No I’m not referring to some sexual sin, or any other matter Christians can sometimes be silent on, but the sin of spiritual laziness or slothfulness, historically known as acedia, a sin which is rampant and largely unaddressed in contemporary Church culture.
In Cover to Cover we’re in the period of the Kings, which is characterized by this roller coaster of spirituality, sometimes a nearness to the Lord and the associated blessings and sometimes a departure from him and the related consequences.
As a pastor, zealous for the honour of the Lord, desirous that His people would glorify and enjoy Him, and that others would be led to do the same, it pains and even deeply grieves my heart when I see the sin of acedia in the world, but especially when it creeps into the visible church.
A past sermon on the ant in Proverbs 6:6–11 (July 27) taught us the vital spiritual lesson of Christian industry. The ant is our teacher on industry, initiative, purpose, and ultimate satisfaction or reward in our work. Like our Creator we were created to create. Like our God who is Spirit, we too are designed to be spiritual. Are we busy about our souls and winning and nurturing the souls of others? Do we have to be told, prompted or reminded to seek the Lord? Is He the sole purpose of our life? Are we storing up treasure in heaven? If we are like the ant—spiritually speaking—we will answer a hearty, “Yes.”
Do we take advantage of the spiritual means of grace that He has provided His people and Church?
Acedia is quite possibly the greatest sin of our age, yet its unspokeness makes it all the more dangerous.
If the seeking or worship of the Lord is our great call then not to be zealous in that pursuit, to not love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is indeed criminal and injurious to our soul.
Oh the joy that Christ has in store for His people if they would but, in faith, be spiritually industrious! Acedia breaks my heart every time I see an instance of it; yet to the contrary, when I see spiritual industry my joy is made complete for the joy the other knows through their obedience to Christ's promises and commands.
If you are zealous for the Lord would you please join me in making the Psalmist’s prayer your prayer:
Will you not revive us again, that your people may delight in you? (Ps 85:6)
 From the Greek, an inert state without pain or care.
 A means of grace is a way that God has appointed through which, when trusted in faith, the believer derives His unmerited favour, or untold spiritual benefits.
In this wider series we’ve been exploring the nature of the Church and membership in it. This post seeks to answer the following question: if church membership visibly expresses my invisible membership in the universal church, should my membership be of a geographically local church?
*Note: I am writing this post in response to someone who lives in a community without an evangelical church about my views on being a part of a local church. This post comes from my heart. It in no way seeks to drive away our own members who travel nor compel members of other churches who are closer to our church than their own to switch their membership. It is, rather, an expression of an ideal which I believe has Biblical support and which I wish Christians near and far would seriously consider as their approach to membership for the bolstering of the local church’s witness.
Nowhere in the Bible is there a “thus saith the Lord” verse to command us to be members of a faithful Gospel church within our own local community. There are, however, many principles and practical considerations, which if taken collectively provide a compelling case to this end.
Historically, until modern modes of transport made this possible, worshippers were constrained by geography to worship locally. Whether that was in ancient times or the 19th Century, one could only go as far as their feet or horse would take them (though in exceptional circumstances the faithful would travel great distances to be with fellow believers and worship). If you lived between churches then you had to make an informed decision. This, and sometimes demographics or denominational affiliations, is why historically there were many more centres of Christian worship.
But was this or is this question purely practical? I believe the closest Bible verse to a command on this subject suggest, “no.” Acts 1:8 says, “And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem [local], Judea and Samaria [regional and national] and to the ends of the earth [international].” Yes, this is a key structure in Acts regarding the outward spread of the Gospel. Yes, it is likewise a direct commission to the 11 disciples. However, indirectly it is still a command for missions which directs us to be involved in local missions, the chief vehicle of which is the local church.
Enter the automobile, which revolutionized so much in our culture, including the Church. Now if you were of this faith and order you didn’t need to worry about relying on another church or starting one in your community, you could just drive to the next. If you got in a fight with someone you didn’t need to be reconciled, you could just drive to the next town. If something didn’t suit you or you got bored at this church you could simply drive along to that church. Transportation enabled us to defy geography but with it we also succumbed to many temptations to put self ahead of the interests of the local church.
The American President JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” That quote may be changed to say, “Ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church.” Churches are fundamentally not service providers but equipping centres for discipleship (and mission). I’ve even know some Christians to be so selfless they’ve collectively moved into a community with no church in order to reach it for the Gospel. We ought not to see the church as simply a service provider to meet our needs but to contribute to its spiritual vitality so it might bring a Gospel blessing to our community. Christians are inherently other focused just as Christ Himself was selfless. We honour the head of the body by doing what it best for the local manifestation of it.
Now, there are legitimate reasons to be part of a church outside of your local community: maybe there is no Gospel church; no church of your faith and order; maybe the local church is orthodox but dead (perhaps you could be the Lord is calling to fan its flame?); maybe your temporarily seeking to bolster another church; maybe language or ethnicity is an issue (perhaps you could learn the local language?). However, I know far too many Christians who travel past several Gospel churches to arrive at their church of choice, thus wasting time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere (it also means you cannot be as involved in your church in areas like fellowship, events, outreach, etc).
