And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
I’ve not been actively reading other blogs the last two weeks, so I came to Jared Wilson’s Gospel-Driven Church blog a week after his post “The Hard Stuff of Real Lives.” It’s a tough read because he asks whose fault it is (and why) when people fall away.
Go ahead, read the whole thing. It’s deep enough that it drew me out of my temporary hiatus to post this.
One of my great concerns about the Christian blogosphere is that it’s heavy on the vertical. By that I mean it emphasizes faith and doctrine almost exclusively. Hang around the Godblogosphere long enough and watch Christianity become a mental exercise. If only you think the right things you’ll have faith and be successful in Christ.
But that’s not true. Or should I say it’s only partly true.
Yes, we need to have the right kind of vertical relationship with God. And what you hear mentioned as the cure on most Christian blogs—and in most churches, BTW—is that learning, receiving solidly-biblical preaching, praying, and so on will build your faith. And it will.
But it simply is not enough.
You can’t read the Bible and not catch the horizontal element of Christianity. When the lawyer puts Jesus to the test, the Lord comes back with the well-known “love God and love your neighbor” answer as the fulfillment of what it means to be a Christian.
What bothers me, though, is that we have emphasized the “love God” part to the detriment of the “love your neighbor” part. Yet Christianity can’t exist if we fracture Faith and what I call Family. The Faith portion we understand, but Family is just as important. That Family exists as the community of believers and those not yet believers. In other words, the people we see around us every day are Family.
Now the Bible makes it very clear that we Christians owe it to our fellow Christians to look after their needs first. Outside the Family of God, believers have a responsibility to the unbeliever in sharing Christ’s compassion and His Gospel. But for us already in the Church, we are a first line of defense for each other because that’s how God operates in His Church.
The Lord set up His Church so that I have a responsibility to watch your back just as you have a responsibility to watch mine. That may sound like some gung-ho military mantra, but we ARE in a war, a spiritual one, and God has made it clear that we are a Body, not an Army of One. We are to maintain a deep, horizontal relationship with each other that mirrors our vertical relationship with God. In fact, the Scriptures say that a person who claims to love God but does not love his brother actually cannot love God at all. Sad to say, this awful pronouncement afflicts a large portion of the Church in this country because of the hyper-individualism we’ve embraced as self-sufficient Christians.
I recently read the book Deep Economy by Bill McKibben, and he emphasized that industrialism, as it is based on machines that eliminate human labor, had the side-effect of destroying our reliance on each other. Community is built when we labor side-by-side. Today though, many of us work in environments designed to eliminate community (cubicles, anyone?) I’ve said this for years at this blog: we have underestimated the cost to our communities (Family) by living the way we do. We must change, especially in the Church, if we’re to satisfy the horizontal requirement of loving our neighbor.
Now to the meat…
Wilson touches on community at the very end of his post, but I wish to take it a few steps further. When we see people in the Church go down for the count, who lose their faith, who fail in discipleship, our natural inclination is to comment on the depth of their faith. And I think that’s an evil response.
Why? Because the Bible tells us that faith can’t exist in a relational vacuum. It has to exist in a community. When Jesus tells us to do two things that give life, those two are to love God (Faith) and love our neighbor (Family). When I see people get trampled on the road of discipleship, almost every time, they’ve been abandoned. They may claim that God abandoned them, but I would contend that it wasn’t God. It was the Church who walked away and left them to die.
I’ll go so far as to say that not a person reading this would last more than a year or two in his or her faith if left totally alone. That’s for a reason, folks! God wired the Body to be a Body. I shouldn’t have to quote the relevant Scriptures here, but we act like we don’t know them, do we?
What then happens to the abandoned person when the time of testing comes? What happens when the Church looks the other way rather than get involved in the messiness of someone else’s life?
My own Mom was there at people’s doorsteps in the wake of tragedy. People found comfort in her ministrations. She got it. She understood the Gospel.
But when she was terminally ill, did anyone from her church come by? Hardly. What a sad, sad lesson I learned during that time. And when my Dad died unexpectedly in the middle of Mom’s protracted demise, all sorts of people at his funeral shook my Mom’s and our hands and told us that they would do anything we asked of them. But when we actually had “the nerve” to take them up on their offers, they fled faster than roaches when the light goes on.
And therein lies the problem.
