Without Stability, Individuals Will Not Experience Long-Term Growth
The purpose of the Church—both universal (everyone who believe in Jesus Christ everywhere) and in its local expression (a particular body of believers committed to gathering together regularly)—is to make disciples. That is, its purpose is both to see unbelievers converted AND to see converts mature in their faith. Jesus commands His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (ESV, Emphasis added)
Jesus commands both baptizing, making converts (baptism being the outward sign of an inward change, a necessary component of conversion), and teaching, ensuring that converts mature. In Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, he describes the end of the ministry of the local church as “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13, ESV).
Again, I do not see how this possible without stability—long-term commitment to accountability to and service within a local Church and its leadership. Long-term growth will not occur without accountability to our leaders and to our brothers and sisters in a local church, as we saw in the last post. Furthermore, without intentional, long-term commitment to one another, none of us will attain to the fulness of Christ. That is, my growth in Christ depends on you being a stable presence in my life; your growth in Christ depends on me being a stable presence in your life.
Consider, first, Hebrews 10:23-25;
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (ESV)
I do not think this works in generalities—meeting with any believers at any time. Consider that the author of Hebrews is writing to specific church: “not neglecting to meet together” means “you local church to whom I am writing, do not neglect to meet together.” They are to be faithful in meeting together, something that cannot happen without stability. Furthermore, something would be terribly lost if these meeting where characterized by fluctuating attendance.
The goal is long term faithfulness, enduring until Christ returns (“the Day”). To persevere, they need to “encourage one another” and “stir up one another to love and good works.” How can they encourage one another if they do not know how they need to be encouraged—if they do not have deep, sustained relationships and trust? How can they stir one another up to good works if they are not present in one another’s lives? More specifically, no Christian is identical: “love and good works” will look different depending on the circumstances of an individual’s life and will require different forms of exhortation. So, for this to happen, there needs to be consistent meeting together with sustained, long-term relationships that provide a context for encouragement and stirring one another up to good works. From Romans to 2 John, there are about 60 “one another” exhortations, in which Biblical authors call Christians to act towards one another in a specific way. All of these require the sort of community that only stability brings—“encourage one another,” “exhort one another,” “confess your sins to one another,” “love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” etc. (1 Thess 5:11; Heb 3:13; James 5:16; 1 Pet 1:22).
Second, consider Ephesians 4:25; “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” After describing how the mutual ministry of the local church builds its members up in maturity, Paul describes the manner this is accomplished as “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Then, after exhorting the Ephesians to put off their old way of life and adopting the new self created by God, he brings these two exhortations together; “having put away falsehood… speak the truth.” The truth, according to Ephesians 4:21, is all that is found in and taught in Christ, specifically putting off the old self and putting on the new. So speaking the truth in love is, at the very least, offering rebuke (putting off the old self) and encouragement (putting on the new self) that is rooted in the teaching of Jesus Christ—namely, the Scriptures.
Paul instructs the Ephesians to act in this way, speaking the truth in love, towards their fellow brothers in the church (their neighbour), for “we are members one of another.” To do this well, a close relationship needs to exist between the believers involved; the one speaking needs to be familiar enough with his neighbour’s life to speak the truth and the neighbour needs to be familiar enough with the one speaking to receive the word. Paul explicitly gives the reason for this mutual ministry as “we are members one of another.” Both are close enough to have opportunity for such ministry and close enough that such a ministry is necessary. The success or failure of one brother or sister effects the rest, so being members one of another, we need to speak the truth in love. Also, because we are members one of another, intimately bound in the body of Christ and working together in the local context, we can minister in this way.
If growth in Christ comes from mutual ministry in the context of regular gathering and serving together, growth in Christ requires a stable community within which to serve and grow. Without this stability, individuals will not experience long-term growth. At this point, it may be fair to ask; what about those who move for good reasons or become missionaries? In the latter case, there is a maturity of faith already assumed, as the missionary goes to make disciples—to start a stable community worshiping Christ in a different place. In the former case, if stability is the norm—the standard—and mobility the exception, then this should not prove to be a problem. If the majority of the congregation is stable, they will be able to compensate for the loss of a member. The person leaving will also settle better into a stable community that is already functioning healthily.
Thus, stable communities give a good context for moving whereas communities marked by a high turnover rate will struggle when their members leave and struggle to integrate new members. Above all, the Spirit is working in all communities where the name of Christ is proclaimed. So even in less than ideal situations, His work will be accomplished. Nevertheless, we should strive to be communities that aim for the ideal and do not settle for mediocre ministry among ourselves and towards others.
Photo by Patricia Coroi on Unsplash