4 Bible Communities You May Unknowingly Belong To

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Finding A Place (To Be)
I met with a mentor this morning to discuss Philippians together and God’s specific calling for us. We are working through it by internalizing the letter. He pointed out something significant that I totally missed.

The address of the letter, the very first line has the entire church structure laid out:

Bondservants
All the Saints
Overseers
Deacons

I want to back up and address this now. You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with me? I’m not interested in models of church governance”.

That’s the point of this post. Why does it matter? Let’s examine where we belong.

Let’s look at the cast of characters listed in the address of chapter 1 of Philippians. I am convinced that we all fit into 1 or more of these groups:

1. (Off-site) Workers – Paul & Timothy
These guys may very well be part of the the network of overseers that help under-shepherd the church in Philippi. However, in this case Paul is mentioning himself and Timothy because the message is coming straight from them.

Later in the letter, Paul says that they are bondservants of Christ Jesus. He is writing from a position of literal imprisonment but he makes it clear that he is bound only to Christ Jesus.

They’ve chosen to be His servants because He chose them to be His sons.

These are workers in the Gospel who are an extension of the Philippian  congregation. To use some of Ralph Winter’s terminology, the modality in Philippi is “all the saints”, the gathering arm. Their counterpart, the extended scattering arm is the sodality, Paul and Timothy.

With whom and to whom are you bound?

If you seek Christ Jesus, to know Him more and make Him known, this journey of joy is for you.

2. Congregation – All the saints
There are individuals addressed directly in this letter later on. But right in the first few words Paul states that the letter is to “all the saints” plus a few distinctions. How curious!

Inclusive yet discerning? The clergy and laity separation and ongoing debates are still in full swing. They probably always will be.

As long as God’s people are advancing His kingdom, we will have points of disagreement, mystery and controversy.

But we can honker down and burrow a path where the ministry of the Holy Spirit is plainly calling us.

Yes, the overseers and deacons are included in the all while remaining separate from within them.

Are you a part of the body of Christ, a child of God?

This letter and these prayers are for you.

3. Elders – Overseers
Who are the overseers? Many traditions might call these people bishops or elders. Overseer is a great term because the role is in the title.

But what if you’re not called to be an overseer? Must I recognize their authority or some other apostolic call and it’s place in my life? These questions come from a disconnected view of fellowship.

Church life can’t be separated from personal life. Remember, we are the church.

The ministry and leadership in our churches mean a lot. We must pray for them as family and vice versa.

Do you want to lead those around you and inspire them to vibrant kingdom life? Do you desire to live as overseers do, multiplying the family of God by being spiritually wise in the world and the church?

This letter will show us how the joy of Christ creates a different and new fellowship that endures and even spreads under the pressure of suffering.

4. (On-site) Workers – Deacons
Deacons lead the church in service.

Shouldn’t we all aspire quality to this lifestyle?

Similar to the overseers, these meet certain criteria found elsewhere in Paul’s writings.

This quality of man must qualify.

The focus on both of these groups should not be their titles or “positions” but their character and service. These groups set examples for their congregations, families and the onlooking world.

Do you desire to serve with all your might? Do you desire to build the body from within?

A life of ministry watches the example of leaders (formal or informal) and emulates them by interpreting then appropriately for their context.

All of this drives us deeper into Scripture, knit us tighter in fellowship with each other and rockets us globally to spread His name and expand His fame.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Buckinator says:

    You said, “But what if you’re not called to be an overseer? Must I recognize their authority or some other apostolic call and it’s place in my life? These questions come from a disconnected view of fellowship.” I disagree. Churches today are not the same as what Jesus had in mind in the church. I refuse to submit to a church, not because I don’t love God or Jesus or Christians, but because I don’t need a man with a seminary degree telling me how to be a Christian. there are so many ways for one to abuse that role. I know more people who have walked away from God because of bad leadership (and abuse) than have stayed. I walked away from the church because it’s too often an idol for so many. Unless you belong to a huge church where you can simply blend in, expectations are put on you–unnecessarily, I might add, to do this and that and not offend “the man” at the pulpit. I have nothing nice to say about the church. Maybe someday I’ll go back but for now, I’m surrounded by Christians who love me church or not. And its those people who encourage me to walk like Christ, not an overpaid pastor with a control issue. it comes down to my own relationship with Christ anyway. God speaks to us as individuals, not as collective group thinks. Isn’t it cultish to think you can only associate with people that go to your church? I found this in our last church. I even heard the pastors wife say that she wouldn’t “waste time” on people who didn’t go to the church. That’s sad really. To view people outside your church as a waste of time? I just can’t go back to that kind of thinking and unhealthy view of people and frankly, of God himself.

