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Friday, August 27, 2010

Question on the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Price

Occasionally, I’m asked questions about theology or Scripture interpretation by folks at church.  This week I received a question, the answer to which I thought might be helpful to the rest of the church.  Here is the paraphrased question followed by my answer.
What is the proper way to understand Matthew 13:44-46?
  44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
 45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
The typical interpretation is that Jesus is the treasure of the Christian’s life and he calls all of us to a total surrender of our lives to be his disciple.  Is that the intended meaning of these parables?  Is it possible that the parables are teaching that the treasure is the church and Christ sold all that he had and bought the field/pearl of great value, which is the children of the Kingdom (Heb 12:2; 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:7; 1 Cor 6:20, 7:23)?

This is a great question and affords a good opportunity for a lesson on how to interpret parables. 

Parables are actually quite easy to interpret once you know one main rule of thumb.  Here it is: parables are typically intended to make one point.  We should not interpret them allegorically, as if every detail in the parable represents something in reality.  So rather than asking, “what does the treasure represent? What does the field represent?  Who does the man represent? What does all that he sells represent?” we should simply ask, “what is the main point?” 

In a parable, there is a reality part and a picture part.  The picture demonstrates something about the reality.  In both parables in Matthew 13:44 and 13:45-46, the reality part is the kingdom of heaven – “the kingdom of heaven is like...  So, what is being demonstrated about the kingdom of heaven?  It is of great value and is worth the sacrifice of all one has.

Now, could the treasure represent the church?  When we look to interpret a passage (any passage, not just a parable), we want to make sure we have done a thorough job of observing what the text explicitly tells us.  In this case, “the kingdom of heaven” is what is explicitly described by the parable.  So to say that the treasure represents the church, forces us to conclude that the “kingdom of heaven” is the church.  That’s where we run into trouble here.  If we take a look at the usage of “the kingdom of heaven” in all of Matthew, we find that it is not accurate to say that the kingdom of heaven equals the church. 

“The Kingdom of Heaven” represents God’s reign through Jesus Christ over all people.  It is a present reality for those who are in Christ, but its ultimate fulfillment is found in the second coming of Christ.  It represents more than just a body of believers, but is the entire kingdom of God.  If you were to look at each of the occurrences of the phrase in Matthew and try to substitute “the church” for it, you would have difficulty making sense of the passages. 

For example, the phrase acts like bookends for the beatitudes.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3,10).  To substitute “the church” for “the kingdom of heaven” here loses the thrust of the passage.  These people are not inheriting a body of believers.  They are inheriting the comfort, satisfaction, mercy, and sonship of the kingdom of God.  It is the entire reality of the future kingdom.

Next, could we say that God or Christ is the one buying the field and the pearl in Matthew 13?  Certainly, there are parables in the Gospels where God is depicted as finding something (sheep – Matt 18:10-14, wedding guests – Matt 22:1-14, a lost coin – Luke 15:8-10, the prodigal son – Luke 15:11-32).  But another important principle in interpreting parables is that each one must be interpreted by itself.  That God finds lost things in other parables does not mean that this is the correct interpretation here.  To say that God is the man finding and buying the field and the pearl, we must have strong contextual reasons for doing so.  We must return to the point of these two parables.  Is the parable intended to communicate something about God or about the kingdom?  It must be the kingdom since God is not mentioned. 

Further, nowhere in the non-parabolic uses of “the kingdom of heaven” is it depicted as being purchased by Christ or God.

On the other hand, I think there are good contextual reasons to think that the emphasis is on the value of the kingdom to the person who finds it.  First, Matthew 13 is where parables are first used in Matthew.  The purpose of the parables is to hide the truth of the kingdom from the Jews (13:10-15).  But to the disciples, Jesus says, “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven…blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (13:11a, 16).  In the parables of vv44-46, something of great value that was hidden is being found.  It is so valuable that one should abandon all to take possession of it.  The placement of these parables at this point in the book highlights the fact that the kingdom that the Jews have sought for hundreds of years is hidden right under their noses, while others are seeing it for the value that it is, worthy of abandoning all.

Add to this the passages in Matthew that speak of the self-denial required to be a disciple of Christ (10:37-39; 16:24-28; 19:16-22), and you have a good contextual case for holding to the typical interpretation of these parables.

One last thing to do when evaluating the validity of your interpretation is to check the interpretations of others.  You need to be careful what commentaries you consult because some are written by people with very troubling presuppositions, i.e. the Bible isn’t inerrant, these words were not actually spoken by Jesus, etc.