Who’s willing to walk with a soul-sick, hurting person to the extent necessary for healing to come in God’s timing? Who? We’re too busy adjusting our 401k investments, aren’t we? We’re too busy slaving so we can buy more junk we don’t need, stuff that blinds us to the reality of the Kingdom of God! And then, when that abandoned person goes down for the count, we say, “Well, I guess he didn’t have enough faith!” Or, “Well, he was deceived!” Or “He must not have been a Christian in the first place because he didn’t last.”
Why don’t we ever turn around and ask, “Just how were we there for him in his dark days?” Why don’t we ever ask ourselves where our faith was to lay down our selfish lives so a person who needed us to walk alongside could have the full benefit of our time?
See, we don’t want to ask that question. It demands too much. It may mean we reconsider the entire way we live. In the end, it’s easier to question someone else’s faith than to confront our own indifference toward others.
One last confession and then I’ll end this.
Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve made it a practice to write an e-mail now and then to check on some of the bloggers whose blogs I regularly read. I ask how they’re doing and if I can pray for needs.
I’ve not been prepared for the results of that tiny effort. Without exception, I hear back that the blogger is in the midst of a dire need and their church just looks the other way. Without exception. Not one exception to my asking in all the time I’ve been doing this. I hear stories that would kill you of bloggers in desperate need who are left to twist in the wind because their church didn’t lift one finger to help them. In many cases, their church actually worked to make their situation more difficult! Yet those churches will preach and preach and preach “the Gospel” but never at any point actually show it in practice.
How damnable is that? Pretty damn damnable, if you ask me. Who wants to have Romans 8:28 quoted to them while their brothers and sisters in Christ sit around with the God-given resources to help make all things work together for good, yet do nothing?
Vertical and horizontal—that’s how God made us to function. Faith and Family work together in synergy. Love of God only works if we love our neighbor. If we’re not prepared to stand by the person struggling with her faith, then we need to acknowledge that we failed to be Christians when that person needed us the most.
We may preach and prophesy. We may cast out demons. We may think great theological thoughts and expound mightily on the nature of Christian belief. But if we don’t love our neighbor as ourself, all our religiosity is so much dung. We may point fingers at the person who couldn’t finish the race, but in the end, what good is our own faith if we wind up as goats to whom the Lord says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
What is it going to take to get us to understand this foundational truth?
15 thoughts on “Why We Need Each Other…”
I see two sides to this coin, however, the coin itself is intimacy. Out of our fear of intimacy we throw up barriers/defences to keep people in their proper, comfortable place. It is our fear and the other’s fear that prevent community/intimacy from happening. I’ve reached out to have my hand slapped. I’ve made efforts to move in a person’s direction and experienced no reciprocation and then have them blame me for not doing enough. This sort of borderline behavior prevents them and us from having intimacy.
I agree wholeheartedly with your post. But to me, the real issue is confronting our own fear of intimacy, that is, pushing beyound our comfort zone into unconditional love with others. Valuing others as much as Jesus did. *Valuing* as an active verb. It is through real circumstances – the tests of faith – that we model intimacy to those in need and become the salt and light in our communities.
Amen Dan. I didn’t get into things in the last email that have totally been going on, as I know your dealing with life too… but add me to that list of people who need horizontal family. It’s been difficult not having the connections… I’ve had to reach out elsewhere out of necessity…
Still praying man.
Recently, you mentioned a real problem in your life that you didn’t describe, and we don’t need to know what it is. Although I don’t know you personally and likely never will, just know that you and your family are in my prayers tonight.
Thanks for bringing Jared’s powerful post to my attention and for taking time out to blog during this challenging time for you.
Your post reminds me of the simple and profound words of the Apostle John:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:10-12, 19-21)
I think there’s something in human nature (even with the extroverts) that hides from intimacy and relationship. We’re built to relate but naturally (and sinfully) recoil from it. Unfortunately that protective “instinct” becomes a habitual defense mechanism especially when we have been hurt by those we expected to love us and be there for us (i.e., the church).
For example, my wife and I have dealt with her having a chronic illness for 8 years and have experienced the response of the Church at two extremes. One being, “you could get healed of this if you just had enough faith” (Charismatic) and the other, “this is God’s sovereign will for you–and it’s not about you, you know (Reformed)”. But all we have wanted is just someone to say, “We’re sorry you’re dealing with this; we love you and we’re praying for you. Is there anything we can do to help?” Now we have certainly had many people who have been kind and thoughtful and prayerful towards us. But my wife has also had to deal with people simply not believing that she’s really sick– just because doesn’t have an illness that is life-threatening, like cancer. We have watched recently as a family dealing with cancer in our church gets prayed for and helped week after week, but we don’t even get asked how we’re doing. And yet my wife’s illness has been as debilitating and life-altering as other serious illnesses, perhaps even more so because it’s been so long. Certainly I don’t begrudge our church reaching out in love to this woman with cancer–but why is it just the dramatic cases that seem to get all the attention? My wife really has had to check her bitterness over this.