What might drive this? Well, rather than a principled commitment to the ideal of the local church what about the great ways of thinking that shape our society and which have sadly infiltrated the church: individualism, consumerism and materialism. The individualistic church seeker does what they want rather than what Christ is calling them to (Is there self-will, die to self; Is there conflict, seek to resolve it even if it may be difficult or uncomfortable). This feeds over into consumerism. The consumeristic seeker is driven by personal preference: that church doesn’t have good music (Is music all a church is about? Might you be called to use your gift of music to help that church?); they don’t have any children’s programming (Might your family be called to be the seed to help initiate a children’s ministry there?); It’s tradition, it’s my family church (While that’s wonderful, there are other ways to meaningfully support a church you have strong ties to); I’d have to leave my family or friends and make news ones (yes, what a joy—to meet new brothers and sisters in Christ that is!). The materialistic seeker likes to boast in how big or wealthy or physically beautiful or gifted their church is (Is this not pride knocking? May the Lord be calling you to devote your gifts and giftings to the support of some needy cause?).
Even though the Bible stands opposed to such “isms” in our culture, these alone are not the primary principle to illuminate this reflection. The foundational principle is Act 1:8 and how we can be part of Christ’s local mission if we’re not a part of His local body? I believe once a church has a sizable contingent coming from one community, we shouldn’t make our building bigger, but instead partner with other area Gospel churches to do a church plant (I dream of planting an evangelical church in Durham, Chatsworth, Flesherton (?) and Dundalk). If you don’t have a local church, ask your church about considering a church plant.
This is a vast subject and as such I cannot cover every consideration. It’s an area which may raise many questions and I hope will fuel further reflection.
If you feel led to relocate what should you do? First, tell both your Elders and the Elders of the prospective church about your considerations. Ask them to pray with you. It can be difficult to the present church in terms of tithes and offerings, rotas, responsibilities and friendships to simply up and move, so if a move is decided lay out a timeline that best serves your present church and enables you to transition to your local church. Slowly get involved in the local church; seek to maintain meaningful ties with the old. Let people know why you are doing what you are doing. Godly ideals are always laudable to follow so let’s love Christ by loving the local church.
Twice now recently I’ve been confronted with this question: should we jettison the good with the bad when a Christian leader or ministry abandons the faith, swerves in their beliefs or whose morals are compromised?
One such case was a pastor of a church who had an affair with the church secretary. Neither was willing to repent. The church was devastated.
The other was a music ministry which wrote some good songs. They drifted more and more into the extreme of the charismatic movement and became closely associated with “grave soaking.” (The practice where their prophet has died and you lie on the grave to absorb the holiness or spirit which had indwelt them—not dissimilar to Roman Catholics rubbing some holy location, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem).
Many former evangelical leaders have also been known to have drifted into neo-liberalism and secular humanism. What shall we make of their writings?
These are all troubling situations, and many others like them. However, while one may feel the need to disassociate with their music or writings, etc, for reasons of conscience or witness, there is no inherent reason to stop using their material, if what they wrote at the time accorded with Truth. If someone spoke truth, whether as an unbeliever or a believer who strayed, what they said or wrote still has lasting value (even if we may be discrete in how we commend or use their works publically).
The old Anglican confession of faith, The 39 Articles, recognized as much. It said:
XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
One needs to remember that even amongst faithful ministers and ministries no one is perfect. That never excuses sin or apostasy, however, it does help our perspective when we are personally shattered by the realization of some fall.
For Biblical warrant, consider the life of Samson and Judas:
· Samson: While many esteem Samson as a great hero he was in fact a lawless scoundrel. He womanized and broke all three of his Nazarite vows, not to mention countless other commands. He only twice is recorded as crying out to God, and then only when he was desperate. Yet, he is recorded in Heb 11 as among those of faith. His actions cannot be excused, but was there some value in some of the things he did, and did God ultimately use everything for His glory and purposes, yes.
· Judas: Did his betrayal of Jesus invalidate the Gospel he proclaimed to those who truly believed it and were saved? Did it invalidate the example of good done when he gave money to the poor even though he stole from the money purse? No. The truth displayed remains valid despite the person ultimately being discredited as an unbeliever.
So the next time you are deeply troubled, pray for the person or ministry—that God would save or restore them, pray that God would have mercy on you to keep your foot from stumbling and take consolation that it is the Truth spoken and done that ultimately matters and not the faithfulness of the person, however important that may also be.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.—Galatians 6:10
I “discovered” this verse several years ago when reading through Galatians. Since then it has become one of my favourites. Let’s break it into three parts and consider what it teaches us:
God first loved us and so we love Him in return. This is our act of love in worship in response to His grace (1st half of the Great Commandment). As He loves us we are then enabled to love others. However, again, our first port of call to display such love—contrary to popular belief—is not the world but the Church. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “by this shall all men [the world] know that you are My disciples, that you [Christians] have love one for another [the Church].” (Jn 13:35). God’s plan is that the Church be an example of renewed humanity to this end, that when unbeliever’s see our good works done in love to fellow believers: it validates God’s love and the Gospel, makes wonderful our adoption into God’s family so we’ll praise Him more, and is a powerful means to cause unbelievers to want to be renewed themselves and join God’s renewed humanity called the Church.
