In my last post, I made the argument that our Christian lives are not our own. The Bible calls us to live a life called out from the world together. I fear that an over-emphasis on personal spiritual disciplines has led us to believe that our faith is merely that--personal. Yet this does not reflect the Biblical plan of redemption for God to create for himself a people called out from the world. This life of community is not simply gathering at the same place on Sunday mornings, smiling to one another. The life of community to which we are called challenges our American sensibilities. It calls for reliance, vulnerability, and patience that we do not typically practice. This should be what sets us apart more than the movies we watch or the music to which we listen.
The Bible gives his people several activities that we are supposed to share as a community. I refer to these as "corporate spiritual disciplines." They are disciplines in the sense that none of these activities comes naturally to us; they need to be practiced to be mastered. They are as important in becoming a people of God as personal spiritual disciplines are to inner transformation. With sharing in these activities, a church cannot properly be called a church.
One simple activity is fellowship. Jesus commands us to "love each other as I have loved you." This is more than merely shaking hands and being in the same building at the same time. Romans tells us, "so in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." This idea that others have a claim on my life as a Christian challenges our American sense of independence, but there it is in the Scriptures. God's expectations run deep. We are to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), to forgive one another (Col. 3:13), to carry each other's burdens (Gal. 6:2). Fellowship is learning to depend on each other.
When was the last time you depended on someone else?
This corporate spiritual discipline is so important to God that He has instituted a special time of fellowship in the life of the church--communion. The Lord's Supper in Scripture is much more than a personal reminder of what Jesus did for you individually, it is a time when the people of God come together and express our appreciation for Jesus's death as a family. Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, had some harsh words concerning their practice of observing communion. There were deep divisions in the church and Paul thought this was "unworthy" of the fellowship of communion. These divisions destroy the corporate discipline of fellowship and can't be solved by simply apologizing for one incident or another. Though this may be a good place to start, the lack of resentment is not the same thing as the presence of fellowship.
Prayer is another misunderstood discipline. Too often it is construed as one's personal conversation with God--and it can be that. However, when we gather together to pray, there is another principle that should prevail. Galatians 6:2 commands us to "bear one another's burdens." Gathering to pray isn't a time to sit next to someone as they pray. It is a time to share what is burdening you so that others can take it up. When we gather to pray, we gather to take up the concerns of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to take that burden away from them and claim it as our own. Simple stream-of-consciousness prayer serves little to no corporate function and might best be done personally, at home.
Do you take up the burdens of others?
The way worship has been practiced in many American churches has been, at times, destructive. When we define worship simply as singing unto the Lord, we miss most of what the Bible tells us about worship. To be sure, it includes singing, but is not the same as singing. Psalm 75:1 tells us that praising God involves telling of his wonderful deeds. John 4 tells us that worship is something that is done with our spirit. Romans 12 tells us that we need to offer our entire bodies as a spiritual act of worship. When we focus on worship as singing, too often it becomes about our personal taste and preference for the music played. 1 Corinthians 14:26 reminds us that worship--singing and other activities are to be done for the building up of the church, not for your own personal edification.
How do you worship outside of just singing?
The Bible mentions several other corporate spiritual disciplines. It tells us that we are to celebrate with one another and mourn with one another (Romans 12:15). It tells us that we should confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). It tells us we should seek the guidance of the people of God (Acts 15:8). It also tells us that we should give for the building up of the church (Proverbs 11:25).
But there is one corporate spiritual discipline that takes center stage and that will be the subject of my next post.
Guidance Acts 15:8