https://youtu.be/ShwUMFlLAzQ Open Letter to the Local Church
Composed from Oct 18 to Dec 6, 2020
My name is Daniel Fenton and I am a Church Body Part.
When I was in my teens I wondered if I had truly been saved from my sins as I had done what my brothers had done as a five year old and prayed a prayer with my Sunday School Teacher. My uncertainty drove me to settle the matter and I made sure of my acceptance of the gift God gives in Jesus Christ. From that day forward I have been a member of Christ’s body, the church.
Like so many others, the concept of what church is was dimly understood by me. Assembly and participation was clear but what we are wasn’t.
Circumstances have caused me to dig deeper and gain a better knowledge about this and if it can help you, I share thoughts and situations and helps with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let me ask these two questions first:
1. Do we know who we are?
- Do we really understand the concept of being a church?
The Bible uses three words more often than any other to describe us.
We are described as “ a flock of sheep to be cared for”.
We are also labeled “The Body of Christ”.
We are His “Bride”. Here’s a side question to ponder…..As His bride, how are we to be, act, behave and appear?
Let’s discuss the body. Please consider some things about this body, He has made us. The Word says, We are a body ‘built up together and fitted together by Him”(Jesus).
Just as Paul the Apostle reminds us in I Corinthians 12, we all make up different parts of the body.
WHY? So that we can function wholly for God.
There are feet for moving, hands for helping, abdomens for feeling and some of us make up parts of the head in this body. Paul mentioned this part of the body by using the analogy of “eyes for seeing” and “noses for smelling” and “ears for hearing.”
I can hear some of you now…..”Whoa, whoa,whoa! Jesus is the Head”. I know….many times I too had that same thought. But the meaning is different than that of a body part. With each instance where Jesus is referenced as “Head”, note,that it is emphasizes “Position of Authority”….not a body part with a significant function.
Just to reiterate….Some people have the picture of the spiritual body of Christ being like Jesus is the part on top of the shoulders and we, the church make up everything else below that point. This is not the case,
The reason Paul uses body parts is because he’s making a simple way for us to understand ,that each one of us serves a special part in God’s work and plan . But this can only happen in conjunction with the other body parts.
Through the Holy Spirit, God provided a way for us to function as a body functions for the purpose of glorifying Christ and displaying His bride. The church often today becomes the “Church of I” but We were designed to be “The Church of We”. Only in unity can the world see who we are.
Why is this important, Church? Because without this foundational understanding, we miss out on living our lives in ways that supports and builds up Christ’s bride.
Not only is it important to know our own individual functions within the body but we need to have an understanding of the other body parts that are reflecting God’s message to the world of His grace and gospel. Yes, without properly functioning as God intended, the effectiveness of the body of Christ to share the gospel will greatly be hampered.
Why am I addressing this and trying to help you understand our body and it’s function for God?
More and more, a scattering of “body parts” or “sheep” occurs with God’s church.
There needs to be a starting point of reconciliation (a gathering in or uniting, if you will) today, of believers who are meant to be included and functioning within our body for it to be whole. I would dare say we have fallen to pieces and this saddens me greatly.
You know that verse in II Cor. 5:19 where Paul says, “….God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself…..entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”?
Everyone knows that we, Believers, are commanded to share this message but…..We also know that it is God who brings people to salvation. We, by doing this, are acting in obedience , therefore giving us joy when we see God perform His saving grace. We participate in reconciling people to God.
However, just as there is reconciliation for salvation, there is reconciliation commanded for those who make up the church. The Scripture tells us to be unified as a body for the sake of edification ……..so that we build up the church. Things like: Forgiving one another. .. Restoring back to the church…Removing fellowship from someone to create a desire for them to return. Things like that are just a few.
It also needs to be emphasised that the parts of the body, mentioned by Paul, were not “positions of authority within the church” but were “functions” empowered by the Spirit of God for the express purpose of developing a growing church, a unified church and one that demonstrated a bride in her glory before her future husband, Jesus Christ. She is to be an attractive in this world, noted as special, who, with a great attitude and poise, is worthy to be married to the Creator of all.
So, who makes up the church? Is it Believers or members? Are they one and the same?
Two terms are readily thought of today when that question arises.
What is the meaning of these two terms?…..And what conclussions might be drawn from this part of our discussion?
Most people would agree that The Universal Church is all those believers, living and dead, who have received God’s gift of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, from the time He established the Church till we meet Him in the air. We all make up the Bride of Christ. Agreed?