Gal 6:10 is an ingenious truth and plan!
In our renovations and move to the new house—during Covid-19—it is a verse I’ve seen lived out by many brothers and sisters as they’ve helped us in unbelievable ways.
A BBC article caught my eye the other day, it was billed as “the virtual reality church that isn’t shutting its doors.” This church holds virtual services in many different time zones. They’re even church planting in different virtual cities and worlds. That might be hard to get one’s head around but it is a creative expression of the Great Commission. Though I’m supportive of using technology to a degree, I also believe the idea for Christian fellowship is not virtual but live, face to face. Acts 2:42 says:
And they [the early Church] devoted themselves to…the fellowship…
One of the things the apostolic Church devoted themselves too was fellowship, an interactive sharing in the bond of the Holy Spirit. Though some professing Christians minimize the importance of it, fellowship is indeed part of the bread and butter of the Christian life, an essential ingredient, and an ingredient that Christians around the world are longing to return to post-Covid-19.
In the meantime, in light of the reality of Covid-19, the short term social distancing measures and public health measures to ban religious services, these need not stop the Church from gathering to worship and to enjoy fellowship. I am very thankful our church is in the position to be able to find creative ways to minister at this time:
And this is my great hope, not only that we will find creative ways to minister at this time, but that when Covid-19 is past, we will all join together in person to worship our Lord, and what a day of rejoicing that will be! It is my hope that Covid-19 is teaching us the eternal importance of Christian fellowship and that we’re all longing for the day when we can put social distancing behind us and fellowship in person, together, the way God designed it to be.
Until then, we’ll see you online/by phone, in one form or another.
 In sharing this article I am not endorsing this church.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, they compassions they fail not:
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
God Never Changes
So opens the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It declares a central truth about God that He is the unchanging One, and as such He is dependable. Hebrews 13:10 says, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Humans Are Always Changing
While humans are created in the image of God and reflect His likeness in many ways, God’s unchanging nature is a characteristic that we do not share. Benjamin Franklin once said, “two things always stay the same, death and taxes!” Aside from these points in jest, we change and our circumstances change. Nothing stays the same. Our bodies change as we grow. Our circumstances change as we journey through life. We are always changing. While the rate and amount of change may be something we can or cannot easily process, or sometimes is necessary for survival, to deny change itself is to deny reality.
Change is a Normal Part of a Believer’s Life
Not only do we change as humans, if we are a follower of Jesus, change is the name of the game. The Gospel message itself is the power to change. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to sanctify us, to transform us, to make us more like Jesus. Following Jesus then is one big process of change. If we are not changing or are resistant to healthy and appropriate change, and willing to follow our Lord in faith into the future, then something is amiss.
A Tale of Two Seas
The Jordan River bubbles up at the foot of Mt. Hermon in the north of Israel. Tens of thousands of gallons of water burst to the surface every day. These waters flow south into the Sea of Galilee and then on to the Dead Sea. These two seas are complete opposites. One is filled with fish and life. That is because water is always entering and exiting it, it is changing, it is alive and vibrant. The other only ever receives and never gives and as a result of that and evaporation by the sun, it salinity is so high that nothing can live in it. That is why it is called the Dead Sea. May these two seas be a reminder to us: change is needed if we want to thrive as Christians and an unwillingness to embrace the change of the Gospel can spell only certain death.
May the Lord’s grace enable us to change, for our good and His glory.
As we yield to and are filled by the Spirit in the Christian life (sanctification), each Christian is to progressively bear all of the fruit of the Spirit as a witness to the saving reality of our faith (are we who we really profess to be). Such fruit is not limited to the description found in Gal 5. Many other fruit can be found listed throughout the New Testament. James 3:17 is one such place. Speaking of the fruit that comes from the wisdom from above it lists:
Pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
I’d like to zero in on one fruit: open to reason, or the fruit of “reasoning”, or being reasonable.
There is a reason why the Bible speaks so much about good communication and that is because we are so bad at it. Most church conflicts are not about doctrine, or wrong doing, or even personality differences, they’re communication issues that usually arise from a wrong disposition, a want of sanctification. Immediately after James speaks of taming the tongue he shows what someone being transformed by the Spirit will look like in their communications: be open to reasoning.
The word here can mean well-persuaded, already inclined, already willing, easy to come to terms with because already willing, etc. It conveys the notion of someone willing to go to great lengths to come to terms with someone, foster understanding, get to the bottom of the situation, be level headed, committed to working something through, labouring to this great end. This is not being quick tempered, which short circuits the intellect, but restrained, mentally engaged and charitable. It is a clarity of the mind and a calmness of our affections. It is a rare quality today, to be patient, peaceable, and restrained, enough to work through a difficulty. It is a key Spiritual fruit that enables us to truly submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21).
So the next time you are presented with a difficult situation, in or outside of the Church, as a believer, would you pray that the Lord would enable you to be open to reason, for everyone’s good and His glory.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.