“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3 v 18
This verse has been on my mind a lot recently for I think it does a good job of summing up one of the failures of my own walk with God and, if I can be so bold as to generalise, the church as a whole. We know that the essence of Christianity is love: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13v13) and we know the summary of all of God’s commandments: “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22 v 37 – 39). And yet when push comes to shove then we are not very good at loving others.
Oh, we are very good with loving with words and speech! It is easy to say “I’ll pray for you”, it is also pretty easy to actually pray, but if that’s all we ever do for our friends then we’ve missed the glaring point of Christian love. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for encouraging words, promises to pray, a cheerful word, a reminder of a bible verse, these are good and we should overflow with them. But if that’s the extent of our love then we have a problem. And that problem is that we are not truly loving.
Take the Lord Jesus Christ, he doesn’t just say he loves us, he doesn’t just pray for us, he doesn’t just give many encouraging promises to us (though he does all these things), Jesus also died for us. You can’t get more nitty gritty practical than that. As John writes a few verses earlier: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3v16). In fact, if you follow John’s argument the reason why he calls us to love with actions is this is exactly what Jesus did!
Edited last paragraph because I didn't realise women priests were already allowed by the CoE. Terms like bishops and priests confuse us reformed folk!
A year or so ago I was having a discussion with a friend about girls and I passed on a particular pearl of wisdom (not my own): “Sympathy not solutions.” To my concern the expression on my friend’s face furrowed into a confused frown so I expanded my explanation saying that when a woman comes to you with a problem unless they specifically ask for help all they want is sympathy whereas for men we expect and give solutions. I could see the cogs turning in his mind as he assimilated this information before with a great cry of frustration he said: “But that’s not logical!” My reply was a wry laugh. The point of my hopefully amusing anecdote is that men and women are different. It may seem a pretty obvious observation, akin to the observation of Newton that apples fall to the ground, but it is a truth that I feel is often forgotten. For instance, I bet some people reading this will immediately assume that by different I meant ‘inferior’ or that my story somehow is meant to reflect badly on women (when frankly it says more about men’s inability to cope with anyone more emotionally complex than a teaspoon). The reason I mention this is because of the recent decision by the Church of England not to allow women ministers, well, it was more that not enough people agreed that they should allow them. In particular I write because of the reaction I observed on Facebook to this decision.
The comments made by my non-Christian friends did not bother me too much for this is a question of Scripture and theology and the unspiritual man cannot understand the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2 v 14). But it was the reaction of my Christian friends that saddened me for many were expressing disappointment that such a decision had been made. So I write this letter because the love of Christ compels me to and because I know we all share a desire to love God with all our heart, soul and mind; that we want to obey him in every aspect of our life because as Jesus said: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14v15) and that we hold Scripture to be the Word of God, inspired and our final authority on all matters of religion.
In economics there is a concept called ‘diseconomies of scale’ which refers to the fact that as firms get larger then they also can become less efficient because size brings with it problems. It is a shame that this concept is not applied more to churches. We are all apt to assume that a large church equals a successful church forgetting that numbers is nowhere mentioned in the Bible as a sign of a healthy church. What will follow is a challenge to think about your church and whether or not it is too big for you.
A few qualifications must be made first though. I am not going to draw lines in the sand and say “over x amount a church is too big”. Life is never that simple, instead I’m going to give you principles to apply to your church experience and let you do the maths. Secondly, as our local church is very much part of our identity then you will feel likely threatened by this article, I would encourage you to read it anyway and read it prayerfully, I’m challenging myself writing it and its good to ask ourselves the hard questions we don’t want to answer. And lastly, my whole argument is based on the premise that in the Bible when it talks about the body of Christ it means the local church congregation. Many, I’m sure, will disagree but if we do not understand the local church as being a physical manifestation of the body of Christ then how can we understand the lessons Paul teaches from this image?
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12 v 27. In the context of 1 Corinthians 12 Paul is talking about our difference gifts and how they all work together in unity. This only has meaning in a local church context. While as a Christian I am part of the body of Christ universal then this can only work out in practise in a local church.