So that leaves us to define the The Local Church . Really it is “A practical localized organization” God designed for His Body to function in a manner, so that areas all over the world could have a place where the Church can grow, be managed and flourish in an atmosphere of loving leadership and guidance. In essence, each local church should be a reflection of the beautiful bride that Christ purchased for Himself on the cross. Does the world see this in us?
It’s interesting that marriage between a husband and wife is a picture of the way things should be between Christ and His Bride. Paul shares this in Eph.5:25-27
God is placing great importance on what we display.
So, are we functioning as Christ intended, Church Family?
What responsibilities do we have in this Body and what are our responsibilities to others within our local church? This leads us into the topic of membership.
That last question….who are the “others” in the church? Does “membership” determine the answer to this question? I apologize up front because this requires examination which might feel uncomfortable but by all means is necessary.
We all like to belong, be a part of, feel connected……”Membership has it’s privileges” is a saying most people like.
However, for our church, I’m afraid, that instead of “membership” unifying us as a body for His glory, it has unintentionally become a means of separation. The consequences are tragic to all of us and to our effectiveness within our body and the picture we display to the world around us.
I believe it has caused us to lose some of our friends and family to the world and the evil one because of the “loose connections” it develops as a side effect.
“Membership” today has become the “legal word” we use. It defines the right or ability for someone within an organization to make decisions or vote upon matters that have physical ramifications in regard to property and expenses.
Unfortunately, this kind of membership places significance upon position…. and not upon function within Christ’s body.
James, the Apostle, spoke against this in chapter 2, where preference is given to one who is “rich” versus one who is “poor”. Most people find that “position” bring “status” and status determines “richness or poorness”.
Where “membership” aught to be about the unifying aspect of our local body of believers, it has become more about the place of assembly, the property and assets associated with it.
Of course, the problem arises that “a form of membership” within a group of people, so named for an organization, for the above necessities, is needed.
Can a balance of sorts be determined…. that can unify the church while meeting the requirements of the law regarding church property and finances? Yes, it’s possible.
Church Family, Before speaking of this, let me address a more pressing concern.
Though the membership issue is problematic and may lend itself to almost an excuse for which to separate ourselves, I believe a deeper root problem causes the division we are experiencing in many of our churches today.
This is “A lack of love”.
Remember the words of Jesus, when asked what the greatest commandment was? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
You may be thinking…….Neighbor? People?
Why did Jesus say “neighbor” versus using the word “people”? Because neighbors are those individuals with whom we have a common interest or bond. As in the Good Samaritan Story…..It is also those individuals who share kindness with us. Not all people meet those qualifications.
How does love and Neighbor apply to us in the church?
Distorted teachings of the great LOVE chapter in the Bible have left many Christians believing it is mainly for couples and marriage. But please understand, Church, The love spoken of in Corinthians 13 by Paul needs to be expressed in an attitude of compassion and care as we exercise the gifts or functions toward others in the body of Christ. Our motivation needs to stem from the love we have for God and others as we interact and accomplish life together as Christ’s bride.
Consider this beautiful passage written for the church, Church Family.
Galatians 6:1-9 Gives us these instruction, “6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression,you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 or each will have to bear his own load. 6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Demonstrating our love to each other is vital for us to be in unity and perform the mission God has given us.
Now most people when they identify a problem want to fix it pretty quickly. But I want to connect with you and see if you experience feelings that would make a “Fix” more meaningful. So, before I suggest my thoughts on meaningful membership within the church today, let me express observations that have been made over the past 10 months that magnified my conclusions about membership.
In light of the Covid 19 Pandemic, changes have taken place to most areas of life including that of the church. We, having the Spirit of God, are not immune to the adversity that He may gift us with but we are empowered to magnify Him in the midst of our struggles.
I am afraid, that to the detriment of each other and of Christ’s church, we have failed to operate as a unified body that Christ intended for us.
How many people have not been able to attend services because of the current conditions that have plagued us these past months?
I have not attended services mainly because as someone who is self employed, when I have to stop working, I do not get paid. The risk of having someone in the assemble “Test positive” and those who might have come in contact with the individual be mandated to quarantine for two weeks is not something I am ready to adhere to.
Other may have compromised health issues and this is keeping them away too.
Can we name these people who are not attending besides me and my wife? Who are they?
Do we know why they have not attended?
Are they members or just attendees? Are these questions important? Of course they are. If we care for those in our church, we will seek out the answers from them and be an encouragement to them.
I often get the impression that there seems to be an expressed importance on “Being there for the church” …….but are we “the Church” there for our member(each other)?”
