I’ve been engaged in an absolutely fascinating exchange with a a fellow believer this week who has been doing an excellent job of “iron sharpening iron” as we discuss the invariable disconnect between our confession of faith and our profession/practice of faith. I’m not going to go into great detail about that conversation, but rather, would prefer to share a few thoughts that have been percolating through my brain as I contemplate the nature of this disconnect, and how the church has been called to attempt to resolve that paradox in the community into which she has been placed.
First of all, it is important to note that there will always be an element of frustration with our ability, as humans, to as the old adage says, “practice what we preach.” Galatians 5:17 reminds us that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things that you want to do”. Extending this individual issue to the church context reminds us that church here on this earth can never be perfect, since the issues that a local church faces are simply the aggregation of the individual battles in the lives of each of the believers who constitute its parts.
However, the same passage tells us that we cannot be content with this as the status quo, and simply living life knowing that this paradox is playing out without attempting to correct it is not the answer. Simultaneously, verse 13 and 14 remind us that we are to serve one another in love, loving our neighbour as ourselves, and avoiding biting and devouring one another, leaving a fine line for us to walk between acceptance and criticism. Rather, we should be working as a body of believers to restore each other (Gal 6:1), and support each other actively, not passively (Gal 6:2).
The key to this paradox is found in Gal 6:4 – “Let each one test his own work” – if each of us are committed to making the cross of Christ the means through which we have been crucified to the world and the world to us (Gal 6:14), we will focus on building up the body of Christ- knowing that we complement each other’s weaknesses and can fill in the gaps in each other’s lives.
When we do this, we can get closer to that state of “church” that we desire:
Francis Schaeffer, in his book The Church Before the Watching World, page 62, wrote this:
One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.
Centering our lives on the gospel and the centrality of the cross will bring us to orthodoxy of doctrine. The reality of our community can only be achieved by building each other up in love- recognizing that real community is messy, dirty and at times, not a whole lot of fun. Shaaeffer’s quotation is a timely reminder that when there is a discrepancy between our confession and our profession, we are called to exhibit “the love of God” in practice.
The sum of our ability to love as God has loved, evidencing that we have been born of God and that we know God, will be the building blocks through which our churches can be transformed, one life at a time