Friday, January 30, 2009

The Life of the congregation.

Philip. 1:27-30 (ESV)
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, [28] and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. [29] For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, [30] engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” English does a really bad job of differentiating between the second person singular “you” “your” and the second person plural “you” and “your”. In fact it doesn’t. So this passage can almost be confusing. I am tempted to read “only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel,” as an admonition to clean up my act. Not that I shouldn’t clean up my act. I know I should. Believe it or not I try to everyday. And every morning I find myself waking up to be the same cantankerous self that went to bed the night before, and I find myself still too proud of himself to really admit to being wrong, or desiring much change in his life. I then go about life trying to make a pretense, at least, of humility. But beware, humble I am not. Humility is a mask I try to wear, which is why I am suspect when I run into humility in others. Sometimes I even take pride in how well I wear the mask of humility. Maybe one day I will clean up my act and live a personal life worthy of the Gospel. I really would like that. I don’t see it really happening before the end of time though. Thankfully, Christ forgives my shortcomings. I would quit going to church if he didn’t, and I might stop trying to mask my pride.
But that is what is confusing about that passage. It is not addressing the individual it is addressing the congregation. And it is addressing the congregation not as a group of individuals but as a congregation. The communion of saints is being addressed. The congregation has a life. It is the life of the congregation. And it is this life that Paul wants to be in a manner worthy of the Gospel. So it is he tells them to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. In short it is about being united in the gospel, the one true gospel, being united in doctrine and confessing it together as one.
I am dumbfounded today by the fact that it seems the majority of Christians could care less about doctrine, or having the gospel right. They tend to think it is legalism when you get on someone for false doctrine, the blaspheming of God. But they won’t hesitate to tell you that if you are a Christian you have to quit smoking, which may be a nice thing in itself but has nothing to do with your faith. Plenty of non-Christians quit smoking. What gets me is this notion that it is o.k. to believe whatever you want about Christ as long as you believe in Christ. And none of this is ever really defined adequately enough to find out what it all means. But somehow it comes down to doing the impossible and inviting or accepting Christ into your life. Which seems to mean promising to give up sinning, defined as smoking and drinking, and possibly saying God’s name when you stub your toe. Sinning however, does not mean having lustful thoughts, or telling lies about God, and not caring whether or not Christ died for all your sins, but telling people being Christian only means to try and be Christ like.
We really need to get a handle on this. In today’s church. We are to stand together, side by side, in one spirit and one mind. To do this we need to be agreed on much more than the idea that the Bible is the inspired word of God, we need to be agreed on what that inspired word of God is telling us. This means we have to be willing to listen to each other. It also means we should be taking doctrine a lot more seriously than most are wont to do today. Doctrine matters, especially in the life of the church. It also means that we can’t be Christians on our own. We need to be connected to the larger body of Christ, and this happens in the local congregation where the communion of saints gather to commune.


Steve Scott said...

English does a really bad job of differentiating between the second person singular “you” “your” and the second person plural “you” and “your”.

Hello, this is a drive-by comment. I found you in Fr. Ernesto's blog.

I agree with your quote. Maybe we could use some provincial translations. In Philly, they would say, "Yous guys" & "Yous guys's" and in the South they say, "You all" (or "Y'all") & "Y'all's".

Bror Erickson said...

Well Steve,
Your comments are welcome. Good to have you stop by. Hope you enjoyed the devotion otherwise.
I totally understand the necessity for these colloquial phrases. My wife is from Texas, but I still can't bring myself to use them in script.