Without Stability the Church’s Ability to Function is Damaged
The Church is called by God to be a light shining in the darkness of this world, to be a foretaste of His coming new creation in the midst of the Old. Church is called to be community of believers united in their common goal of seeing Christ’s kingdom spread on earth through the preaching of the Gospel and through spurring one another on to maturity. Among the many pictures the Bible uses to portray the New Testament Church, two remain that underscore the necessity of stability—long-term commitment to accountability to and service within a local Church and its leadership. The Church is described as the Body of Christ and as the family of God.
The Body of Christ
First, 1 Corinthians 12 is the place where the metaphor of the body is most fully unpacked. Essentially, Paul argues that as each part of a human body is intimately connected with the rest and necessary for the functioning of the whole, so each member of the church is intimately connected with the rest and plays a vital role in its proper function. This is certainly true of the Church universal—everyone who has believed in Christ everywhere—but in the context of 1 Corinthians, Paul is specifically concerned with the proper function of the local church. So, each member of the local church plays a vital role in its proper function and is intimately connected with the rest—so much so that, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26).
Imagine the effects on a body if parts where continually loped off and replaced. Imagine if every month a hand was amputated another put in its place. This would be no small change! Not only would the entire body have to adjust to the loss of the old member, the new member would have to adjust to its new body and the body to it. If this was protracted over dozens of years, how would the body ever get anything done? It would spend more time adjusting to its own changes than being effective in its purpose. In the same way, when the body of Christ in its local expression is constantly being amputated, it will not be effective in its commission.
The Family of God
Second, the Church universal is identified as God’s family throughout the New Testament—He is the Father and all believers are His sons (i.e., male and female, they are both children and inheritors). Being family, brothers and sisters united in Christ, played an important part in the life of the early Church. In the early church, and ancient Israel, the family played an important part in the individual’s welfare. They would take care of each other, provide for one another’s needs, and support one another. But this was challenged by the Gospel, for allegiance to Christ often meant sacrificing family (Matthew 10:31-22, 34-39; Luke 12:51-53). Sacrificing family for the sake of Christ raised several question: who would take care of widows if their children disowned them? who would take care of children if their parents abandoned them?
In the place of biological family, Christ promised family wrought in His own blood: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matt 28:29). In the rest of the New Testament, this is worked out in many ways. For example, the Church would take care of widows (1 Tim 5:3-16); the older generations would aid in teaching the younger generations to follow Christ (Titus 2:3-8); and those who had need would be helped (Eph 4:28), given that it was legitimate need (cf. 2 Thess 3:10-12).
To be such a family, stability is needed on both ends. There needs to be community stable enough to function as a new home for Christians who have left their old life to follow Christ. On the other hand, those who are in need must be stable enough for their community to identify their needs and take action to remedy them. Such support may be a loving rebuke of destructive behaviour, instruction in how to manage with present resources, or direct provision necessary to sustain those who are struggling.
I have phrased this post as a challenge to those who are tempted to be mobile: consider how much you need to be and your church needs you to be stable and committed for the long-term. However, the challenge cuts both ways. On the other side, the local church needs to be a place that facilitates stability. We need to be active in identifying one another’s needs and acting to meet them so that no one needs to move because they are struggling to meet their needs. We need to be active in identifying the struggles of others so that we can speak the truth in love and see them grow with us into the fullness of Christ.
God has called us to be stable communities, beacons of light in the darkness that permeates our cities and towns. For us individuals, this may mean staying firm even when it seems impossible—when the job we want is not available or the budget is not lining up. For us churches, this means engaging in deliberate relationship with one another so that we can meet needs when they arise and provide support when it is needed. This world is constantly changing, but we as the Church are called to be stable, faithful witnesses amidst the change.