I’ve often heard it said that the church does its best work during times of persecution. While I don’t completely agree with that, as cases can be made for the good the church has done in both persecution and peace, it does seem as though one area of church life thrived better under duress.
When Christians have to put their lives on the line for their faith, their unity grows stronger. Our comfortable lives and persecution-free church life makes it easy for us to be consumers when it comes to our congregational choices, and it gives us a lot less urgency to work out our differences.* If being a Christian could potentially cost us our lives, there wouldn’t be a movement of people who call themselves Christians but don’t want anything to do with a church. There wouldn’t be people who refuse to talk to Christians who preached the truth at the wrong lectureship. There wouldn’t be the well known practice of church hopping after personal disputes or a feeling that the church wasn’t doing enough to cater to them. There wouldn’t be disputes and divisiveness over inconsequential biblical disagreements. With life or death on the line, the first thing we would do is bind ourselves to those who have put on Christ in baptism with us.
But we don’t have to be in such desperate times to have that unity. That unity happens wherever we create it, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that thousands of Christians across the country are continually working to create that atmosphere. Sometimes I get so caught up in writing articles aimed at solving the problems I see in my own life and in the church in general that I forget to give thanks for the great blessing that the church is. As Jesus reminded His disciples repeatedly in John 15, loving each other is one of our greatest duties, and that’s not possible if all we’re doing is complaining or thinking negatively about the church.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (and chapter 4 in particular) shows us this exact same progression of ideas. It is necessary for us to grow and look for the things we aren’t doing or need to do better, because we’re all called upon to contribute to the church and maintain our unity together as we walk in Christ’s footsteps. Paul sums up that discussion of each member’s role in 4:17, where he shows us the point of all of this study and growth from each individual – because it builds up the whole body in love. Yes, we need to keep looking for ways to grow, to keep writing, reading, and sharing articles, books, and sermons on ways in which we can do better, but we’re not doing all that merely for the sake of self-improvement. It’s so we can share the love of Christ with the local church.
It’s as a member of the church that you will find some of the best people you will ever meet. It’s where you will find the people who have the same goals as you – glorifying God and reaching heaven with Him. It’s where you will come into contact with the people who can share in your struggles and help you overcome them. Sure, we can get frustrated with each other or disagree on the finer points of biblical interpretation here or there, but please don’t forget that God brings us together because we need each other. Even in times when we do find ourselves at odds with a Christian brother or sister, we should thank God for them and do everything in our power to continue working together with them for the Gospel (Romans 12:18, Ephesians 4:1-3).
You may not live in a time or place where you will ever face persecution like the early church did, but that doesn’t mean you won’t face your struggles and battles throughout life. In a different sense, we do face life and death issues every day, and the only place we’re going to find people who know what we’re facing is in the church. Always remember that you’re not alone. With Christ as the head of the church to give the perfect example of what love is, He created the church so we could find that love through one another. We need to rely on that love, and we need to spread that love to others so that we can “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
*(Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about going separate ways over a major doctrinal departure.)
By Jack Wilkie