The Pandemic has helped me make some observations regarding our church of things that ,with change and adjustment, may bring unity to the church despite the circumstances we share.
Please Church Family,
Understand that my observations (and sometimes the reactions to them) are making me feel left out, discouraged and unwanted. However, in thankfulness to God for the abilities He’s given me to express myself in words, each area of concern will be balanced with an option for change. May God’s will be accomplished in our Local Church. Others may feel the same way. Let this be a time of reflection, prayerfulness ……and perhaps a call to action.
Let’ me take you through a “Covid Time Line” if you will.
- Prior to the shut downs, I had been pursuing membership again at our church. I had been a “member” for 17 years up to 2010 when concerns caused me to ask to be removed. Over the 10 year period, I have come to the conclusion that there is an importance to be a part of a local assembly. The importance of being able to function and build up God’s church, as each one of us have that responsibility, has been greatly impressed on me. I spoke with the leadership and moved in that direction. Membership classes were supposed to begin but then Covid showed up. I asked within the first couple months of Covid, if membership classes could be conducted via the internet. I looked forward to this. I was told we would “Wait till this was over”….. Who knew? “Zoom Video conferencing” or similur venues can be used for membership classes and other important gatherings where discussion is essential. Seeing others and participating together while maintaining safe distances can be quite beneficial. Side note: I don’t know why it is…. but there seems to be an unwritten rule within the church today, that if one wants to seek membership, then they themselves have the responsibility to pursue it. Membership classes may be announced from the pulpit but no one is asking regular attendees for the commitment to become a member. I want to challenge your thoughts on this. I believe all members within the church (not just leadership) should engage with others within the church and encourage them to make a public commitment of their membership to our local body.
- “A LITTLE PIECE OF PAPER EACH SUNDAY” Routine is good and helps create a stable environment with the church but when the “shut downs” occurred, so did the regular sharing of information by means of the weekly bulletin. Even when you could not make it to church before the pandemic, that small piece of paper connected us in a major way. As a child needs to hear from their parents, as an employee needs to hear from his boss, a church needs to hear regularly from their leadership. Restart the “Weekly Bulletins” which were part of the norm before Covid interrupted our lives. Include a digitized version and shared again on a weekly basis….Publish them on Sunday mornings so that those attending and those attending from a distance can receive it about the same time and have something in common. (It is unifying.) It was good to know what deacon was on call for the week and to have a small list of people to pray for. …… Plus, upcoming events helped us all stay better engaged, informed and connected. You’d be surprised how this weekly document makes people feel more like they are included.
- I know that connecting with others voice to voice was greatly reduced. We have heard very little from others in the church. If we are a body that is living in unity with each other, then it is important to talk with each other. How can we pray for each other, as we are instructed ,if we are not talking to one another? Call each other regularly…..or more-so! Great lengths went to putting a “Church Directory” together. Let’s encourage it’s “designer”(Thank you Linda N-E) by using it to bring us together. Nothing shows you care much more than when you are willing to take and share your time by calling or stopping by to speak with someone………. “Running into others and chatting is nice and ok but I am asking you to be proactive with those God has placed you with as a body.” Most people will agree…..Deliberate time spent is most meaningful.
- We have heard it said, “A church that prays together, stays together.” Cliche? Is a midweek service important to the Bride of Christ? A reminder to pray is good but who do we pray for? What do we pray for? Who in our body needs encouragement? What praises are there to be thanking God for? An email here, an email there, for one request or another…. but what about engaging together and developing a large list…a great list? One that has requests and praises. A body of 100 or more people certainly has at least 100 prayer requests needed each week…..At best I have noted maybe five requests in a week besides forwards of missionary letters. Do we really believe in Prayer? God loves to hear from us…..He wants us to be imitators of Him and Jesus took time to pray. There in scripture is a major emphasis on being together with other believers in this activity. How can this take place given the mandated separations that exist? We can be known as the church that prays together. The flock may be scattered and can’t make it to the church to attend because of Covid but it can be brought together. First way would be by sharing a list of prayer requests with the flock. Then add ways of joining with each other in groups either digitally or by voice. Include ……..don’t just make this available to only those who can attend.
