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Archive for February 2011

Concerns regarding Out of Church Christians

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I’ve written a few posts in the past regarding the apostasy in many/most institutional churches and wanted to write a post or two regarding some of the concerns I have about those who are out of Church. The term “Out of Church Christian” has been given to those who no longer attend institutional churches. If people leave an institutional church because they see the apostasy found within it they are often called “Out of Church Christians.” Those who are out of church, or called by that title, would most likely affirm that though they are out of the institutional church, they are not outside of Christ or His universal church. For many who have come out of institutional churches I believe that to be a true statement. Having come out of an institutional church myself, I’ve had a lot of contact and fellowship with other believers who have also come out. I have seen the good and the bad that can happen when people institutional church. What people do when they come out of an institutional church really determines whether their coming out becomes a blessing or a delusion and a curse.

I know that for many who come out of institutional churches, finding real fellowship can be a challenge. I realize that is the reality for many people. However, with many who’ve come out of church I see something else. It’s not that they cannot find fellowship but they lack zeal in pursuing fellowship. If a believer is comfortable not having fellowship it should be a warning sign to them that something is not right. They are in a dangerous place. And for some who do not have this zeal to be around brethren it might just show they are actually false converts no matter what they claim to have come out of.

Anyone who is a child of God will naturally have a love for the body of Christ. It will be their desire to be around and to fellowship with other believers. The scriptures themselves teach over and over again that having a love for the brethren is a sign/fruit that follows one having received salvation. It is something that every believer is taught by God. There are several scriptures that clearly teach this. In the first chapter of 1st Thessalonians, Paul describes the conversion of the Thessalonians. He talks about how the word preached came with power, the Holy Spirit, and much assurance (v. 5); how the Thessalonians received the word with joy and much affliction (v.6); how they became examples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (v.7); how their faith was even spoken of beyond those places (v. 8); and how they had turned from idols to serve the living God (v. 9). Without a doubt, these were true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. As you continue reading the letter you find that one of the things God Himself taught these believers was to love the brethren. It says:

“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,” (I Thes 4:9-10)

If one is born again they are taught by God to love the brethren. When Christ lives inside someone this is the natural outflow of that relationship with God. The writer of Hebrews says something similar in his exhortation and comfort that he gives to those he’s writing. In Chapter 6, the apostle says:

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (Heb 6: 4-8)

The apostle warns of the severity of having tasted the “heavenly gift,” sharing in the Holy Spirit, tasting the goodness of God’s word and the powers of the age to come, and then falling away from the faith. He warns of the impossibility of these people being renewed unto repentance. No doubt, just as with any who have read this verse, it put a holy fear into those who were reading it. But then the apostle comforts the readers by saying:

“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb 6:9-12)

The apostle speaks of one of the signs that accompanies salvation, which is evident in these saints; and it is evident in every saint of God. He says they “ministered to the saints, and do minister.” In other words, they loved the saints. In fact, it is IMPOSSIBLE to be saved and not have a love for the brethren – as these verses in 1 John state:

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)

By our having love for the brethren, we ASSURE our hearts before God that we are His:

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;” (1 John 3:19)

Now, it’s not that you have to “make” yourself love the brethren, because it’s a natural outflow of having the life of God in you. It’s is one of the “things” that accompany salvation. If you are converted, then this “sign” most definitely followed your conversion and should be a present reality in your life. Do you remember when you were converted? Did you have a desire to be around God’s people? Did you have a love for the saints that was not there before you were converted? The scriptures are clear that a love for the brethren absolutely follows salvation in Jesus Christ and is a present reality in the lives of God’s people.

While there are many ways love for the brethren can be expressed, it is most clearly and frequently expressed by the regular gathering together of the saints to worship God and to edify each other. The local fellowship, the assembling of the saints together, is a central theme/practice regarding God’s kingdom. It is the primary place where the life and the truth of Christ is expressed and made manifest. The importance of the saints meeting together is a foundational truth regarding the kingdom of God. This is a place where I see many who are out of Church fall into error and compromise and settle into complacency. Again, I realize that for many who come out of institutional churches it can be difficult to find fellowship, especially at first. However, for those who have come out, it should be their continual desire, prayer, and effort to find other believers with whom they can regularly meet with and worship the Lord together.

However, what I often see are professing believers who seem content to live life without regular fellowship. If you are a professing believer and find yourself in that place today, you should be very concerned. The notion of living a Christian life apart from other believers in Christ is a concept that is foreign to the word of God. Again, I know there can be seasons in one’s life where finding fellowship can be difficult. I’m not speaking to that. I am speaking to those who have some sort of fellowship within their reach but are content to live without it and make excuses for why they don’t meet with other brethren. This is the actual reality of many who are Out of Church. They lack fellowship not because there isn’t any around but because they either don’t actually want it, they have become complacent and content to live without it, or they settle for other alternatives that really cannot be considered biblical fellowship. For instance, some brethren are unwilling to travel across town to meet other brethren for fellowship. They know brethren they can fellowship with but because it is inconvenient to travel they stay home without it. Yet often, the same people can travel across town to go shopping or for entertainment. Clearly, when this is the case, there is a lack of understanding of the importance of God’s kingdom and the necessity of meeting with brethren in Christ.