If you search the interpretations of strong orthodox interpreters and cannot find one that agrees with your interpretation, that should be a big red flag.  I’ve probably said it a hundred times: in the 2,000 year history of the church, what are the odds that you or I will be the first ones to get an interpretation right on any given passage?  Slim. Very slim.  It’s not altogether impossible, but not at all probable.  I was not able to find any commentators that held the view that these parables depict Jesus/God buying the church.  Rather, they all held the traditional view.

If you would like to submit a question to be addressed on this blog, please email it to me.  I cannot guarantee that it will be answered here, but I will do my best to at least email a personal response. 

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perseverance of the Saints - But What About Hebrews 6? Pt4

If you’ve not been following this blog series, we are looking at the orthodox doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.  The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 788). 
One of the most commonly quoted texts used to deny this doctrine is Hebrews 6:4-6:
  4 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,
 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
 6 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.
The last several posts in this series have focused on the whole context of the book of Hebrews in order to prepare us to better handle the three verses above.  Believe it or not, we are almost ready to begin to take apart Hebrews 6:4-6.  But before we do that, I want to take one more article to look at the context, especially as it pertains to the atonement. 
The atonement is the work Christ accomplished in his life and death to earn our salvation.  The importance of the doctrine of the atonement cannot be overemphasized.  Millard Erickson, in his Christian Theology, wrote this: “In the doctrine of the atonement we see perhaps the clearest indication of the organic character of theology, that is, we see that the various doctrines fit together in a cohesive fashion.  The position taken on any one of them affects or contributes to the construction of the others” (799-800). 
This is certainly true in the case of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.  The biblical teaching on the atonement, especially that found in chs9-10 of Hebrews, absolutely denies the notion that a person can be truly saved and then lose that salvation.  In that way, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is built upon and necessitated by the doctrine of the atonement.
The main facet of the atonement taught in Scripture is that of penal substitution.  Penal substitutionary atonement refers to the act of Christ satisfying the wrath of God by taking upon himself the punishment for sin in the place of sinful men.  Part of the argument of the book of Hebrews is to show that Christ represents a better, and more complete atonement than the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Speaking of the OT system, the writer states in 10:1-4:
   1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.
 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?
 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.
 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
These verses detail the weaknesses of the sacrifices of bulls and goats in the Old Testament.  They could not perfect the worshiper.  They could not cleanse one’s conscience.  They could not take away sins.  Therefore, they had to be offered repeatedly.  The writer emphasizes here, that the work of the priest was never done.  9:25 speaks of the high priest offering a sacrifice repeatedly, every year.  10:11 notes that the priest had to stand at his work daily, offering the same sacrifices over and over.  The point is that the blood of bulls and goats could not completely and permanently atone for the sins of men.  So the atonement brought by sacrifices in the Old Testament was temporary, imperfect, and incomplete. 
Not so with Christ.  His was a qualitatively superior sacrifice.  Speaking of Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, the writer writes in 10:12-14:
  12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Christ offered one sacrifice for all time, and then His work was done.  These verses portray the completeness and permanence of Christ’s atoning work.
The Old Testament priests offered sacrifices constantly.  Why?  Because the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin (10:4).  But Christ’s sacrifice perfected the sinner.  That does not mean that the believer is no longer sinful, but that his sin has been fully paid for and his eternal perfection has been fully earned by Christ, and will be applied to him when Christ returns.  It was not a partial atonement.  It covered every sin past, present, and future.  Christ has completely atoned for sin. 
The writer also intends to express that Christ has permanently atoned for sin.  …He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (10:14).  …He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (9:12).
We need to be reminded of what penal substitutionary atonement is.  It is the act of Christ satisfying the wrath of God by taking upon himself the punishment for sin in the place of sinful men.  What Hebrews tells us is that Christ completely and permanently satisfied the wrath of God for the sins of many.  That wrath was exhausted by Christ on the cross.  That wrath has been spent.
Consider what this means for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.  If Christ’s work on the cross secured for the believer a complete and permanent atonement, that believer can never lose his or her salvation.  There is no sin past, present, or future that was not permanently and completely covered by the blood of Christ.  To place that person back under the wrath of God would require the unspilling of Christ’s blood and the unatoning of that person’s sin.  But if that were possible, the entire argument of chs9-10 would completely collapse since it would make the sacrifice of Christ functionally identical to the sacrifice of bulls and goats – that is, it would be an incomplete and impermanent atonement. 
So, if Hebrews 6:4-6 speaks of people who were saved – that is, whose sins were atoned for – but who then lost their salvation, the writer of Hebrews has then contradicted himself in chs9-10 by claiming that Christ achieved a complete and permanent atonement.  In other words, if salvation can be lost, the atonement is not what Hebrews 9-10 claims it to be.
So then, how are we to interpret Hebrews 6:4-6 while being faithful to the context of the book and its teaching on the atonement?  We’ll look at that next time.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"

