Our little 7-month-old dachshund Chloe has an appointment at the vet today to be spayed…she’s alone there. Our 13-month-old dachshund Klaus is at the house…by himself. These two are virtually never more than a couple of rooms apart, and that is only if Klaus feels the need to bark out the front window as Chloe settles in for a nap. Our two dogs have built a livelihood together; they belong together.
I feel bad for Klaus at home by himself today. To my recollection, he and Chloe have not been apart for the greater part of a day in the four months that we have had her. Dachshunds are renowned for their bouts with separation anxiety whenever their masters leave them behind. I think it is probably even worse for Klaus with Chloe gone all day. And, befittingly, today it’s raining…
I have pinpointed community as the key missing ingredient in the youth ministry that I lead. More broadly, it seems to be the missing piece in our church. As a church, we are doctrinally sound. Orthodoxy is a bit of an obsession here. With the youth, it has been my aim to teach what is true, right, and fitting. We are not edgy or novel; we tend to shy away from those things. And yet, all is not right.
Community. Fellowship. Belonging. In a word, Love. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul says that he would forfeit the gifts of tongues, prophecy, immense knowledge of the mystical, powerful faith, well-place generosity, and the honor of self-sacrifice for the sake of love. 13:9-13 identifies love as the supreme characteristic of the believer. Prophecy, knowledge, and tongues will fade, but love never endure. Faith and hope are good, but love is better. When perfection arrives, hope will be fulfilled and faith will finally become sight, but love will continue.
In the One “body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God/Father of all” passage of Ephesians 4:1-6 we are exhorted with all humility, gentleness, patience, and loving tolerance to be dilligent in preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Each of these attributes are relational terms. Humility defines the way one person should view himself in light of another. Gentleness is the manner in which we should treat one another. Patience and tolerance describe the way we should bear with each other’s slowness, tardiness, and failures. Peace is the relational status between believers–the absence of strife or competition. None of these terms make sense for a person living in isolation. An underlying assumption of New Testament ecclesiology is that we live in community with each other. Why is it important that there is one Body or one Spirit? There is to be unity of heart and mind even as there is diversity of personality, affinity, and gifting. What does it mean that there is just one faith and one baptism? We are saved by faith, but not by a “whatever you want to believe is fine and dandy” kind of faith. One specific faith. A while-we-were-still-dead-in-our-transgressions-Christ-died-for-us kind of faith. We are baptized into one Body, belonging to one Lord and one God. The Body of Christ is not a loose confederation of ambiguous, diverse worldviews and systems of belief. It is a very closely bound, tightknit community of like-minded believers.
We belong to each other.
Just as my dachshunds ache when they are apart, so too we should ache when the members of our bodies are out of joint with each other. It would very much pain me if you tore my forearm away from elbow. Fracturing the vertebrae of the spinal cord can be fatal. The body is first of all cohesive. It belongs first of all to itself. My church is not the only one missing this. Why is the isolation of believers so normative in church life today? Where is fellowship and accountability? For instance, take a moment to picture yourself sharing the gospel with someone. Are you by yourself or is there another believer with you? Think back to the last bout of temptation you experienced. Were you alone or did you engage this with a brother alongside you? If you stumble today, will anyone else be directly affected, outside of perhaps your spouse? If you suffer today, will anyone be suffering alongside you? Will you be bolstering the weakness of another with your strength? 2 Corinthians 8:14 says, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” Does this even make any sense in your life? Does it make any in mine? We belong to each other. There is one body, one Spirit. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.