Hi-ho, Silver, Away!
“When the West was young and danger lay at the end of every trail, the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, brought law and order to the length and breadth of the early Western states.”
For many years, I have accepting the idea that it is at least possible to be a “Lone Ranger Christian”, the Holy Spirit by your side, reading the Word, getting teachings on the Internet, TV, and Christian radio, hanging out with Christian friends as fellowship, no need to be a member of a local church. It seems so reasonable – We are taught in Scripture that our salvation is a personal one, between us and Jesus. We yearn for a personal relationship with the Father, made possible though the Son by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is all we need, right?
It doesn’t take too much reading to realize that salvation and the cross of Jesus are the linchpin around which Scripture and God’s hope for us revolve. However, while salvation can be seen as the end of our journey as sinners under the judgment of the Law, it is also the beginning of a new journey as adopted son’s of Most High God and bond servants to Jesus. He purchased us, redeemed us, at great expense.
Getting Saved is Easy, Being Saved is Work
As we embark on this new journey, it is clear that there are some expectations on us. We have a mission that goes beyond our personal salvation. Jesus, our Lord, the one we serve, has given us some things to do, not so as to earn His favor or merit salvation, but because we are born again, born to a new Father, and just as we may have looked and acted like our earthly fathers, as new creations, we should reflect the nature of our heavenly Father.
So, what is the mission and what is our part? While each of us may be called to different specific tasks or jobs as part of the mission, Jesus make it clear as to what the mission is and how we are to achieve it. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew ( Matt. 28:16-20), Jesus has, for the most part, finished training his lieutenants, equipping them to continue after He had gone. He gives them the missions to “go”, “make disciples”, “baptize them”, and “teach them”. At the end of Mark, Jesus give similar instruction to the eleven, adding “preach the Gospel” to the “go” mission which seems to be implicate in the “go” of Matthew 28:19 anyway.
This all seems pretty basic and simple, but, as we dig deeper into our “instruction manual”, the methods we are instructed to use to achieve these “missions” are not so simple. They involve lots of different “jobs”, a lot of changes on our part, being equipped with a range of gifts and talents and using them correctly, a lot of learning to get along and work together and a serious dose of faith, trust, and persistence.
What About Tonto?
This seems like an awful lot to do on our own. God isn’t ignorant to that fact, so He provides for us a pair of helpers. The first is the Holy Spirit. When I stated earlier that Jesus had “for the most part” equipped the disciples, I was hedging a bit, knowing that the final and most important “equipping” was waiting for them on the day of Pentecost. The other “helper” is called “koinonia” or the fellowship. Also translated the “Body” and the “Church”, the fellowship are those fellow servants called and equipped to do the parts of the mission we are not called to do, but are crucial to our completing our parts and the mission as a whole. Without them, we may answer a calling to be an evangelist, and evangelize the lost, but without shepherds and teachers they would getting devoured by our enemy or remain ineffectual babies. Without apostles, there wouldn’t be fellowships planted to work with these new believers as they fulfill their calling. The gifts given to those around them bring edification, wisdom, knowledge, healing, and faith.
But, but, but…
“Koinonia” has many rich shades of meaning, but it’s primary, simplest translation is “to come together for a purpose”. If this is the case, that we are called to be part of a fellowship, a group of Christians joined together for a to get something done, then what does that say about our Lone Ranger friends? How did they get to the place where they have sworn off the Church and decide to go it alone? These are some statements or at least the synthesis of statements I have heard from Lone Rangers:
- The Church hurt me – I have to say, I have some empathy for those wounded by people who should be acting like Christ instead of acting in His name. But, where in scripture does it say that we should respond to offenses by separating ourselves from the Body of Christ? I am pretty sure Scripture teaches us to be thick skinned, patient to a fault, loving beyond reason, returning hurt with blessing, offense with humility. Bad people suck, why else would we need a Saviour?
- I hang out with Christians, that is enough fellowship for me – The modern English word “fellowship” is not a lot like the Greek word “koinonia” that is usually translated into “fellowship”. To make matters worse, Christian culture has further mutated the word “fellowship” to mean any gathering of Christians, whether it is for a bible study, a function in the church, football game, or a meal ( In fact “food = fellowship” in many Christian minds ). Socializing with other believers fills a need in us and is a great thing, but it doesn’t equate to “koinonia”. We are called to a mission, and just being sociable isn’t it.
- The modern institutional church is nothing like the New Testament Church, I want the Real Thing(tm) – And sitting in your living room watching Godtube videos is like the NT Church how? Take a closer look at the growth of the NT Church and you will see organization, leadership structures, and strategic planning taking place. Organizations, planning, and institutions aren’t a bad thing as long as they are lead by the Holy Spirit and are used to further the Gospel – to achieve the mission.
Usually, what is meant by “institutional church” is the “dead institutional church“, where the maintenance of the institution has replace the furthering of the Gospel as the mission of the fellowship. Yes, it happens, it’s a tragic thing, but it is not the norm, especially if you are in the US – chances are good that there there is a Bible believing, Holy Spirit lead, Gospel driven fellowship of Christ followers not much father from you than a Walmart or Target.
In terms of hacking your faith; finding your place in the mission of the Gospel and sharing it with a bunch of folks, depending on them while they depend on you, is a good place to start.