Within five minutes of the Bear Valley church building, you will find Atonement Lutheran, Landmark Tabernacle, Bear Valley Church of God of Prophesy, Bear Valley Fellowship, Christ Congregational Church, Hope Crossing Church, and Light of Christ of Anglican. Expand the search by just a mile or so and that number increases quite a lot. For the casual passerby, who observes our plain, ordinary facilities, they likely consider us just another in a series of churches or denominations. In fact, to them, the words are exact synonyms. Were they to visit each of the churches listed, including us, these observers would conclude that we all share a certain number of things in common while each having uniquenesses that set us apart. Their deduction from this would run the gamut of perplexity, amusement, curiosity, inquisitiveness, and even, perhaps, disdain and hostility. When we all meet in large, four-walled edifices with foundations and roofs, with classrooms, an auditorium, some sort of rostrum, a foyer, and even some type of baptistery or “font.” So, just seeing us from the road or even stepping inside of our building is not enough to tell them who we really are.
If we are serious about the belief that we are trying to be the church of the New Testament, pre-denominational, and apart from Catholic or Protestant ancestry, what is our responsibility? What is our responsibility to God, one another, and the culture at large? Are there principles or precepts that should guide us in seeking to be faithful to the pattern the Lord left for His church to follow? If so, here are some priorities we must emphasize:
- Identity. Are we known to our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family? If so, what are we known for? A deacon here recently related a conversation his boss made about her nephew, who she contemptuously related was a member of the “church of Christ,” an “ultraconservative” group that “doesn’t believe in instruments and women preachers.” Certainly, her statement said a lot about her, but is that how we want to be identified? What I mean is, when someone thinks of the church of Christ, wouldn’t we rather be known for what we do believe in and what we are for? Remarkably, Jesus impresses His disciples with this command: “”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The early church exemplified this (see Acts 2:42-47). Their loving way did not make them popular of universally beloved. That is not the goal of discipleship or the intention of our Savior (see Matthew 10:37), but we are to demonstrate love.
- Authority. To the untrained eye who visits our assemblies, the male leadership, the a cappella singing, the every-week-observance of the Lord’s Supper, the sharing of a “plan of salvation” that necessitates baptism, and the like may or may not evoke serious consideration. Elsewhere, in denominational churches, they will see choirs, rock bands, “tongue-speaking,” women preachers, babies sprinkled, priests officiating, and liturgical recitations (maybe in a different language). The thrust of evangelism, not to mention a periodic, thoughtful explanation of why we do what we do in worship and teaching, is to explain why we do (or don’t do) what we do (or don’t do). Essentially, it boils down to the principle spelled out in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” He has all authority (Mat. 28:18). He is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23). He guided His apostles into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13). Thus, our concerted, ongoing effort is to honor and submit to His will wherever He specifies a matter (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3). If He has specified it, we do it exactly and only that way. If He has not specified it, we use our best judgment and the most expedient way to carry it out.
- Practicality. Synonyms might be “applicable,” “relevant,” or “relatable.” Our mission, first of all, is to enact the truth of God’s word in our everyday lives. This is a matter of example or influence. Many a member of the body has given the Head a black eye by not following what the church teaches we believe. Our mission is also a matter of trying to build a bridge to the community around us. In matters that do not equate to “right and wrong,” can we establish rapport? To the extent that we do not violate Scriptural principles like modesty and decency, does our dress make it easier or harder for us to reach others? So long as their message is biblical and fulfill the criteria of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, do our songs’ melodies and words help “outsiders,” younger members, and new Christians understand His Word and will? Or do they need an lexicon for archaic words? Do our Bible School materials, tracts, bulletin boards, and visual aids seem 21st Century or like a first edition work of Gutenberg’s press? It is possible that there are some who pant for every new, trendy, shiny thing that comes along, hoping it will lure the unsuspecting unchurched one into our midst. That extreme should not drive us to be obtuse or mysterious in terminology, outmoded in approach, and outlandish in frugality or form. To be clownish or undignified is unacceptable, but neither should we be cold or unnatural.
This is not the irreducible minimum, the end all of the discussion. But, if we will take who we are, whose we are, and who we are here for seriously, the uniqueness of simple, New Testament Christianity will shine through us and cause us to impact our community and our world for Christ. Isn’t that what we should desire?