After just a short day of working in the yard, I had an epiphany. Actually it was more like a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap up back of the head. I am so tired of being tired. I remember when (dear Lord, I am so sounding like an old geezer!) I would work all day in the yard and not be as tired as I was after only 3 hours. I know that this body doesn’t work at 61 like I did when I was 21. But dog-gone-it, I should not be that tired. I knew which parts of my body I wanted in better shape.
Call it Prevenient Grace, but I received an email from my health insurance provider about a discounted rate for members to join local fitness centers. A simple 6 minute drive from our home is one of those fitness centers. It is located next to and operated by the local hospital–that’s good in case I have a coronary event. They have a variety of exercise equipment that would help meet my personal goals. And as an added bonus, they have a whirlpool. I knew my aching joints and muscles would appreciate the treatment. So, with the debit card information and a click, I joined the Keller Wellness Center. So, what does my story have to do with the Kingdom Life? Thank you for asking. I’ll tell you.
When these thoughts first started fermenting in this mind of mind, I had an idea of which direction I would go–but now, forget that! I’m now thinking about how this relates to the human tradition of what, in Churchian and Tenured Pew Sitters terminology, is called “church-membership”. We see nothing in the New Testament about the necessity and value of “church-membership”, yet today a high value is placed on such a concept. So high that a new group of people have been identified as the “Dones”. These are the people who were once very active in a local congregation but now, for a variety of reasons, are “Done” with the church.
I’m not exactly sure of where and when this concept of “church-membership” developed, but I do remember what the early Body of Christ looked like and what they did. You can find in it Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Oops, I just heard a Tenured Pew Sitter say, “Wait a minute. There it is, church membership–“the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” Very astute of you to notice that, but your application of the context is all wrong. The Greek word for “fellowship” (or “church” in the KJV) is “ekklēsia” and it means: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place”. There’s nothing here about catechisms to be learned or rules and boundaries to be observed. The only stipulation was that God had called them out of their old life into His New Life.
This new life is not the church life, but the Kingdom Life. And this Kingdom Life is all about sharing the life of Jesus with each other and with their communities. Unfortunately, many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have taken this being “called out” to mean that we are now like American Express. What do I mean by such a blasphemous statement? Well it is like this, American Express had an ad campaign back in the 1990’s that said, “Membership has its privileges.” Actually, it would not surprise me if those mad men (and women) of advertising were actually inspired by the American church.
For decades now Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have viewed church-membership as such. You join and work your way up the ranks. The more you conform (forget transformation) to the pattern, the more privileges you earn. But church-membership should be more than earning privileges. It is about aligning one’s heart, mind, soul and whole life to the principles of Kingdom Living. Now let me show you how this relates to my recent “joining” the Keller Wellness Center.
I signed up and paid my monthly dues. But what if I go in there and simply sit, watching others improve the fitness of their bodies? How is that making my body more fit at 61? And I even found myself doing something I loathed one day. I was on an exercise bike, which is quite a feat for me. For me to sit on a bike, it has to have at least a V-Twin under me; no pedaling for me. But there I was just pedaling away. I noticed one person working out on an elliptical and I thought to myself, “They are doing it all wrong! Don’t they know how ridiculous they look?” And now I hear the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear, “Well played, Tenured Pew Sitter, well-played.”
To be included in the “ekklēsia” requires more than sitting. Looking at the Acts 2 example and pattern it is about 5 things:
- A shared life together where you get to know, appreciate and support each other
- Remembering our living is to look like Jesus dying–caring more for others than for self
- Loving others in ways that they experience the Life God offers
- Worshipping God only, not our ways and styles of worship
- And doing it publicly in ways that draws attention to Jesus, not yourself.
Membership does NOT have its privileges when it comes to the Body of Christ. Membership has duties and responsibilities–like getting out into our neighborhoods and communities living out what we learned together in our gathering and sharing the life of Jesus–the Kingdom Life. And shamelessly I want to speak to those who live in the vicinity of Sheffield, Alabama. If you are one of the “Dones”, I want to personally invite you to Sheffield First United Methodist Church where others and myself are moving away from the story of “the church” and into a much bigger epic–the story of The Kingdom of God.
Sorry Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters. Membership has NO, absolutely NO privileges. It does have, however, great responsibilities and even greater joy, the joy that comes from living in a much bigger narrative, a life much bigger than any and all of us–it’s called The Kingdom Of God!
Remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!