Members of One Another
Your view of your individuality will shape your understanding – and therefore expectations (and contribution to!) – of what church is.
We live in a day where the almost overwhelming message is one of individualism. Be your best self. You only live once. Be happy. Every trendy cliché has, at its root, self as champion. We are self-absorbed by nature, pre-occupied with me, myself and I.
Individualism is defined as “the principle or habit of or belief in independent thought or action. The pursuit of individual rather than common or collective interests; egoism…”
I was struck this morning by a phrase you can easily miss in Ephesians 4:25 – ‘you are members of each other’. Other translations lose the impact of Paul’s words by interpreting it as ‘members on one body’. Members of each other.
Most Christians know that when we are born again, we enter into a community of believers. We quickly rationalize that to mean we join a local church and muck in with whatever they’re doing as mission and ministry. Very often that means we meet together once per week on a Sunday and one or two further times during the week for some kind of activity. Our individualist mindset allows us to chunk church life into small sections which we engage with and then leave. Truth be told, our sense of individualism is scarce impacted by the new community we attend.
Maybe that’s the problem – we attend. Paul’s communication to the Ephesians is vastly more about belonging than attending. Being and continually becoming a part of – connected to – rather than sitting alongside.
The bible’s teaching about the community we enter through faith in Jesus – our mystical conection to other believers - should profoundly affect the way we relate to others in the church, our commitment to them and our concern for them.
Members of each other.
It is worth taking the time to consider that through faith in Jesus, a supernatural connection exists between members of the one body, members of one another, the church. Early church fathers saw dimensions of church that we often miss. In AD325 the Nicene Creed captured the belief in “…one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”. That’s not the Roman Catholic Church, it means the church universal and beyond time.
That helps us to see that we’re part of something bigger than our parochial view – ‘I’m part of this church or that church’ – permits. It doesn’t, however, square the circle of individualism and the church.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage the Romans to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn’, he wasn’t foreseeing a masterclass in empathy. He wasn’t suggesting they envisage themselves in the shoes of the one rejoicing or suffering and try to conjure up an appropriate response. He was addressing the proximity of relationships between members. We could understand his words to mean ‘be so close in your relationships that whether celebration or suffering is the experience of another, you respond like it were your own.’
That challenges our understanding of church. Profoundly.
We can’t do that; we can’t expect those types of relationship whilst holding tightly to our sense of individuality. To become part of someone else’s life, and to allow them to become part of mine means I have to be willing to lose part (often a large part) of ‘me’ in order to become a part of a more glorious ‘us’. It means letting go of things that may be precious to me but a stumbling block to you. It means foregoing my preference for the sake of yours. It means adopting the mindset of decreasing rather than personal increasing. If we all did that, then surely Jesus would increase in his church?
Imagine if the Apostle Paul was brought in as a consultant to assess the state of the Western church. What would he see? What would he conclude? Do you think our modern understanding of church lines up with the one we see on the pages of the New Testament? Do our relationships with one another echo those modelled for us in the early centuries of church life? I fear not, and whilst there are likely many reasons, I suspect that rampant individualism contributes significantly.
Friend, you are not only a member of a local church, or even the universal church, but a member of the others in that church. Because of this connectedness, what you and I do matters. It impacts others.
When I take communion knowing a particular relationship is not right, I harm you.
When you choose the ease of bed on Sunday mornings, you rob me of fellowship.
When I speak harshly about you, I wound you even if you don’t hear it.
When you criticise me in private, you harm me in ways we don’t easily see or understand.
Why? Because we’re members of each other. Like it or not.
Understanding our connectedness in this way ought to affect our conduct and relationship. When we see ourselves as part of one another, it should challenge our willingness to part company over trivial differences and disagreements. It should raise the intensity of our battle for unity. It should shape how we approach Lord’s Supper, speak about one another, fellowship with one another and myriad other day-to-day realities. We’re members of each other. This truth should change our lived experience.
We have a lot to learn about Christian community. We have much to learn about being connected to other believers through the blood of Jesus, but what do you say we make a start? How about we commit to each other rather than commit to meeting with each other? It won’t be easy. It won’t be disappointment or pain-free, but would it be worth it if it was? Probably not.
You and I We must decrease so that Jesus increases. Let’s go!
Soli Deo Gloria