learned enough Bible to make that mission the mission of our church in South Florida, rather than trying feebly to improve upon what the heard of the church, Jesus came up with when he planted the universal church 2,000 years ago. But the question remains, as per our 1 Corinthian lesson, what’s the best way to do that?
Wait for it Christian…. be accountable. Commit to being in and involved with the fellowship of a local church. Lone Rangers need not apply for this level of spiritual growth. I have learned that my maturation in the faith or whatever level of spiritual growth I have seen in my life over the last 25 years plus of my walk with Christ, has been mostly due to the accountability I have had in the local church rather than my own personal drive to grow.
I think I could not have grown as a Christian at the same rate, left to my own motivation. Because, like most Christians, I struggle to keep up with my personal devotional life, in the practicing of spiritual disciplines like consistent Bible reading, meditation, prayer and fasting. Yet, the Lord has placed me in positions where people were counting on me.
People expected me to show up, prepared and ready to teach and preach the word of God. Four of those people- the congregation that makes up my “little church” and most important ministry, consists of my wife and three children in family life and devotions.
Before our family found a place in the local church, I felt the insecurity of not being tethered to a body of believers. I sensed that even as a baby Christian, dealing with the temptation of salad bar Christianity, custom making my faith like choosing side dishes at a buffet, I might plop down some church as just being just one of those items, as I pondered the many things our family could do in our free time.
All of this mind you happened before the advent of today’s web-based church, which can enable me today to worship from the church of the king mattress singing, ‘Lord I Lift My Name on High’ and ‘Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me.’ I thank God I didn’t have that option then.
I have found that participating in ministry, actually using the spiritual gifts that the Lord through the Spirt has given me, was actually a gift to me and to my family, prior to answering His call on my life to pastor, as ministry in a local community grounded me and my own personal spiritual disciplines. Again, we seem to thrive best when others are counting on us.
Paul instructs the church that each and every member has a role to play, “having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them” (Ro. 12:6). He says we shouldn’t think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but God has assigned us each a function. These functions are a gift for both the church as well as ourselves, as we use them to build up or strengthen the body – think encouragement and exhortation, as well as to grow in our own spiritual lives.
You don’t have to be a pastor or a pastor’s wife to be relied upon in the church. The church needs disciples exercising the gifts of service and speaking throughout the life of the church: one can host and/or lead a women’s bible study, while another in fellowship can prepare and serve coffee, while another can man the sound board for the praise and worship team while one counts the offerings to the church and another sets up and breaks down equipment or helps maintain church property—the point is that others are counting on you.
When we put ourselves in a position of being relied upon, we show up—week in and week out, ready or not. That’s accountability. That’s why weekly attendance and participation (Heb. 10:24-25) is so profitable. This community of faith is the place where real discipleship happens, or as one writer put it, the “long obedience in the same direction,” results in great dividends over time in body life.
My encouragement to young moms, or busy students, or stressed businessmen and workers, women is this: put yourself in a role that will require you to show up at your local church week after week. Don’t be a consumer-driven Christian, who just comes, sees, sings, listens, is fed a bit and goes.
Get off the sidelines and get in the game, or as we said last week in our message to our church with respect to manifesting spiritual gifts, get out of the shallow end of the pool and dive in the deep end.
Rather than sidelining activities that will feed your spiritual growth, put yourself at the very center of them. With both gratitude and humility, I see clearly that I owe my spiritual growth and current position of pastoral church leadership over the last two plus decades to the accountability and community of the local church. It all began with a call and answer to teach a Sunday school class.
Church is a place to come to serve and to be comforted. It’s a spiritual hospital and a place of shelter in the storms of life. Someone gave an equation that pictures it well: Gospel + safety + time. It’s what everyone needs. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.
Gospel: means good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit. Multiple exposures. Constant immersion. Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible. Are you in a church that gives that gospel?
Safety: a non-accusing environment. No embarrassing anyone. No manipulation. No oppression. No condescension. But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls. A church environment where no one seeking the Lord has anything to fear. Are you in a place like that?
Time: no pressure. Not even self-imposed pressure. No deadlines on growth. Urgency, but not hurry, or as we like to say, it’s not about your perfection, but direction because no one changes overnight. A lot of space for complicated people to repent and rethink their lives. God is patient.
This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time. It’s where we’re finally free to grow and should – using your gifts to help build up your church and yourself, no matter what your opinion might be on the diversity of the gifts. Amen?