I also know that it’s easy for me to hide behind words and talk in the abstract and yet somehow never really connect with others because I’m not exposing my real self, often out of fear of being judged. As one who has been moving into a reformed theological outlook on life, I don’t want my Reformed theology to become merely a means by which I become puffed up in knowledge, argumentative and conceited (unfortunately Calvinists have this reputation, as I’m sure you know). Rather I’m trying to establish a sound doctrinal foundation that will fan my passion for God and for souls and for loving God and others in actions.
But sound doctrine must be wedded with the rough and dangerous but rewarding road of real community. We need a religion that is real, man. Not a lifestyle built upon a false picture (follow Jesus and you get heaven on earth) but something that’s real and profound enough to meet people in their deepest hurts.
Thanks for being honest on this blog. You’re in my prayers.
There are so many conversations taking place regarding this matter. Thank you all for speaking out about it. Jesus commanded us to love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples. He prayed that that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. Alex, my wife has had cancer for over twenty years and people just get tired of it. She has not been healed and so that fact is uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit the mold. I will pray for you, your wife and for more to care and act. God bless his people.
I can’t see how anyone can have a strong relationship with God without having a strong relationship with those around them. It seems to me that truly being in Christ would result in being Christ to others. It’s the essence of love. If one does not love others, then one does not have a strong vertical relationship with God.
This has been a sobering 15 minutes for me. Sure I know these things, but I needed that kick in the spiritual butt (I know I have one beacause I FEEL it).
How can I help you? Specifically? Really? Now?
As much as I hate to say it, it seems every time I turn around, I find someone who’s been told to leave their church or left because the Gospel was no longer being preached. One couple was invited to leave because of their association with people who dared question the installation of an Episcopal priest who’d lied to the search commitee about his belief in the Nicene creed. Another couple was treated shabbily because their son had dared to come out of the closet. Still another got into it with the music ministry director and was invited to leave. But this is nothing new. Pat Boone relates how he was excommunicated from his church because he’d been baptised in the Holy Spirit. The spirit of persecution ruled (and nearly destroyed) Europe for at least 400 years. The French Revolution finally ended the 300+ years persecution of the Waldeneses of the French Alps, deemed heretics by the Catholic Church and nearly wiped out by supporters of the Inquisition. Had God not provided a safe haven in Switzerland, the Waldenses would have suffered complete genocide.
I don’t know what’s worse…….the church persecuting its own or ignoring its own. I heard from my great-nephew who went on a missions trip to Biloxi early this summer that the same wreckage from Katrina still dominates many coastal communities two years later. Whether one believes people ought to be allowed to rebuild in these areas or not, this is a disgrace.
Sorry, I suppose I shouldn’t be ranting, but if this is the face of mainline Christianity today, I don’t blame God for using militant Islam to slap us in the face. Unfortunately I don’t think many will heed the wake up call. God used the pagan nations to discipline Israel any number of times as recorded in the OT, so we are fools if we think we are in any way exempt.
I think this ties in with your recent “busyness” post as well. People have so much on their plates, they simply don’t have time to reach out and help others, or think they don’t. Organized living has nearly become a god, one that is jealous of a life that doesn’t fit into a daily agenda. People with chronic problems in particular, health or otherwise, don’t fit neatly into this organizational scheme and can’t be put on a schedule leading to desired outcomes, so they are tossed aside. We want our faith to lead to the great American success story and don’t want to admit that God’s successes and the worldly view of success are hardly the same.
I think my daughter said it all in a discussion I had with her a few years ago after she attended the local Youth for Christ group several times. The group consisted of mostly nice, motivated, decent kids; the kind of kids you want your kids to hang out with. After a while, though, she lost interest in it. When questioned why, her response was that there was no sense of including the “less fortunate” or “bad” kids in the group, of reaching out to those most in need. When I wanted to know more, to understand, her reply was that “They are too busy being wonderful to bother with those that aren’t”.
I was recently tagged to choose 7 blogs to award for being positive and inspiring. This blog is among my picks. Thanks, and keep it up!