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“To the church in…” suggests unity as opposed to exclusion

Posted by on Sep 24, 2009 in blog links, members, scripture, unity | 9 comments

I love that line. “‘To the church in…’ suggests unity as opposed to exclusion.” I stole that line from my friend Eric (from “A Pilgrim’s Progress“) in his post “To the Church in…” In part of the article, Eric says:

As I have read Paul’s letters over the years, I have pictured him writing to a local body. In particular, I have pictured those who are in the church (of some city) to the exclusion of those who aren’t in the church. I suppose I was inadvertently taking the modern view of church membership and placing it upon those churches. For example, I was picturing Paul writing to the members of the church in Rome, while not writing to those who were not members.

As I read Paul’s letters today, I think the apostle was emphasizing something else when he wrote, “To the church in…” Paul was making it clear that he was writing to ALL the saved people/followers of Jesus/Christians who happened to reside in a particular city. Paul had no aim of excluding any Christian from hearing the letter, but was simply addressing it to those who were in the church body in a particular geographic region…

This ought to make us think about how we view the church. If Paul wrote to all the Christians in an area, it is clear that he considered them ALL to be part of the church. Paul did not make the universal/local distinction that we tend to make in the modern church. If Paul saw, for example, all the Christians in a city as part of the church of that city, that should inform us as we think about issues of unity and membership.

I agree, Eric. When “membership” becomes exclusionary, it is also divisive and it also becomes unscriptural. Great post!


9 Comments

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  1. 9-24-2009

    Alan,

    Thanks for the link. My goal now is to live this out to the best of my ability.

    As I think back on my time in seminary, I realize that we spent a great deal of time talking about how different we Baptists were from other Christians. Why was there so much talk about division?

    I now want to talk much more about my unity in Christ with other Jesus-followers. Christ certainly isn’t divided; why should His church be?

  2. 9-24-2009

    What might it look like to theologically cluster in local congregations while maintaining a sense of city church?

    Is it primarily a mental perspective or are there behaviors that ought to accompany the perspective?

  3. 9-24-2009

    In our new community we have a statement of faith – Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. I really didn’t want to have one and have never talked about it…but we have them. I’m seeking to be as INCLUSIVE (I know that is a politically charged word and would be OPEN to other suggestions:) as possible. What will mark us out, I pray, is loving others as Christ loved us.

    I think most would agree that political divisions can be overcome in “the church”. What would break us though? Theological Issues (inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, etc.)? Particular stances on moral issues (homosexuality / abortion)? Is it possible to hold to a very simple “creed” and be ONE BODY with very divergent theological, political, moral views?

  4. 9-24-2009

    Amen, Eric!

  5. 9-24-2009

    Eric,

    I agree that much in seminary tends to encourage division instead of unity.

    Laura and franklin,

    I think there is more than a mental perspective required. I think there should be some form of fellowship at some level. But, before we can have any kind of fellowship, we have to learn to accept one another in spite of our differences. Romans 14-15 could help us with this.

  6. 9-25-2009

    Good post, and good insight, Eric. Jesus nailed our petty doctrinal differences to the cross some two thousand years ago. Many years ago I attended a fundamentalist Baptist church that emphasized their tradition as superior to all others. B.S. Doctrines of demons! Is Christ divided? We will be one body when we realize that the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient, and when love is the only commandment.

  7. 9-25-2009

    Alan,

    I agree wholeheartedly. Working at a non-denominational university and attending a non-denominational seminary has taught me an important lesson: Baptists have not cornered the market on God’s truth.

    After sticking my foot in it too many times to recount, I’m learning how to listen and work to understand the other person’s perspective: strengthening or correcting my own in the process. I’m not there yet, but the journey has certainly begun.

    As for the level for such fellowship, I think it is imperative for the city church, at the least.

  8. 9-25-2009

    Tracey,

    BS Doctrines of demons… I laughed at that. When we learn to accept one another as God accepts us in Christ, I think we’ll begin to understand what it means to be the church.

    Laura,

    You may be interested in a “chain blog” that we did a little over a year ago concerning City Church. You can find a link to the first post here: “City Church – A Chain Blog“.

    -Alan

  9. 9-25-2009

    Alan,

    Thanks for the link. I will certainly check that out, as the more I ponder, the more interested in the topic (and the reality) I become.

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