- “The calm before the storm.”—– That time of great quietness that gives a person a sense of nervousness that bad things will soon follow. Through much of the first five months of the pandemic, the lack of information being passed through to the congregation, regarding what the leadership within the church is/was doing……whether they were planning together/working together on things for the church…..this silence was difficult for some. It is like a child who wakes up at 6AM, listens for mom and dad but only hears silence for several hours. It’s not lack of faith but a lack of feeling secure that sets in. Church Family—-You leaders, The church has ears…..Speak peace and security into them. Distance and separation does not have to be an obstacle to providing security to the flock. Frightened flocks scatter and do not reproduce. Secure flocks provide an abundance. Imagine being a military member overseas with your family back home. You may not be there but you will make every effort to encourage them and fill them with hope and security.
- We need to be careful that we place priority on the Bride versus the Building where we assemble. The building is important because it is a place to be together but is it more important than the body? Are those “body parts”, (other members of your flock) that can’t make it to the services, less important than the ones who attend? How often do the members of Christ body feel unwanted and like a person on the outside looking in? Should these things be? How can we make everyone feel part of the service or the body in whole? a. We can make sure, that for those who can attend on line, that it will be an inclusive experience for them. How? Make sure the video is clear and audio is good. For announcements, pass a mike or make sure to repeat clearly what is said from the floor. Many things not spoken into a mike are hardly heard in a broadcast. Imagine a very deaf person in your audience trying to hear the announcements and they can only listen through a headset. They are experiencing exactly what your virtual audience is. b. Acknowledge your virtual audience. Find ways they can share with the rest of the church during announcement time. The analogy about the body can be useful hear because I want you to think for a moment about your internal organs. You can see them, right? But they are still a part of you and help you do what you need to do. Just like you can’t see your organs within your own body, still let those people you can’t see in your church know your appreciation by sharing with them. These suggestions are for you, Church body…..Not just the leadership. They are body parts too. We have the responsibility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ for the sake of edifying each other. Just as God reconciles the world to Himself, we believers can show the world that we reconcile one another back into fellowship together. Send the message that God’s people clearly are more important than our buildings of worship.
These are some of the ways we can restore relationships again in our church and move toward maturity within our body. You, Church, have been blessed with other ideas too and God is pleased when we work together to build up His Bride.
Returning to the area of membership, let me offer these thoughts.
But first listen to this analogy.
You know how, when you were born, you were included as a citizen in your country?
Rights that came with being a citizen gave you a place in this world. A place where you have representation, privileges and benefits that outsiders do not have.
Most countries have a document called a constitution like that of the United States which includes a list of rights given to the citizens of the country and it lays out rules and responsibilities to support the rights we have.
It is clearly understood, that even though someone is a citizen, certain privileges may not be exercised unless the citizens have met some or maintained some qualifications.
For Example: Our children are citizens too …..but until they’re eighteen, they are not allowed to participate in the electoral process. Also, some citizens have lost this privilege because of illegal activities they’ve been a part of. Some do not have the mental means to be part of this process any longer. And of course, there are others who choose not to participate in the decision parts of our societies but that does not make them a “non-citizen”.
Our citizenship, no matter what our state of mind, age or condition we are in, does not change.
In like fashion, when we were Born Again into God’s family we became citizens of Heaven. We became children of God. And again I remind you, Church…….we became the “Bride of Christ”.
Comparing Christ’s church to a country, where we believers are all a part and are like citizens within, we can make an application to membership and decision making.
First (Like Citizenship) let’s consider General Membership:
- There are Three Critical Parts of Membership. A. Repentance with Acceptance
From the youngest who can understand, to the oldest who may not be able to communicate but others can attest to them as part of Christ’s bride……These are those who can be general members making up the General Assembly of Church Members. By meeting these general conditions “Members of the Local Church” will have a common connection with each other. It will encourage spending time with one another and unify our body. Age and ability to attend services need not be requirements for these members to call our local church, “Home”, Their Spiritual Family…..”Their Church.
When we stipulate this membership beyond these three areas, people often will not fully engaged, feel accepted or wanted nor will they feel included. Like a sheep that is away from the flock these individuals are in danger from the Devil and the World to attack, harm, discouragement and withdrawal from fellow believers. They’re spiritual growth often is stunted. Maturity does not occur. Reproducing new believers will seldom happen. And many times they are caught away to false beliefs and become enemies to the Church.
Take a few moments. Do you know anyone to whom this has happened in your circles? Most people can think of one or two.
Church Family, This is happening and has happened to our friends and our own families. With the wisdom of God and the Power of Christ we can change this. Are we ready to be reconciled to each other?
Change, to the extent mentioned above, may not be something to be accomplished immediately or may not happen at all with your local church but it can be considered.
Can we stimulate membership and unity despite some of the negative effects of standard membership standards? Sure.
