The theme I pursued with my readers on the last Blog deserves a bit more clarification. The reality is that all too many existing churches never spell out to those coming into ‘membership’ what will be the requirements/demands that this community of discipleship requires, i.e., what are the disciplines? It is all too common for the ostensible church community to speak all the advantages that will accrue if one joins, and because of that many join with expectations that they expect to be fulfilled, or with their own personal requirements/demands of what they expect the church fulfill on their behalf. The idea of self-sacrificing love may, or may not, be one of those expectations.

Always lingering in the ethos of an authentic Christian community, that colony—that is called to be the incarnation of God’s New Creation in Christ—is the image of Jesus himself: “… even as the Son of Man came not to be served (ministered unto) but to serve (minister) and to give his life …” (Matthew 20:28). And those who are to be his followers are to be formed into his likeness. When (as one might say) the genome of Christ inhabits his followers by the working of the Holy Spirit, … then there comes naturally to them the self-giving, or losing-one’s-life for the sake of others. The others in the community, in all stages of their need and broken-ness, or maturity and godliness, become both the responsibility of one another, and also those ‘one anothers’ to whom one is accountable.

I learned this a number of years ago when (for complicated reasons) I fell heir to the role of the teaching-shepherd of a dispirited church that had existed for several decades in a fairly dismal industrial village. It had been founded as a mission, primarily, so that our Presbyterian denomination could have it ‘denominational franchise’ there along with the Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostal Holiness churches. Folk had joined it because that is what one did—one belonged to a church whether one attended often or not, and usually not with any compelling understanding of the Christian faith—though I hasten to say that there were some real saints around the margins of the church, but they were not at all the dominant force.

Along the way, as I sought to be a faithful teacher of scripture in my Sunday morning role, there began to be a trickle of folk who were attracted by that teaching and who wanted to join in the community. I was torn. It was not a healthy congregation, and they needed to know that up front. Ultimately, in desperation, I wrote out a Covenant of Membership spelling out my understanding of what should be the commitment of those joining, and our leadership team of Elders approved it as the standard by which folk would be received. I leap ahead here to report that these sixty years later, that same congregation, now a very robust community of faith, still uses that covenant—decades of believers accepting such a life-style. But, apropos to our thesis here, let me share Article VI of that Covenant (heavily influenced by Bonhoeffer’s Life Together).

“I come accepting the responsibility of being a part of this congregation as God’s gift to me and as the community of people where He is at work redemptively. I do not come making demands on it, but rather giving myself to its unity, its peace, and its purity. I covenant with 

God and this congregation to encourage, to love, to bear the infirmities of, to pray for, to minister to, and to be reconciled with, to forgive, and to be forgiven by my Christian brothers and sisters here in accordance with scriptures so that the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace be maintained among us. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

Yes! And, as per my last Blog,…  a sense of humor, and true humility make such self-sacrificing love much more winsome and contagious, … the sweet aroma of Christ. Let me encourage such a fulfilling way of life and love among my readers.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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