Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The soul's disease and mere church attendance

In Untamed Hospitality by Elizabeth Newman, she describes the "inward/outward journey ... rooted in accountability and community disciplines" in The Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. which is led by Gordon and Mary Cosby. The church requires that each member be involved in one of its "communal missions." Gordon Cosby said, "We try to make it as difficult for a person to merely attend our church as possible, because we feel this can be detrimental and contribute to the soul's disease rather than the soul's health."

When I read that line, I thought to myself, "In most Baptist churches we would love to get the members on our rolls merely attending."

How far most Baptist congregations stray from the fellowship ideal depicted in the New Testament. Acts 2:42 tells us that believers in the early church devoted themselves to mere attendance? No, "to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (TNIV). Furthermore, in the early church, "no one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had" (Acts 3:32, TNIV). Surprisingly by today's standards, "there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need" (Acts 3:34-35, TNIV).

Yes, that does sound like a commitment far exceeding mere attendance. Yet many Baptist churches have members on roll that they haven't seen in some cases for years. We are more interested in stats than the New Testament notion of fellowship. Ironically, if we would just dedicate ourselves to the New Testament ideal of church involvement the stats would probably improve. But no matter what happens to the numbers we really must recover the New Testament ideal of fellowship.

Do we, in our neglect of genuine koinonia, contribute to the soul's disease rather to the soul's health?

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