Volume 30, Number 3
The article in the May/June issue of the BRF Witness is a sequel to the message contained in the March/April issue. Then, we studied causes for lack of commitment to Christ and the church. Now, we look at ways to build and develop commitment to Christ and the church. The article contained here is an edited version of a message delivered by James F. Myer at the Mount Pleasant Church of the Brethren near Canton, Ohio on September 11, 1993.
The word “commitment” speaks of a pledge or a promise to perform a task or carry out a duty. When individuals are received into church membership, most congregations ask applicants for membership to promise to accept a variety of duties in the church.
God does not expect Christians to be hermits. He does not intend that we imitate the Lone Ranger, going on in the Christian life by ourselves without the help and ministry of our brothers and sisters in the faith. The church is a spiritual body of inter-dependent members, and indeed “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you, nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Every member of the congregation needs every other member. In light of this great truth, it would be better not to sing the song, “On the Jericho Road, there’s room for just two; no more and no less, just Jesus and you.”
The highway to glory anticipates that God’s people will march along together side by side. The New Testament knows nothing of the solitary Christian. New Testament Christianity involves a personal faith, but it is not individualistic. It is a community of disciples who care for each other and who interact with one another. This is one of the reasons why across the centuries God’s people have gathered together on a regular basis for fellowship and worship. Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath “as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). Worship was our Saviour’s habit. It is the duty of all Christians to be actively involved in their church and to faithfully participate in the services.
We must not become careless about fellowship with God’s people. Being actively involved in the local congregation should be a matter of supreme importance. It should be a priority that really matters. It should be at the top of our life’s agenda. We Christians must never give more time and attention and energy to hobbies and sports and following the media (through newspapers, radio, and television), than we do to nurturing our relationship with God.
The Apostle Paul speaks of a catalog of character traits in Galatians 5:22-23, which the Scripture calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” These personality traits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), can be developed only through relationship and interaction with one another. They cannot generally be developed by hermits and rugged individualists. These qualities develop in the soil of community. One can go off to some desert island like Robinson Crusoe did, and live by himself, but that person will never develop the fruit of the Spirit.
Over and over again, the New Testament urges us to love one another (e.g. John 13:34). We are told to show honor to one another (Romans 12:10), to welcome one another (Romans 15:7), to serve one another (Galatians 5:13/KJV), to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), to be subject to one another (Ephesians 5:21), to teach one another (Colossians 3:16), to encourage one another (2 Thessalonians 4:18), to pray for one another (James 5:16), etc. As we faithfully pursue these responsibilities, we become more and more productive disciples of Jesus Christ. Commitment to Christ and the church is a vital part of becoming a glowing and growing Christian.
How to Develop Strong Commitment to the Church
By James F. Myer
The message today will be approached very much like a doctor would write a prescription. Our text is found in Revelation 3:18, and we want to notice three factors that relate to the theme of developing strong commitment to Christ and the church.
In Christ’s message to the church at Laodicea, we find the words, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire … and white robes to clothe you…and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” In this passage we will discover some lessons related to the matter of commitment.
1. COMMITMENT IS DEVELOPED THROUGH BIBLICAL INSTRUCTION
Jesus, in Revelation 3:18 says, “I counsel you.” We need to get back to receiving biblical counsel if we are going to have a basis for developing commitment in the church. The Laodiceans were a lukewarm church, but how will one really know the spiritual temperature if some kind of thermometer is not used? The people at Laodicea continued on in a spiritually lukewarm condition, but apparently did not know it. The church at Laodicea was a low fever, half-sick church. So the Lord Jesus (through the Apostle John) says, “I counsel you.”
The Scriptures say that Jesus taught with authority (Matthew 7:29) and people responded to His teaching. And I am inclined to think that the ” gold refined by fire” (in our text) is related to the Word of the Lord, for it is forever settled in heaven. Gold is a precious metal that goes through all kinds of testing. The Scriptures say that heaven and earth shall pass away, but the word of the Lord will never pass away. So, in a sense, the Word of God has similar qualities to the precious metal called gold.
What kind of biblical instruction will enable us to build strong commitment?
a) Keep stressing the doctrine of salvation.
Even though we may not like to hear sermon themes repeated over and over again, it is not enough to state the claims of Christ once, and then not continue to instruct in those areas. I think salvation is that “pearl of great price” which Jesus spoke about in Matthew 13. The great issues of life spring from the heart, and so we want to continue stressing the value of a redeemed soul, and the need to get right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. We need to be burdened about the condition of lost souls, and our churches must become soul saving centers where dying sinners can receive relief and hope.
One time D. L. Moody came back from a series of meetings, and his wife asked how they went. Moody answered by saying that 2 1/2 people were saved. She said, “What do you mean, two adults and one child?” “No,” Mr. Moody said, “two children and one adult”-because for the adult, half the human life was over. Moody was moved with a constant urgency about lost souls. He was not easily side-tracked, Through biblical instruction we can expect to develop strong commitment. One part of that commitment is to keep the doctrine of salvation clearly presented.
b) Hold spiritual heroes high.
