The Lord created His church to be a connected people. We are to live not only in communion with Christ, but also in communion with each other. This interconnectedness is not incidental to who we are as the people of God, but it is a core element of what it means to be the church and it is essential to our witness of Christ to the world.
Consider the way the church is described in the scriptures and you will not be able to escape the fact that we are called to be connected in significant ways to one another. In Galatians, Paul describes the church as the “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). There, he says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The imagery is a family unit, living together under the same roof—a household. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, the apostle paints another picture of connectedness saying, “Now you are the body of Christ, members individually.” Again, he employs a metaphor which conveys the notion that our union with Christ is manifested through our connection with one another. Later, John writes that if we truly have fellowship with God, we will also have fellowship with one another (1 John 4:20). The two, our fellowship with God and our fellowship one to another, go hand in hand. A follower of Christ cannot have one without the other. This is the clear testimony of Scripture. The Bible calls us—the church—a redeemed community, a “holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9), members of the family of God (Rom. 8:15-17; 1 John 3:1-2).
Is it possible, then, to be a church and not have authentic relationship among members? In his book, The Church You’ve Always Wanted, E. Glenn Wagner challenges us directly on this point. He asks, “[If community is so important] how [do so] many men and women in our churches come every Sunday, give their tithes, sing the songs, then go home without connecting with anyone in a significant way?” He goes on to remind us that, “When God said at the beginning of human history, it is not good for man to be alone, he spoke of much more than the necessity of marriage. From the outset of the human story, God wanted to declare publicly that it is never good for us to live alone, disconnected from real and deep relationships with others.”
Our faith is personal, but it was never meant to be lived out individually. Personal Bible study is important, individual prayer life is essential, but God never intended our spiritual disciplines as substitutes for vital personal connection with others in His family. The Bible is so clear about this. Romans 12:5 says, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”
To that end, a church’s lasting impact is not only in its programs, but also (and sometimes especially) in the informal relationships and ordinary, day-to-day acts of compassion and fellowship among its members. Said another way, we can have the best activities around to feed the poor, educate children, and evangelize the community, but if we cannot grow in relationship with one another, we can never really transform lives. In his book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Dr. Ronald Sider says, “People today desperately need a church that functions as a church—a body of believers who accept liability for one another, are available to one another and make themselves accountable to one another.” That is the picture we are presented even in the earliest church, where “all who believed were together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44).
So, the challenge is before us. In a time when it seems like divisions exist across so many different lines and for so many different reasons, let us, the people of God, recommit to building authentic connection and relationship in the church. That is the Lord’s vision for His body. And as the world watches, it will be, at least in part, our connection that lets our “light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16). We are in this together.
Essentino A. Lewis, Jr. is the pastor of Clifton Park Baptist Church (Silver Spring, MD), a congregation representing over 30 nations and 19 native languages. In addition to his leadership in the church, he is committed to community and civic service. He was a practicing attorney for over a decade before his call to full-time ministry. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @pastoressentino