Friday, February 01, 2008

Reaction 2: Isolation

Proverbs 18:1 “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”

There is no such thing as a perfect church before glory, because Christians are not yet perfect (Phil 3:12). This is a representation of the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” of the Christian life. True believers are made perfect in Christ, yet they are being made perfect (Heb 10:14). Even a church that practices a “regenerate church membership” has to recognize that despite their best attempt to maintain a believer’s church some folks will not truly be believers, and those that are have not been fully sanctified. Despite the sin we all commit Christians are called to live in a community with other believers.

One of the other reactions that I have seen to the problems that sin creates in local churches is to isolate from the church. The temptation is to isolate from a visible local community of believers. In order to show the kingdom of God to the world we are to be a city on a hill, a light to the world (Matt 5:14). I know its basic, but a city is composed of people with relationships. Here’s a natural example of what I am trying to point out. One of the problems in our society today is that people try to live in isolation within cities. Many cities simply do not have a concept of community. Christ’s disciples are called to redeem what true community looks like, and they will show Jesus Christ to the world by the way that they love one another publicly (John 13:34-35). It seems that we are somehow to make the relationships that we have among other believers public! It’s a commandment from Christ for us to love fellow Christians (1 John 4:20). If we don’t we simply may not be true Christians. If we want to live obediently to what the Bible teaches we would see that it is really a book about relationships: God within the Trinity, God and man, husband and wife, parent and child, friends, employer and employee, brother and sister (biologically and in Christ). However, relationships are difficult.

Relationships are one of the means by which God sanctifies us (Ecc 4:12). At the same time it is through relationships that God displays his glory to the world. My pastor wrote about a conversation that he had with a friend that worked for a campus Christian ministry years ago:
“He would always slip in right after the hymns, sit there for the sermon, and then leave. I asked him one day why he didn’t come for the whole service. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I don’t get anything out of the rest of it.’ ‘Have you ever thought about joining the church?’ [Mark] responded. He thought that was just an absurd comment. He said, ‘why would I join the church? If I join them, I think they would just slow me down spiritually.’ [Mark] asked, ‘Have you ever considered that maybe God wants you to link arms with those other people, and that perhaps even though they might slow you down a little, you might help to speed them up - and that that’s part of God’s plan for how we’re supposed to live as Christians together?’” [Dever, Mark, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 155-156]

One examples of this reaction of isolation, which I can remember from my own life, was from my English teacher in my freshman year of high school. I remembered praying with our church for his family (when we were members of that church), but I couldn’t ever remember seeing him at the church meetings. I knew that they were members of the church, though. So one day I caught him in the halls at school and asked him if he was still a member of that church and if he still did not attend. He replied, “Yes.” I asked him why he never went and he told me that He did not believe that he needed to go to church to be a Christian. Further, he also said that he felt that he could worship God better by himself in the presence of God’s creation.

At the time I remember thinking, “Good enough.” Now, though, I can see how this view could be detrimental to a Christian walk. Yeah, you don’t have to attend a fellowship of believers to be a Christian, but you must ask yourself if you are truly a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ if you do not. How can you love God whom you cannot see if you cannot love your brother whom you can see (1 John 4:20)? “God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone (Gen 2:18).’” I know that your thinking, “But, that verse is saying that Adam should not be without a wife.” Well, yeah, but this passage is setting up a general biblical principle that humans need help. We need other people to help point us to Scripture, and we need people to help us identify sin in our lives. You cannot do this Christian life alone. Mankind is not meant to live in isolation. I have quoted this before, but it’s worth repeating:
“Separation from the church is the denial of God and Christ. Hence, we must even more avoid so wicked separation. For when with all our might we are attempting to overthrow of God’s truth, we deserve to have him hurl the whole thunderbolt of his wrath to crush us…Therefore, those who more boldly than others incite defection from the church…have for the most part no other reason than by their contempt of all to show they are better than others….For because God willed that the communion of his church be maintained in this outward society, he who out of hatred of the wicked breaks the token of that society treads a path that slopes to fall from the communion of saints.” [Calvin, John, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 1024-25 & 1030-31.]

If you are not happy with the music, the relationships, the structure, etc. of your church that doesn’t mean you should live in isolation. This is not a solution to the problems in churches. Join one that most closely reflects your biblical convictions and be a blessing to that congregation. If you do not want to be a part of a fellowship of believers ask yourself why. Then ask yourself how you might go about changing this.

1 comment:

Mitzi said...

I stayed away from church for many years for two reasons. One, I couldn't find one that was even close to being what I felt a church should be. Commercialization and perverted doctrines were unacceptable to me. Secondly, I had a lot of personal issues with my own character and I was truly afraid I would taint an assembly with my presence.

By the grace of God, he helped me overcome those character issues to the point that I felt I cools be around other Christians without causing them to stumble. He also led me to a little assembly of spiritually mature Christians. Though I do not agree with two of their tenants, I try to overlook it and go with the attitude of being a blessing. I try not to attract attention to myself and so far have not been questioned about my beliefs. In fact, I am very isolated as a Christian. My family wants me to shut up about God, as well ad my co-workers and the people in the church, though loving and kind, show little interest in me at all.

Its okay though, I am not there for myself anyway. I have 3 people in my life that I can talk about God to, and I try to stay in close contact with them. I'm trying to form new relationships in this assembly but I think they have all been together so long that they dont trust newcomers.

I have a strong aversion to gossip & I refuse to be contentious or divisive among believers. The hand of God is heavy on me to share the gospel with everyone and that brings a lot of adverse reactions from people, but I must tell them. Please pray for me. Also please forgive typos as I am writing on a cell phone.