A few years ago, I went with a brother to Myanmar. This brother was holding a pastors conference there. Before the conference began, I was walking around saying hi to different people. In doing so, I met one man who had traveled 6 hours (on rocky, winding roads) on a scooter with his family of three just to attend the conference! He not only was there but he was there with joy on his face. Yet some believers can’t drive across town to fellowship with other saints!  Here in Rosarito, I’ve been spending time with a new believer. We spend time in the word together and he sometimes goes with me when I preach. He attends a local fellowship that is about 4 miles from his house. How does he get there?  He walks, 4 miles there and 4 miles back. He doesn’t complain because it’s a joy for him to be around other saints! I can even remember after my own conversion how my wife and I would drive almost 40 miles one way just to spend time every week with a couple that was discipling us. It was something we always looked forward to.

I don’t say these things to throw people under false condemnation but to hopefully help some believers realize that they do have fellowship within their reach if they are willing to spend as much time on it as they often do on other things. I find to be true that the more we actually want to do something, the less inconvenient it becomes. Many times, it just comes down to what one really desires and what one sees as important.

INTERNET FELLOWSHIP

In place of meeting personally with brethren, many who are out of church have turned to what is called “internet fellowship.” Internet fellowship can mean anything from staying in contact with believers through email, fellowshipping with believers on forums, or meeting other believers in a chat room for teaching, prayer, etc. All of these options can certainly be used to stay in contact with believers and to be edified. But they in no way fulfill or take the place of the type of fellowship we see in the scriptures. In the scriptures, you see believers meeting in a personal way in which they are able to share their lives with each other. This type of fellowship cannot be realized through internet fellowship. In my own experience, I have met people in person that I formerly only knew online. In meeting people in person, you often find out that those you meet are nothing like what they appear to be online. This is the reality of internet fellowship. I think this is why so many like the idea of internet fellowship too. It allows people to appear spiritual, to feel like they are meeting with brethren, AND ultimately live the lives that they want, a life that others cannot see, a closed life without any real accountability. To call this fellowship, in the biblical sense, is wrong and self-deceiving.

The scriptural pattern, if you will, is for believers to physically meet in a location for worship and edification, where believers can share their lives with each other and grow to maturity with other believers. Internet fellowship in no way fulfills the scriptural intention of fellowship. Now that’s not to say internet “fellowship” (for lack of a better term) can’t be beneficial to a degree, because it certainly can. Just as the Corinthians were edified by receiving a letter from Paul, I too can be edified by receiving letters or by having internet chats with other believers. But this is not to be mistaken for fellowship. And again, I know that for some who have come out of church, finding some internet “fellowship” has been a blessing. Like I said, it can be used in one’s life for edification. It just doesn’t replace the type of fellowship we see in the scripture that believers are to take part in. If you have settled for internet “fellowship,” know that you do not have fellowship in the biblical sense and should still be praying for and pursuing the opportunity to meet locally with other brethren.

BUT THERE ARE NO ELDERS?

Ideally, the best option is to have a local fellowship of believers of which one can be a part, a fellowship where there are elders and where body ministry is encouraged and facilitated. However, in the day and age in which we live, an established body like this is not always easy to find. Yet even if you cannot find an established fellowship (with elders, etc.), that should not prevent you from finding other likeminded brethren with whom you can fellowship with on a weekly basis. Having appointed elders is not a prerequisite for having biblical fellowship. If you look at Paul’s instructions to Titus, you will find that elders were to be appointed among believers who were “already” in fellowship (Titus was doing what was left “undone“). Were these fellowshipping believers any less a “body” before elders were appointed? Absolutely not. They belonged to the Lord and were in fellowship with each other. It was from within the fellowship of believers that elders were appointed. I say all this because I know some will say that if you are meeting with other believers and there are not appointed elders then you are in error. Many who say this do so as a means to get you to go back into an institutional church with elders. I’m not suggesting that by any means. What I am trying to say is that if you don’t see an established fellowship that you can be part of, don’t let that be an excuse for not finding local brethren, that may be in the same situation that you are in, to fellowship with. Active participation in the body of Christ is an essential truth in the Christian life. It’s not only/simply a truth to be followed; it’s the desire of those who have been born of God and taught of God to love the brethren. Being connected to Christ’s body in a personal way is essential to life in God’s Kingdom.

So if you find yourself out of church and without fellowship, I’m encouraging you to check your motives. Examine yourself to see if fellowship is what you really want. Ask yourself if you’ve made efforts to find believers to fellowship with (even as much as you’ve pursued other things). Have you settled for something called fellowship that is actually not fellowship (i.e. internet fellowship)? If you do find yourself in that place, I would encourage you to go read the New Testament scriptures on the body of Christ. Allow the Lord to show you how important and glorious His body is. And remember, the scriptures know nothing of believers who live their lives independent of regular fellowship with other believers. It’s just not there.

Written by Sean Scott

February 11, 2011 at 2:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized