Membership, Like-mindedness, and Loyalty/State of the Church #3

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Introduction:

As we build these new city walls in the midst of a ruined and ruinous old order, we will be attacked in ways that seek to divide us. We will be accused of being cultic, in thrall to charismatic “leaders.” But the Scriptures do require us to cultivate like-mindedness, and also require us to maintain a solid distinction between things of first importance, things of secondary importance, and things indifferent.

One of the things that modern Christians have a hard time doing right is loyalty. We don’t know how loyalty is supposed to work. We don’t understand the spiritual requirement of personal allegiance to your church and its leadership, and in addition we have a very poor understanding of what disloyalty actually smells like.

The Text:

Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Rom. 12:16).

As you study this topic, please keep in mind the fact that we are told this same kind of thing often (Rom. 15:5-6; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 1:27; 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8; Phil. 2:20).

Summary of the Text:

As you can see in the text, like-mindedness is a function of humility. It is not necessarily a function of high intellectual attainment. If that is accompanied by pride (as it often is—1 Cor. 8:1), then the opposite of like-mindedness will occur. Never forget that the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—which necessarily includes this like-mindedness—is in fact a work of the Spirit. And where the Spirit comes He engenders the fruit of the Spirit, which in their turn contribute to humility, grace, peace, and like-mindedness.

Membership:

“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7).

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).

These two verses, incidentally, taken together, provide a compelling argument for membership in a local congregation. These individuals have to know the names of the men who rule over them—you cannot obey a nebulous or undefined leadership. And a body of elders cannot render an account for an undefined membership either.

What would you think if you took your taxes to an accountant, and when he gave the package back to you, you asked “so this is how much I owe?” and he said something like, “yeah, well, ball park.” Or “more or less” while making vague gestures in the air. One thing you want accountants to do is count.

If you don’t know who your rulers are, you cannot consider the outcome of their conduct or way of life. And if you don’t know who you are responsible for, you cannot watch over their souls. So these two verses, taken together, require two lists of names—a list of the elders and a list of the members. Obedience to Scripture at this point is impossible otherwise. Pastors and elders are not allowed to look at their flocks on a distant hillside, as painted by an impressionist at a low point in his game, and working with dirty brushes. “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds” (Prov. 27:23). No, giving an account is not limited to mere counting, but it certainly includes counting.

How Membership Works Here:

Our church has adopted the Westminster Confession. What this tells us is what doctrinal framework you can expect to hear from the pulpit. It does not tell you what you are required to affirm. You are bound to affirm nothing until you see it in the text of Scripture for yourself—but after that, of course honesty requires you to affirm it. We are a Reformed church, but this means that an Arminian charismatic dispensationalist could join. What we require of our members is a biblical confession that Jesus is Lord, which would mean the basic contents of the Apostles’ Creed, and that they agree not to go downtown on the weekends to shoot out the streetlights.

No Human Authority:

No human authority is absolute, and yet at the same time we are taught in Scripture that the authority of lesser authorities is genuine, and is to be honored as far as obedience to God allows. This creates a problem, but it is a problem that God wants us to have.

Let me begin by noting that—in this as in so many other situations—there is a ditch on both sides of the road. One ditch might be called the “Dear Leader” ditch, the insistence that everyone applaud like they were a spectator at a North Korean missile parade, clapping in sync with the goose-stepping soldiers. That really is cultic. But in the other ditch we find ornery cussedness, pretending to be valiant for truth, but in the last analysis such persons are loyal only to their own thoughts, opinions, and perspectives. These people are disrespectful, disloyal, and disruptive.

A Narnian Illustration:

Let us take a look at the fine example of Trumpkin. On the one hand we have stout loyalty.

“Thimbles and thunderstorms!” cried Trumpkin in a rage. “Is that how you speak to the King? Send me, Sire, I’ll go.” “But I thought you didn’t believe in the Horn, Trumpkin,” said Caspian. “No more I do, your Majesty. But what’s that got to do with it? I might as well die on a wild goose chase as die here. You are my King. I know the difference between giving advice and taking orders. You’ve had my advice, and now it’s the time for orders” (p. 92).

Now that’s loyalty right there.

But earlier, when some Black Dwarfs had suggested the possibility of bringing in a Hag or an Ogre or two to help their cause against Miraz, Trufflehunter objects to that on the basis of what Aslan would think about it. Trumpkin responds to Trufflehunter in a telling way. There are plain limits to loyalty.

“We should not have Aslan for our friend if we brought in that rabble,” said Trufflehunter, as they came away from the cave of the Black Dwarfs. “Oh, Aslan!” said Trumpkin, cheerily but contemptuously. “What matters much more is that you wouldn’t have me” (p. 72).

Biblical loyalty has limits. But we must emphasize that they are defined limits.

Actual Temptations:

And as long as I am quoting Lewis, here is a relevant observation from Screwtape. “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”[1]

When it comes to life in our modern congregations, we think we have to guard against mindless conformity when what really threatens our spiritual health is our radical individualism. The Scriptures tell us what we should be laboring for, striving for, and praying for. We are not told to work at maintaining independence of thought, although real independence of thought is a good thing. We are not told to build some ecclesiastical variant of academic freedom. We are commanded to strive for like-mindedness, to be of one mind. Our task is assigned, and that is what we should focus on.

Allow me the privilege of translating all of this into modern American English for you. Drink the Kool-Aid. Join the cult. Surrender your independence. Swallow the party line. Go baaa like a sheep. Strive for the nirvana of acquiescence.

Modern Christians allow the Bible to talk that way about like-mindedness because it is their sacred book and so they are technically stuck with it. But if any Christian leader, anywhere, anytime, teaches that obedience and maintaining a teachable spirit are virtues to be cultivated by church members, then that guy is now a hazard with blinking lights all over him. He is clearly power-tripping. He must be a Diotrephes. He is Diotrephes automatically. We forget that the apostle John, writing about Diotrephes, was every bit as authoritative (3 John 10).

So Pursue Christ:

Now this means that members of churches have assigned duties of loyalty and obedience. But what some Christians today believe is that their membership actually requires impudent feedback when they disagree, preferably online. And I have seen some behavior in that department that, as one of my daughters might put it, makes my eyeballs sweaty.

But people today are nevertheless hungry for true community, and true community is impossible apart from shared values and mores—like-mindedness, in other words. But once real community actually starts to form, the attacks on the “cult” will begin. Vulnerable and sophomoric Christians in the community will be taunted—prove your independence. Whatever your leader asks for, vote no, drag your feet, raise a stink, and put some daylight between yourself and that guy. As if you could establish independence by always finding the North Star, and always sailing south by it. But that’s not real independence.

Remember that unity and like-mindedness are a function of being apprehended by, and apprehending, Christ. He is the one in whom every joint and ligament joins (Eph. 4:16).

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (HarperOne, 2001), 138.