    1. Yeah, all of those issues are clearly unhealthy. Those are extreme situations. I don’t know of any Bible reading, discerning believer that would continue to attach themselves to something like that. So it’s good that you left.
      Here are some thoughts from my position though:
      If we take the command in Hebrews to “not forsake our assembling” seriously and we take the words of Jesus to go into all the world teaching and baptizing and also His words at the last supper, then maybe or problem is how we are defining church.
      Sounds like the believers you have are a sort of church, a community of believers. I understand the church to be any gathering of 2 or more where the Word is proclaimed and the sacraments administered. Some traditions define it as an experience. Some others don’t recognize anything out of their own specific hierarchical system.
      I can’t relate to the problems you’ve had. I’ve been hurt in churches like many other people. The church is people and people are messy and the church will never be perfect until the end. It doesn’t matter if we have gatherings in pubs, living rooms, street corners, prisons, basements, or huge fancy temple-like buildings the people that are inside of it is what makes it.
      If you don’t believe God speaks to entire people groups, then why should everyone read the Bible? Or do you believe that?
      I’m not trying to argue just want to hear more from you.
      To reject Jesus’s bride and still try to have Jesus though is an odd approach to walking in Christ, to me.
      Thanks for sharing and please don’t take this as anything other than curiosity.

  2. Buckinator says:

    I didn’t mean to state that God doesn’t speak to people groups, he did to the Israelites through Moses. What I mean is that as a person who sins, Christ died for me–specifically. I can go to Him and read the Bible. I don’t need a pastor to tell me what the bible says. In the NT people needed Paul and the other disciples because the Bible wasn’t available. Even so, the Holy Spirit dwells in all of us. I’m not saying all churches are bad. I wish I knew of one that wasn’t. But I’ve seen the extremes too often and it’s hard to want to run back to it. Our last church, we were very close with the leaders. I trusted them. And I know they are human and I get expectations can sometimes cause problems, but they abused their roles. They asked me to gossip and when I called them out on it, they didn’t even admit it was wrong. Do I hold them up on a pedestal? yes. They will be held accountable to a greater degree than someone who isn’t a pastor. Do I know they will fail? Of course. But the sign of a good leader who loves Christ is that He is able to ask for forgiveness and able to humble himself before another church member. The problem I see is that too often pastors look down on their members and instead of treating them as equals, both seeking Christ, both unable to fully live as Christ wants, but helping each other to look to the cross because that’s all we can do…they view them as projects. I very much felt like a project. There’s so much I can say. Yes, it was an unhealthy extreme, but it’s also very common. Of course the church is fallen. I don’t feel like “the church” can be contained in a building. So am I really rejecting the bride by not going to church when I do have Christians that speak into my life? I don’t believe so. But, I’m working it out. I left that church 3 months ago and it’s not easy to go back at this stage. I can’t picture ever doing so. Also, the church should be going out and being the church, not asking people to come inside and listen to sermons. Jesus didn’t do that. Why do we? I feel like the church can be a great tool to spur that kind of stuff on–being the hands and feet–but too often they just get big headed and stay indoors. Just my very opinionated thoughts on the matter from what I’ve seen and tried to reconcile in my mind about going to church.

  3. Laurie says:

    Jesus was against organized religion. That said – I am a practicing Cafeteria Catholic/Converted from Protestant upbringing. Where ever two or more are gathered in His name is a church – no? I agree, the Holy Spirit does reside within us. God is *always with me. Interested post and comments.

    1. What passages in scripture lead you to believe Jesus was against organized religion?

      1. Laurie says:

        I will post tonight – at work/lunch (over) right now.

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