How are sports competitors motivated? How does one develop a winning team? The commitment to win a game starts in the minds of team members. There must be some kind of motivation, and in the sports realm, most of the successful coaches have themselves been former stars.
In the Bible, Hebrews 11 is a motivating chapter to show how people in the past had a commitment even unto death. And when Paul said, “I press toward the mark” (Philippians 3:14), he was painting a kind of competitive sports picture. Christians who are willing to suffer for their faith will challenge followers. I know at least one minister who was resisting the call into the ordained ministry until he studied the account of Jonah, and out of his struggles in studying Jonah, he accepted the commitment to follow the Lord’s call into the ministry.
c) Warn of the evils of the world.
A compromising attitude toward the evils of the world deadens commitment. We have somehow been conditioned by society to believe that if the church expects high standards and warns of the evils of the world, people will be driven away. Failing to warn about the wickedness of the present world system slowly develops a compromising attitude toward evils of the world and deadens Christian commitment.
We look back in our Brethren heritage with lots of respect for most of our Brethren forebears. One of the things the early Brethren understood was the fact that “out there” was what the Bible calls “this present evil world.” Romans 12:1-2 became a very crucial text for the Brethren. The Reformation had pointed out to early Brethren the character of a corrupted church. When the church and the state became friendly with each other (as was the case during the Middle Ages), there was corruption and decay within the church. The church needs to stand against the decaying morals of this world system. Commitment to Christ and the church is developed through biblical instruction.
2. COMMITMENT IS DEVELOPED THROUGH BIBLICAL DISCIPLINE
Revelation 3:18 continues with the words, “and white raiment.” I like to apply that phrase this way: After accomplishing certain achievements, there are graduates who are clothed in white as they receive their diplomas. We have seen white caps placed on nurses who have met graduation requirements. A white dress on a bride is a symbol of purity, and to achieve this standard requires some discipline. It may have required several years of discipline to get to the place where the wearing of white seems to be appropriate. We are aware that the word “discipline” has become a dirty word in the church-so dirty in fact that it has almost totally been swept under the rug, and very little of it is seen across our brotherhood. We have done this with the belief that by removing discipline from church life we will be able to welcome more people into the church who have not had a Brethren background. The lack of discipline has resulted in a general lack of motivation in the lives of individuals, which brings on a lack of commitment.
a) Discipline must establish high standards.
We live in a wide open brotherhood where most anything goes, and yet it is almost universally true that the higher the standards the greater the level of commitment. It is true in the world of business. A business that is put together with a sloppy set of standards, where workers can do whatever they want, get to work whenever they choose, leave whenever they wish, waste as much time as they choose to waste-is not the kind of business that is going to have a competitive edge in the commercial world. A team that says one can practice (or can decide not to practice) will not be in the playoffs. How do we expect that a church comprised of people without holy standards will develop commitment? The Bible says the Lord someday is going to call to himself a glorious church that does not have spot or wrinkle. Have we not fallen for a terrible fie when we imply that it is okay to let the standards down and let everything come into the church? Who is going to be walking with white garments in glory?
We do not need to apologize for standards that are based on the Scriptures. That is why I continue to teach those practices which are listed on “The Brethren’s Card.” When those doctrines and practices were our standard in the Church of the Brethren, we had a church with much more commitment than we have today. Instead of scaring people away with those standards, earlier Brethren actually encouraged individuals to embrace something solid, and their lives were committed to eternal truths.
b) Discipline must nurture fellowship and relationships.
This is not a reference to some harsh discipline that ruthlessly casts people off. We cannot experience growth in the church if there is a harsh negative spirit condemning every little infraction. Many years ago I heard a man who was a so-called expert on why people become inactive church members, say that the number-one reason why most people become inactive in the church is because of hurt feelings. When we feel good about our family we want to identify with them. We want to participate in activities with them. We want to protect them from things that will hurt them. And just so I believe that part of biblical discipline is to encourage people, and to have a ministry that helps those who are on the fringes to keep them activated.
c) Discipline must exercise surgical and corrective procedures.
There is a bottom line in biblical discipline. The purpose for discipline is stated in 1 Timothy 5:20, where we read, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear.” One of the Scriptures held dear by the Brethren is Matthew 18:15-18. We are told to go to the person who has offended and state our concern, and “if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15). The purpose of discipline is really to win back the offender.
First Corinthians 5 is a case study where a very shameful kind of immorality was tolerated in the church. The command in the last verse of the chapter is this: “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Corinthians 5:13b). The church that does not discipline its members sends a message implying that it really does not matter how its members live. And a message which says that it doesn’t matter how one lives, is anything but a motivating energy to bring commitment. Commitment to Christ and the church is developed through biblical discipline,
3. COMMITMENT IS DEVELOPED THROUGH BIBLICAL SERVICE
The text in Revelation 3:18 not only says “I counsel you,” and something about “white raiment,” but it speaks of “anointing with eye salve.” I think we need a revival of biblical eye salve in the Church of the Brethren to get us to think like God thinks about what is right and what is wrong. In Laodicea, something happened to their eyes and they lost a vision, and without a vision the Bible says that people perish.
