By Ward Shope
Recently, in consecutive church membership interviews, Kevin and I addressed the question, “Why should a believer officially join the church?” Why indeed!
As a true introvert, I get along alarmingly well with myself. Recently Debbie needed to be away for a family matter for a number of days. During that period, even I was amazed at my own self-sufficiency. Being a fairly structured person, which has long been the butt of family humor – and living with a rather structured dog, Chico – life was like clockwork. From the scheduled minute I arose to the planned moment of extinguishing my light, Chico and I were like a hand in glove. Never a surprise, never a misstep. Just a Bach fugue-like existence, harmoniously working our way through each day. When God says in Genesis 2, “It is not good for the man to be alone”, I am tempted to ask “Why?” I tend to agree with Henry Higgins that I am so wonderfully agreeable with myself.
To some of you, this sounds like death. And honestly, I did miss Debbie and was eager to have her back home. But life seems so easy, and I’m so sinless by myself when there’s no one around. Or rather, where there’s no relationship to be negotiated – apart from the structured pet – sin is so attractively hidden.
But for some counterintuitive reason, the apostle Paul instinctively and immediately gathers the believers who have come to faith together to form the church. One of his favorite metaphors for the church is the body, emphasizing how much we need all of the members to truly be what Christ means for us to be. And this despite all the trouble we cause each other – hypocrite to hypocrite, stumbling and causing others to stumble as we drunkenly stagger in our attempts at Kingdom work with and sometimes against one another. It’s all a lot of work for something that’s supposed to be so beautiful. Why does the Spirit strive so hard against our natures to bring unity, love, joy, peace and all of rest of it? Why not just leave us alone?
Because every once in a while, sobriety hits us. We actually do love each other! We actually see God do something eternal through us. The vulnerable are protected; the sinner repents; the culture is changed; the kingdom takes shape – even in us and among us! I can truly say that I have never done anything ultimately and eternally worthwhile apart from being in relationship with others in Christ. I could never become more like Christ on my own, or participate however insignificantly in the burgeoning faith of another on my own (though such work is always significant). Christ can never be honored only on my own.
And that’s partly because God is never on His own. He lives in community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And if we are ever to reflect the image of God in our lives, it will always be in community relationship and never just on our own. He is the vine. We are the branches and his sweet cluster of grapes.