In Sunday’s sermon I mentioned Isaiah 44:9-20 as having a strong connection to Romans 1:18-32.  I would like to show you how tightly the two passages go together in detailing the human bent toward idolatry and the rejection of the One True God.
Isaiah 44:9 begins the passage: All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit.  Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 
There are three truths to note from the outset.  First, there is a contrast between God as Creator and man as the idol-maker.  The preceding context in chs43-44 depicts God as the Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of Israel.  Compared to Him, all those who make idols are nothing. 
Second, there is a contrast between the profitability of idols versus the profitability of God.  The ludicrous nature of trusting in an idol is made clear in the rest of the passage, but in the preceding context, God is shown as Israel’s Savior.  The disparity between a wooden idol incapable of any benefit to its worshiper and the God of the Universe who blots out the transgressions of His people couldn’t be greater. 
Third, those who worship idols prove to be absolutely unaware of the absurdity of their worship.  They think what they are doing is absolutely reasonable and right.  Vv10-11 show that these people will be shamed.
Vv12-17 vividly depict the stupidity of idol worship.  I won’t comment on the whole of those verses, but I will hit the high points.  Vv13-14 tell of a carpenter planting a tree.  The tree exists, humanly speaking, because the man planted it and allowed it to grow strong.  In a sense, the tree owes its existence to the care of the man.  V15 is where things get ridiculous:
Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it.
From the one tree, the man warms himself, cooks his food, and fashions an object for worship.  Part of the tree is fuel.  Part of the tree is divine.  And keep in mind that the tree exists because the man planted it.  The man is worshiping something that owes its existence to him.
Vv16-17 expound on v15: Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!"  And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"
Now let’s consider a portion of Romans 1.  Following vv18-21 in which sinful men rejected the obvious revelation of the One True God, their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Vv22-23: Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Just like Isaiah 44, the idol worshiper thinks that his foolishness is wisdom.  He does not see the truth anymore.  He exchanges the One True God for idols, images of things created by Him. 
Back to Isaiah 44: v18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.  The reason the idolaters don’t see the foolishness of what they are doing is that part of the judgment for their rejection of God is that He prevents them from seeing the truth.  This same thing can be seen in Romans 1:24, 26, 28, as God progressively gives the idolater over to his own sin. 
Romans 1:25 says that sinful men exchanged the truth about God for a lie.  If you will remember from Sunday’s message, the truth about God that they exchanged is that God exists and that He is worthy of service and worship.  The lie is that the created idol is worthy of man’s service and worship.  It is on this note that we find the clearest connection between Romans 1 and Isaiah 44.  The passage in Isaiah 44 concludes with these words in v20: He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"
This is more than just a neat coincidence.  And our finding this kind of connection should do more for us than simply lead us to conclude that Paul must have had Isaiah 44 in mind when he penned the opening section of his epistle to the Romans.  The significance is that both the Old and New Testaments reveal man’s propensity to worship created things rather than the One True God.  And what the Old Testament portrays in shadows and shapes is the same thing that Paul says explicitly in Romans 3:23-24: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Those of us who have been justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus can never again be identified as idolaters.  We are adoptees of our Heavenly Father and fellow heirs with Christ.  For that we should be forever grateful.  But we should not assume that our hearts are fully sanctified, for they continue to pull us toward the worship of idols in our lives.  And while we do not fall down before idols fashioned from wood, our objects of false worship are no less real.  Money, sex, entertainment, work, relationships, power, food, possessions, politics, beauty, talent, achievement, competition, comfort… As ridiculous as it is for a man to worship the wood from a tree that he himself planted, how much more ridiculous is it for us to return to these unprofitable false gods, knowing with certainty the truth of what Christ accomplished for us on the cross?
Are you falling again for the lie?  Are you by your practice testifying that Christ alone is not worthy of service and worship, but that your idol is?  It's time to throw away the idol and return to the cross of Christ.