An important aspect of vision is to see what needs to be done, and biblical “service” is an important aspect of the church’s ministry. Service is a broad area. It is not just giving a year of volunteer time in BVS. People may find their service at the altar of prayer, or in a ministry of teaching, or preaching the Word, or helping the poor, or winning the lost. These activities are spiritual aerobics–the kinds of activities that develop commitment and spiritual fitness. There are churches that organize physical fitness events. (I heard of one congregation where the women get together twice a week and they go for a three or four mile walk. What do you think they do while they walk? They talk! In fact, this group of ladies call themselves “the walkie talkies.”) These are physical activities; we want to examine some spiritual aerobics.
a) Biblical service will call forth leaders.
When commitment is in place in the church, the leadership needs of the group will be met. If things are healthy in the local congregation, the church will probably call forth persons into leadership positions from within the group. It is a spiritually motivating thing to have a group process by which a person from the group is called upon to lead. Some will be called to lead in the ministry, some to teach in the Sunday School, and some to lead in the area of youth work. When commitment is in place, leadership needs of the group will be met.
The Laodicean church was no longer moved to meet human needs. They had become lazy, laid back, and self sufficient. They thought they had need of nothing. It is motivating to be called to lead. Congregations which do not call forth leaders on a regular basis are missing a key ingredient necessary to challenge people to commitment.
b) Biblical service will encourage the function of spiritual gifts.
A born again Christian receives the gift (and gifts) of the Spirit. No Christian has all the gifts, but a healthy group has all of them. That is how the ministry of a congregation is complete, not depending upon the abilities of the pastor alone. It is by the function of all the gifts of the Spirit in the lives of the whole body (within a local church) that a balanced ministry reaches out effectively. The gifts are meant to bless the body. In order for its function to be complete, it is important that people serve in the areas where they are gifted. It is deadening to function in roles where persons are not gifted, but it is motivating to function where one is gifted. Someone, for example, who is an out-and-out teacher is motivated by the task of teaching, but he will not be motivated if he is assigned the task of cleaning the church building. And if someone is gifted to clean the church facility, and the congregation tries to force that person into teaching, the individual will likely not do well at teaching. People will not be motivated to function where they are not gifted.
One of the persons related to the Maine mission churches said: “I’m not one to get up front, and I’m not one to do teaching, but if you give me tasks on the outside, or work associated with the care of the building, I’ll be glad to do it.” Some congregations think they have done the cutest thing if they can force members with the gift of cleaning the church building to get up front and teach. They seem to enjoy watching them sweat and labor and get terribly nervous. That deadens a church.
It is possible of course that some persons do not spend enough time performing a variety of tasks, and thus are not sure what their gifts are. Individual members may be resisting what is a Spirit-endowed gift of teaching. Just because teaching may not go easy for you, does not mean that teaching is not your gift. But the church must seek to have people serve in positions where they can use the gifts God has bestowed upon them.
c) Biblical service views self-denial as a virtue.
I am glad for what Brother Carl Brubaker said (in an earlier message on commitment) about the seeker sensitive models of new church planting. (See BRF Witness, Vol. 30, No. 2). I was at the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, which is one of the most successful mega-churches in the United States today. The building layout is something like a mail First you are in the cafeteria; you can get supper; ‘then you can move off into the recreational area it you choose–If you make it through all the other things, eventually you’ll find yourself in the sanctuary–and at the split-second, the lights will come on with a multi-media presentation. The curtains will be pulled back and the band will start playing. It is all very professional and it takes a long time while sitting there under that performance to know when church has begun. I am not totally critical of the popular mood in Christendom today where many are peddling self-esteem and building up peoples’ egos. There may be little segments in our human experience where we need to be blown up a little. One writer says, “You ought to get lip in the morning, wipe the stuff out of your eyes, go to the bathroom and turn on the brightest lights, and stand in front of the mirror–and then smile and say I love you.”
Why do you think Jesus taught the ordinance of feet washing to His disciples just before He left them? Surely it is because He knew that self-denial is needed in our lives much more than self-esteem is needed. The spirit of “me first” and the demand for “my rights” really kills the essence of commitment to Christ and the church. It make,, “softies” out of us. It makes getting my own way seem so important. Most people don’t need help with loving themselves. We all need help in loving God supremely and in loving others as we love ourselves! Self-denial is a virtue, and if we had more self-denial in the church we would have a lot more commitment than we have today.
Jesus blessed a woman who said she was satisfied with the crumbs that fell from the table of a Jewish family (Matthew 15:21-28). She was willing to pick up the little pieces that fell off the edge of the table, and she knew that even that size blessing was enough. Our churches today need a return to accepting “the theology of crumbs” instead of emphasizing “blown up egos.”
In Revelation 3:18, Jesus prescribed three pills for our ailment related to commitment: 1) Gold tried in the fire–can refer to biblical instruction. 2) White raiment–can be likened to biblical discipline. 3) Eye salve–seeing the needs of others can refer to biblical service. These three components are necessary for building commitment to Christ and the church.