by Phil Bradshaw
Usually it doesn’t take much to set me off on a train of thought, and the visit earlier in the year from the Archdeacon, addressing our financial situation, was a case in point.
Although finance affects us all as individuals, there is also an equally important sense in which any message on the subject is for the church as a whole. A big problem for Christians in modern times is that we are used to thinking of faith as mostly a private matter between me and God. It’s part of our culture and it affects every single part of our lives.
Small wonder, then, that appeals on behalf of the institution don’t always have the desired effect. We receive so many, from all sorts of bodies.
Individualism tends to make us into consumers, where even volunteering takes its place within our own personal priorities. Institutions, on the other hand, have a dynamic all of their own, whether sacred or secular. They tend to assume absolute importance, irrespective of individual needs and preferences. Traditions become fortresses. Demand for resources is insatiable, and so on.
This sets up a tension between individual and institutional needs which can seem irreconcilable, yet as Christians we seek to witness against the demands of culture. We do this by recognising who we are assisters and brothers in Christ and giving ourselves to each other to be the body of Christ where we are. This changes the focus both from us as individuals with personal preferences and from the institution as the top priority.
Churches are always vulnerable when the ties that bind their members are weak. This is one reason not to be over-focused on certain activities or ministries, which are self-limiting.
The body of Christ is an organic concept in which all members belong, and the weakest, especially, have an honoured place. Tending to the ‘body’ makes it highly responsive to needs, builds relationships across natural divides and creates a strong corporate identity. This helps release resources.
In the book of Revelation, the vision gives a message to various churches. All are in danger of losing their ‘lampstand’, i.e. their ability to witness and attract members. Their corporate identity – their witness to the gospel – is what needs attention. It was a message to churches rather than individuals. Some churches had no idea how feeble their witness together was. So the call was to return to the gospel which had so much power in the beginning. It was genuinely inclusive and highly responsive to need. It possessed a palpable sense of unity across many divides. It was profoundly liberating.
Underpinning it was a union with each other and the Lord through prayer and worship together. Whatever the presenting issue, even today corporate problems will always call us back to that foundational vision of the church of Jesus Christ.