Starting with the core members (those meeting regularly and the leadership within the local church), work can begin from edifying from within and encourage and be an example to those individuals so they can reach out to those previous attenders encouraging them to join together, be a part and share their gifts.
Encourage the members and remind them of their position in Christ and His love for His Bride. Allow humility to do it’s work and be thankful for the reconciling God has given you. Pray for one another.
Get to know each other in a deeper way so that you can carry and share burdens. Encourage membership among those you see in church and those meant to be part of our church.
Who do you talk with at church on a regular basis before and after church. Are they a member? If not, do you know why they have not made the commitment to join? Are they waiting to be invited? Most people like an invitation. Some people don’t even know that membership is important. I hope that what I shared at the beginning of this message helps you understand that the part you are in the body is very important and is needed……Just as what the other parts of the body do too!
Just a word of Caution or insight….Remember, if you are spending time with and talking to someone, you will both be influencing each other negatively or positively. If they are influencing you one way or the other, would it be ok to influence them toward obedience and maturity? In light of this, it is OK to bring up the topic and encourage them toward being a member versus just being an attender. When they are connected with the Local Body, then they are able to exercise the gifts God has given them for it’s completeness.
Exercising our gifts is important and matches God’s design for the Church. Jesus did His work as a servant and we are to follow His example.
If we are called servants of God, should we not be serving? Have you ever heard the term, “sittants” of God? I don’t think it even in the Scrabble dictionary and I know God didn’t design us to sit and absorb sermons.
There is Joy in Serving Jesus and that other old song says, “Trust and Obey, for there is no other way, To be Happy in Jesus, But to Trust and Obey”….We are to acknowledge God in everything and obedience to His Word brings about actions that bring us favor with God. When we are in favor with God, then happiness occurs, making His Bride very attractive.
Paul says the mystery of God is Christ and the Church. It is a story of we……not me. Individually we can accomplish some but designed us as body parts, so that in unity, together, we will fulfill God’s will.
Let’s not let an independent spirit keep us from this task.
Let me close out my discussion regarding membership structure with a couple conclusions:
- I believe, that when it comes to making decisions (voting included) and leadership positions within the church, that special qualifications should be attained by qualifying general members. Qualifications for members with voting and leadership privileges, within a congregation, can be established, meeting legal requirements. Therefore, not jeopardizing the unity within the body gained by inclusion with the general membership. Think again of citizen and voter in a country.
- I believe we should earnestly and immediately seek to create an “Environment of Inclusion” to help our junior members and senior members remain functioning parts of the body, thus building up of the church. I will emphasize this once more. If a person is not a member until they can vote or no longer a member if they can’t vote by reason of separation, then they are indeed in a dangerous position……..For who is there to walk alongside them and encourage them as brothers and sisters in Christ? If they (our children and our loved ones) are captured away by the evil one, may it not be on the part of our neglect, through the systems we have allowed in place, to be the reason for their departure from the Faith, Christ and His Bride.
The constitution is a document designed to express the belief system and to be an object or reference for the stability of and for an organization, so that it can continue or complete it’s mission. Amendments can be made to clarify or make improvements.
Most people get up in the morning and go through a ritual of putting on cloths. Some call this “getting dressed”. We do this to be found acceptable and inviting when we go about our days. In my regular reading of scripture there are two to three passages that talk of a type of “Spiritual Dressing”. How we are to cloth ourselves spiritually if you will. Collosians is a wonderful book in the Bible for the Church.
Let’s look together at a portion of Colossians Chapter 3
Colossians 3: Starting in verse 12….””12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Please note what the Apostle Paul includes for us in this passage about our attitudes, our connections with others, our feelings to be peaceful and how we are to communicate with each other.
Now, go back to verse 14. See the three words, “put on love”? Centered in the activities of our lives and the interactions with others, we are to actively “dress” ourselves with love.
Brothers and Sisters,
I remember a Pastor friend of mime preaching once how, “Love many times is messy.” Folks, it does takes more time. Love takes a conscious effort to include it into our motives and activities. But it is Beautiful and shows the character of God. The tail end of verse 8 in I John Chapter 4 tells us, ”…God is Love.”
Out of concern for the well being of the local church, along with my own spiritual needs, I have taken considerable time to compose this message for you. I hope that the words, thoughts, concerns and suggestions will be a means to encourage and build up our Local Church. I love you and care that we be unified and that the Glory of God is expressed in a manner so “The Bride of Christ” honors our Lord Jesus and displays His love to the world. By this, be reminded to actively exercise love.