Church life can be messy. Any time you put sinners together—even redeemed sinners—there’s bound to be some friction. Sadly, many churches feel more like a war zone than a refuge. Much of the problem stems from our unwillingness to exercise the undervalued virtue of deference, what Colossians 3:13 calls “bearing with one another.” Conservative Christians have learned to fight for the faith. And we must! But we haven’t learned to not fight over issues that are clearly not related to the faith, whether opinions or preferences, traditions or novelties. Frankly, we too often fight for turf, not truth.
In the middle of church conflict, it’s easy to forget that the church is one of God’s great gifts to us. He has given us Christ. He has given us His Spirit. He has given us His Word. But He has also given us the church. God knows that Christians need one another. While we often speak of our “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” the New Testament speaks regularly of our “corporate relationship with Jesus Christ.” Indeed, it speaks incessantly of our relationships with each other, commanding us to love one another, honor one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and so on. The same gospel that united us to Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10) united us to Christians (Ephesians 2:11-22). We forget what a blessing it is to travel with fellow pilgrims as we live out our faith in a hostile world.
We too often fight for turf, not truth.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has reminded me of the privilege that is mine to be associated with a local church. He provides much-needed perspective. You think your church is frustrating? Imagine having no church! Listen to Bonhoeffer’s classic book on true fellowship, Life Together, mindful that he was eventually imprisoned for his faith:
“It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing…. The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”
There are believers all over the world who would love to gather with your assembly, despite the decor that embarrasses you, or the songs you don’t like, or the length of the sermon. Gathering with other believers to worship, to learn, and to fellowship is a joy. It is a privilege. It is a gift of God’s grace. God forgive us for taking it for granted!