Tim Keller:A Test for Biblical Involvement in the Local Church

January 17, 2008

Have you ever wondered what it means to be involved in the local church?  Thinking biblically, does attending church weekly, even going the extra-mile by going to Sunday school, constitute true biblical involvement? Furthermore, is passive involvement in church life where we mostly sit, receive information, sing songs, and then leave to embrace the demanding rat-race of life what the Bible has in mind when we are instructed to meet together regularly for the sake of our spiritual health (Hebrews 10:24-25)?

Tim Keller provides us a helpful test to gauge whether or not the depth of our involvement in our local church meets biblical criteria and standards. Keller is the Pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City. I have deep respect for Keller, the way he leads his church, and his gospel-centeredness in his ministry. I recently listened to a sermon by Keller titled “How the Cross Unites Us” from Ephesians 2:11-22. With this simple outline ( A) The Necessity of the Church; B) The Intensity of the Church; C) The Causality of the Church) Keller gives us reason to pause and evaluate whether or not we are investing in the body of Christ the way that we should. Within the body of the second point (the intensity of the Church) Keller talks about what it means to be deeply committed and involved in the local life of the church. The Apostle Paul uses very deliberate metaphors in speaking about the change in our status that takes place through faith in Jesus Christ. The people of God are united in Jesus, the dividing walls of hostility are torn down, and we are called to be fellow citizens, family, and building blocks for the Temple of God as God dwells in us collectively, not simply individually.

For the sake of brevity I encourage you to listen to the linked sermon, but let allow me to highlight the two tests that Keller gives to gauge whether or not we are really involved in the church as we should be, because according to Keller, and I believe he is right, simply attending church regularly isn’t enough.

Test #1: Personal Accountability

Keller tells the story about life before he got married. One day after he got married he went to work and after work he decided to stop by the store and pick up something. He arrived home about 30 minutes later than usual and walked in the door and his wife said, “Where were you?” Keller said he suddenly realized, “Oh, I didn’t tell her.” I never had to tell anybody when he was 30 minutes later than usual before. Suddenly he was accountable. Suddenly he realized he had lost control of his life! He wasn’t sure if he liked that, but it was too late then. He was married.

This is what we don’t like. Unless we find our ability to make decisions unilaterally hampered, unless we find that you are no longer an independent person who can kind of make his own decisions, unless that independence starts to go away, you are not involved enough in the church. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to exhort each other daily. How many people in this church know your besetting sins either because you have told them or you spend so much time with them that they can see them? And then, you’ve given them a green light to talk to you about them. You’ve given them a hunting license to come after you. You’ve given the permission to talk to you about them constantly. Are you personally accountable within this body of believers? Are you willing to go to this kind of accountability, you aren’t really invested in this household, you aren’t really the kind of building block that the gospel demands.

Test #2. Corporate spirituality. “As we are built up together, we are a temple of God…” God doesn’t indwell the individual building block, but rather, he indwells the temple. It is together we are inhabited by the Spirit of God. Corporate spirituality means that we are talking to each other about God. We are praying together. We are letting each other see what our relationship with God is really like. We are letting people see our heart toward God.

This is too intimate for most of us. We don’t like to talk at this level. In The Four Loves by CS Lewis he talks about his circle of friends, and some of these friends were pretty famous (Jack, Ronald (JRR Tolkien), and Charles). Charles died and when Charles died, as awful as this is, in some sense, at least I’ll have more of Ronald. He’ll spend more time with Ronald because there is no rival. But what Jack realized (to his shock) is that in losing Charles he did not have more of Ronald but less of him, for in losing Charles he lost the part of Ronald that only Charles could bring out. When Jack realized this he began to think, “If this is true of human beings, if no one human being can bring out all of another person, but it takes a whole circle of human beings (community) to extract the real you, how much more is this true of Jesus Christ?”

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity. I need other lights than my own to show all my friend’s facets. Now that Charles is dead I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald to myself, I now find that Charles is gone I have less of Ronald. In this friendship exhibits a glorious nearness experience to heaven itself, where the great multitude of the blessed, which no man can number, increases the fruition that each has of God. For every soul, seeing him in her own way doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. This is why the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying ‘Holy, holy, holy’ to one another. The more we share the heavenly bread between us, the more we shall have.”

The only way to know God intimately is to know a lot of other Christians intimately. The more Christians you are deeply involved with, the more you have opened your heart to, the more of God you will see.

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