“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24,25). Christians assemble together because, although our faith is personal, it is not private. This is true on many, many levels. Let’s look at three of them.
1) Spiritual Gifts
The first level in which our faith is personal, but not private is in the area of spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 describes Christians under the headship of Christ as a body.
12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…”
21”The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don't need you!’"
27”Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
We don’t call the Church “The Body of Christ” in the way that a whole lot of water is called a ‘body of water.’ We’re not “The Body of Christ” because we’re a whole lot of Christians. We call the Church “The Body of Christ” because it is like an organism, like the human body, and each part depends on all the other parts in order to live up to the fullest potential, individually and corporately. It is like a single organism made up of these various parts, all doing various and varying tasks, but unified by the mind of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ Here are some of those varying tasks, according to 1 Corinthians:
28”And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?”
These are rhetorical questions – the answer to each is meant to be an obvious ‘No.’ For the body of any organism to function properly, some parts must carry out one specific purpose while other parts do a job according to much different ‘design specifications.’ Each part of a body has a ‘personal identity’ in the same sense that you can look at your hand and not confuse it with your big toe, all the while never questioning that the two are connected. What is the point of all this? That the spiritual gifts you were given at Salvation are personal, but not private. They may have been given to you, but they are not designed primarily to bless you. These gifts have been given to you primarily to bless the other parts of the BODY (1Cor. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:25,26; 1 Cor. 14:12 & Ro. 12:5).
You are a crucial piece of the ‘Body’ that we call the Church. When you choose not to assemble, everyone else misses out on what you were designed to bring to the quality of ‘life together.’ But there’s more to it than that – as one of the pieces, you do not have the whole picture by yourself – and when you choose not to assemble, you cheat yourself out of the optimal blessings that God has intended others to bring into your life as well.
2) Bible Interpretation ('What does this mean?')
The second level in which our faith is personal, but not private is in the area of Bible interpretation. Bill recently blogged about some of these issues at www.maxgrace.com, where he says,
“I get jittery when novice Christians, with little exposure to Scripture, are told to trust their inner impressions as if they were a fresh word from God. The standard is the Written Word… God simply won’t inject the Bible into you. If you don’t study it, He won’t speak it. If you don’t study the written Word, God won’t speak his current word into your life. We are people of a BOOK, not people of “an inner impression.”
I would add, in light of our discussion about why we regularly assemble as believers, that I ‘get jittery’ when Christians (novice or veteran) choose to ‘go it alone’ in the realm of Bible study even when there are many opportunities for help or support made available. Along with the primary importance of knowing our Bibles personally, we must also learn about the content and meaning of our Bibles corporately. It is good, wise and right for you to have a personal “quiet time,” personal “devotions.” But you are not entitled to a private interpretation of Scripture. That becomes deconstructionism, where the intent of the original author is ignored so that ‘This is what it means to me.’ Instead, we are to persistently dig to discover what the writer (and by extension, God) had in mind, coupled with the tenacious belief that that original meaning still holds purpose, power and practical application for us today.
One of the most unhealthy things you can do as a Christian is to intentionally isolate yourself from exposure to a broader Christian community that is able to fulfill the function of accountability, whether that ‘community’ be a small group, an Elder’s Board, a local church or an overarching denomination (etc, etc). Historically, the most notable kind of ‘doctrinal accountability’ took the form of church ‘councils.’ “The great ecumenical councils were formal gatherings of bishops of the whole church assembled together to take key decisions on doctrine and creed. A few of the most important councils were, for the sake of example:
(i) The Council of Nicaea in AD 325, which affirmed that Jesus Christ is truly God, in an affirmation of faith against the Arians.
(ii) The Council of Constantinople in AD 381, which affirmed that Jesus Christ was perfectly man, against the Apollinarians whose teaching impaired the perfect humanity of Christ.
(iii) The Council of Ephesus in AD 431, which affirmed that Jesus Christ is one person, against the Nestorians who divided Christ into two persons. (Courtesy of Bobby Grow, www.theologyofbobby.wordpress.com)
There are quite a few more examples, but the point is this ~ whether large-scale councils designed to defend key beliefs of the Christian faith or the small-scale accountability that is readily available in the weekly assembly of local believers, learning what the Bible teaches is not just to be a personal habit, but a corporate exercise as well. Assembling together serves as a ‘course corrector,’ should an individual or a local church begin to ‘wander’ in his/ her/ its understanding of Scripture.
3) Growth towards Maturity
The third level in which our faith is personal, but not private is in the area of growth towards maturity. “The truth is, however, that God gives us our inheritance just as He gave [it to the children of Israel.] Our promised land has to be won, every inch of it. And each one must win his own personal portion” (J.R. Miller ). Yes, your journey towards spiritual maturity is your own, it is personal – no one else can go through the life/faith struggles for you that God has allowed in order to mature you.
you are not an island, iron doesn’t sharpen itself, and your life was not meant to produce the sound of ‘one hand clapping in the wind.’ Nor should you be a lone Emperor penguin. If you’ve ever seen the ‘docu-drama’ March of The Penguins, you may know where I’m going with this.
In the frigid Antarctic winters, temperatures get so cold that the only way for these amazing creatures to survive is to bunch together for the purpose of sharing body heat and reducing exposure to the howling winds. Not only do they huddle together, they take turns standing in the best and worst spots. The penguins in the most protected, middle areas of the ‘flock’ gradually rotate to the exterior of the huddle and vice-versa, in order to assure that each bird has an equal chance for optimal warmth and protection. What happens when this system breaks down? If a penguin wanders away from this protective assembly during the winter months for more than a few hours, it will die. And – so will the next generation of his family… You see, these penguins huddle together, not just for self-preservation, but also for the sake of the single, precious egg they are incubating. For them, voluntary solitude amounts to the most tragic form of selfishness imaginable. Yes, your journey towards spiritual maturity is personal – but it’s not private. We were designed by God to live, grow, thrive and be equipped for spiritual reproduction, all within a community of faith.
The role of spiritual leaders in the Bible is frequently compared to the role of shepherds tending a flock. Shepherds evaluate the condition of their flocks by sight – they observe and watch over the sheep walking, eating, living, in order to assess and prioritize their health, their growth and their needs. On a personal (not private) note, I -- or whomever you consider your pastor or small group leader -- would love to see you this Sunday.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).