 How vital it is to evaluate ourselves before God and ask the question, “is there not a lie in my right hand?” 

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Perseverance of the Saints - But What About Hebrews 6? Pt3

Let me take a minute to review a little bit about what we are doing here.  This is the next entry in a series on the doctrine of the perseverance of saints.  The definition we have been using is from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: the perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.
Recently, we have begun looking at the scriptural passage most commonly appealed to by those who wish to deny this doctrine.  That passage is Hebrews 6:4-6:
  4 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,
 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
 6 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.
It is argued that the experiences mentioned in vv4-5 are things that could only be true of a regenerate believer.  V6 then would indicate that it is possible for regenerate believers to “fall away,” that is, to lose their salvation.  Further, v6 mentions the impossibility of restoring them again to repentance, which would imply that the person had once repented, bolstering the assertion that the person in question was at one time a regenerate believer. 
In our quest to understand this passage correctly, thus far we have sought to understand two things regarding the book of Hebrews.  First, the recipients of the letter. To whom was this letter written? First of all, the writer is addressing Jewish believers who are being persecuted.  To them he gives an exhortation to perseverance (10:32-39).  He is also addressing Jews who claim to be believers but who have not put their trust in Christ.  To them he gives warnings to search their hearts for unbelief (2:1-3; 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:15-17.).  He also addresses Jewish unbelievers who have not been convinced of the truth of the gospel of Christ.  To them he gives the tight argument of the superiority of Christ over all OT institutions, an argument that stretches through the whole book, but which finds its peak in chs9-10.  The message of the book addresses all three groups.  (To read more about this, read the last post in this series.)
Second, the context of the passage.  What we have found is that this passage falls within one of six warning passages in the book of Hebrews.  Last time we finished looking at the other five, which we discovered were intended to prompt those who claim to be believers to consider whether or not they are actually saved.  They have been warned against drifting away from the gospel (2:1-4), disbelieving the voice of God (3:7-4:3a), disobeying the knowledge of the truth (10:26-31), failing to obtain the grace of God (12:15-17), and refusing Christ (12:25-29).  In each of the warnings, the OT Israelites are used as an example of disbelief, disobedience, and consequent judgment.  Never once are they described or portrayed as having believed and then disbelieved.  Rather they were shown truth, but they disobeyed it.
That being said, these same warnings serve a function for the other two groups being addressed.  For the true believer, such warnings prompt one to look for the fruit that gives assurance of true conversion.  For the unbeliever, the warnings exhort one to consider the consequences of continuing in unbelief.
With all of that in mind, we want to continue our look at the context by studying the link between faith and fruit in the book of Hebrews.  In the warning found in 3:7-4:3a, the wilderness generation Israelites are held up as examples of unbelief.  Even though they received magnificent revelation of the living God, they did not obey.  Here unbelief and disobedience are so closely linked they almost seem to be synonymous.  Heb 3:12, Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  What is it that leads the people to disobey God?  An evil, unbelieving heart. 
The accords with what Jesus said in Mark 7:21-22, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”  An unbelieving heart leads to disobedience.  A bad heart issues bad fruit. 
The writer of Hebrews continues, pointing out that the generation that died in the wilderness were those who sinned, who provoked God for forty years (3:16-17).  Those who did not enter the promised land were those who were disobedient (3:18).  And then v19 summarizes the point that has been made:  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.  In other words, after the writer describes the disobedience of those who died in the wilderness, he identifies the underlying reason for their sin and subsequent punishment – they did not believe. 
So we could say then that bad fruit, or disobedience, is the product of unbelief.  The issue of fruit is more explicitly addressed in 6:7-12, the verses that follow immediately after the big passage we are addressing in this series. 
  7 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.  What is this blessing?  It must be eternal life, referred to in chs3-4 as God’s rest.  Those who drink the rain are those who have received the revelation of God, those things described in 6:4-6.  The ones who receive that revelation and produce a useful, or good, crop receive eternal life.
 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.  The Israelites of the wilderness drank the rain, so to speak.  They enjoyed all the revelation of God and the benefits of being God’s people, yet they produced the fruit of unbelief, disobedience.  Their end was judgment.  I don’t want to jump the gun here, but that is precisely the point of vv4-6, the verses with which we have concerned ourselves in this long series.  Just because you have received all the revelation of God does not mean you are His children.  The Israelites received it all and they were burned because in spite of the revelation given them, they did not believe.
 9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things--things that belong to salvation.  What are the things that belong to salvation?  V10 tells us.
 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.  FRUIT!  The things that belong to salvation are the fruit of service, good works, and love for the Savior.  The things that belong to salvation are not all the revelation that one has experienced.
 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  To what is he exhorting them?  To bear the good works that provide the assurance that one is saved. 
If you are a believer, there should be evidence of it.  For many years, preachers, evangelists, and teachers have taught that the assurance of one’s salvation is found in the memory of a prayer prayed, commitment made, or an experience had.  However, I am not aware of any such teaching in the New Testament.   
To be convinced of our salvation, we need not point back to experiences that we’ve had or steps that we’ve taken.  Rather, Scripture repeatedly exhorts us to examine the fruit of our lives to determine if we are truly saved. 
In 2 Peter 1:3-4, Peter writes that we have been saved and granted by God’s power all things pertaining to life and godliness, so that we might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  In other words, through our salvation in Christ we have been granted the ability to live godly lives. 
To assure the recipients of their salvation, does Peter then prompt them to look back at a prayer prayed or a commitment made?  No, he exhorts them to bear fruit: 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
What is Peter’s desire?  That by producing fruit they would have assurance that they are redeemed.  v10, Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  Again, what is it that will make them sure of their call and election? Practicing “these things.”
What does all this have to do with Hebrews 6:4-6?
Scripture never points us back to experiences to validate our conversion.  All of the things in vv4-6 are experiences.  Having those experiences are no indication that one has been saved.  Like the Israelites, you and I can experience all the revelation that God has ever made available to man and still not be redeemed.  How is it then that we can know if we are believers?  Scripture exhorts us to look for fruit in keeping with repentance.  If someone has truly believed, his or her life will show evidence in the form of fruit.
Next time, we’ll finish our look at the context by considering Hebrews' description of the atonement and what bearing that has on the certainty and irrevocability of our salvation. 

