In our last post, we sought to lay some foundation to build upon as we seek to answer the question “what is a culture of discipleship?”. At the heart of this question is whether that culture will be built on shifting sand (programs that build a consumer mindset and ultimately undermine gospel culture) or a rock-solid, firm foundation (community values that reinforce a provider mindset and lead to a gospel culture).
So, what is a culture of discipleship? If culture is about what we make of the world, then a church’s culture is about what we make of the kingdom that Christ has saved us into, how we display its values, and see it advance (Col. 1:13; Eph. 3:10; Matt. 28:18-20).
Though we need only survey the “one-another” commands of the New Testament to see what a culture of discipleship looks like, that would take a little too long for a blog post! Though there are multiple passages we could examine (e.g. Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 4:1-4; 1 Thess. 5:9-11; 1 Cor. 12), one passage we’ll consider is Hebrews 10:23-25.
“Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
The presupposition of this passage is stated boldly in v.23. After coming to faith in Christ and clinging to Him as our perfect Savior and Lord, we are told that we must “hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering.” Though we are saved by grace in the here and now, we are called to hold onto Christ until the very end. The good news is that the God who has promised us this salvation is faithful to hold onto us! And yet, this is not some fatalistic reality by which we trust that He is faithful and coast with little responsibility on our end. We must persevere, and God, in His faithfulness to us, has appointed the means by which we do that.
We need the church. And not just the Church in an abstract, universal sense. We need the local church in a concrete, flesh-and-blood, embodied sense. It’s easy to love people occasionally and generally. It’s a different thing to love them regularly and specifically. The call in verse 24 to be concerned about one another presumes that there is a community where those “others” are known. The letter to the Hebrews was written to a real church of real people who really knew one another. And this call to consider one another demonstrates a value of being rooted in one community and seeking to be a provider (not a consumer) in that community.
Meaningful church membership is the way that a culture of being concerned for one another takes place. If the church is a revolving door of consumers seeking to get their fix and leaving whenever its convenient, then it’s probably less of a church and more of a religious crowd. Our society understands why a crowd of people will gather for a U2 concert. But they would never foresee a circumstance that would cause those people to commit to each other’s spiritual and physical well-being! Similarly, the world understands why 20-somethings would get together for a Bible study. But they don’t quite understand why a 20-something would commit herself to a community of people who are different from her. Only Jesus brings different people together and builds a loving community that seeks to be concerned for one another. Church membership makes that commitment a reality. In meaningful church membership, we commit to one another so that we are able to genuinely be concerned for one another.
That might prompt the question “for what purpose?”. Is this about control, numbers, legalistic impositions? Verse 24 says, “…in order to promote love and good works.” If the local church is the setting by which the diamond of God’s character and gospel is put on display (Eph. 3:10), then meaningful church membership is the thing that makes that happen. It’s a community of interdependent relationships in which Christians feel a genuine responsibility for one another. If we are concerned for one another, then we will intentionally do life together. The result? – love and good works. The body of Christ living as Christ would live, and doing what Christ would do.
Jesus says to us, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Do we want to be faithful disciples of Jesus who hold onto our confession of hope until the end? The answer is the church. Not a religious crowd, but the church. A culture of discipleship is about showing concern for a particular group of people in order to promote love and good works. Why? In the words of Jesus – “May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:23).
A culture reflects the values and beliefs of any people. A culture of discipleship reflects the reality that Jesus is a good King who gave Himself in love for His people. May we follow in His steps as we give ourselves in love for one another.
In our next post, we will think about the Hebrews 10:25 and the role of a “formal culture” that fuels “informal culture.”
Life Together – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus – Jonathan Leeman