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"I'll take Christ. You can keep the church."

When I read last week that novelist Anne Rice was leaving Christianity, I thought it was a very timely illustration for us as we have been looking at the issue of the perseverance of the saints.  I thought Rice was the perfect example of what we have seen in 1 John 2:19, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.  But as I read further, I realized there was a different truth at play.  Rice wasn’t renouncing Christ, just His church.
Rice has experienced great difficulty in reconciling her liberal social views with biblical Christianity.  In an attempt to hold onto those views and Christ, she has jettisoned the church.  The question that this raises is, “is it possible to hold onto Christ while rejecting His church?”  The answer is no.   
Romans 12:4-5 tells us, For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  God, in making us members of the body of Christ, has also made us members of one another.  We are connected in one unified body to Christ as our head.  Ephesians 4:1-16 shows that there is one body and that God has gifted each member of the body to edify the church.  As each member exercises his or her gift, the body “builds itself up in love” (v16).  The purpose of our growth is that we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” so that the body as a whole attains Christlikeness (v13).  God has not provided a mechanism for Christlikeness outside of the ministry of the body of Christ. 
We need to be admonished when we are idle, encouraged when we are fainthearted, helped when we are weak (1Th 5:14).  We need the teaching of the word from those gifted to speak biblical truth, so that we will be equipped for the work of ministry (Eph 4:11-12).  We need brothers and sisters to walk beside us as we pursue holiness and kill sin (2 Tim 2:22).  This is why it is explicitly forbidden to separate yourself from the church (Heb 10:25).  We need each other. 
Scripture so clearly teaches that we are to be active, serving members of the body of Christ that for one to walk away from the church, one of two things must be true of that person.  Either they have deliberately disobeyed the truth or they have rejected the inerrancy, inspiration, and authority of God’s Word.  Based on statements I’ve read from Anne Rice, it appears that in her case the latter is true.
There is a very practical lesson here for those of us who regularly attend a local church.  Attendance on Sunday morning is not equivalent to carrying out all the mandates I just mentioned above.  We can be at church every time the door is open, but never be engaged in the lives of others, actively serving one another, submitting to the teaching of the bible, keeping one another accountable, praying for one another, or encouraging one another.  If we are not doing those things, one of two things must be true of us: either we are deliberately disobeying the truth or we have rejected the inerrancy, inspiration, and authority of God’s word.  
Whichever is the case, it is impossible to hold onto Christ the Head while rejecting His body.

Posted by Greg Birdwell