If I were to ask you what is the number one enemy of your local church, what words would be at the top of your list? Satan. The world. The Flesh. Corruption. Limited resources and manpower. Government. Flawed leaders. And the list goes on. May I submit to you that there is a more subtle enemy that likely is more frequently opposing and undermining the mission/message of your local church than any other-autonomy of the believer fraudulently posing as “soul liberty.” As Scotty Smith so wisely posted, “I need Jesus but not the church” is to say, “I need Jesus but not everything Jesus says I need.”
Last time I checked, the book of Judges that painfully records “every man doing what was right in his own eyes” was not the apex of spiritual and relational vibrancy in the history of God’s people. While soul liberty is a legitimate, biblical thing, it is unfortunately being coopted by our highly-deceptive flesh…especially with all that we are navigating right now. As one pastor put it, “Covid did not RUIN the church; Covid REVEALED THE CHURCH.” It is kind of like draining a pond doesn’t make but reveals what is under the surface. Do you know what has been exposed in recent days-a highly self-oriented and twisted view of soul liberty divorced from the only organization that Christ loved and gave Himself, the One who least needed the church/was most inconvenienced by the church.
Would you allow me to challenge each of us at least loosely affiliated with the local church who are “calling our own shots” in ways that we have no sanctified right to do so and is providing, whether we intend it to or not, a great deal of friction against its God-assigned mission:
- Regularly opting in and out of ministry responsibilities on a whim greatly taxes those at the point in any given area that, amongst other secondary priorities, must primarily be consistent to be of any redemptive value.
- Deciding to engage with our church only online (when there is no legitimate reason) undercuts the incarnational gatherings that need our in-the-room contributions and blessings of fellowship, worship, and spiritual gifts.
- Insulating your kids from being influenced whatsoever by other sincere servant-leaders in the church whether that be elders, youth pastors, junior church teacher, or older peers. (There is nothing wrong with monitoring this influence, but rejecting it as a whole is grossly out of step with “older teaching the younger” model of Titus 2:1-8 that is not just to happen in the home but also the church.)
- Clamoring for the “next and new thing” to keep us engaged and excited at the expense of “outdated, old school” faith and practice that keeps us true to God’s Book.
- Attempting to strong arm or steer the church and its leadership more towards our personal preferences, activist causes, and comfort zone than the clear, timeless principles of God’s Word. (This will stifle the Spirit-led vision and impact of the church almost more than anything else!)
- Relegating clear for-every-Christian responsibilities like giving, outreach, singing, serving, etc. to “only a few gifted/called individuals.” (The typical 20% doing 80% paradigm is killing not just ministries but ministers and their families!)
- Attending church services and participating in events only when they don’t conflict with our other calendar obligations and leisure. (What about starting with what is on the church calendar and doing our honest best to work ever thing else around it?)
- Leading with unnecessary layers of insulation from followers and insecure isolation from other leaders gifted to the church that should provide collective wisdom, collaboration, and accountability.
- Under-appreciating how tough and complicated it is for the leaders of the church to sustain their spiritual vitality, ministerial passion, and fresh vision for the long haul when stuck leading people like us.
- Mistaking a self-constructed echo chamber (head/heart space that only allows subjective perspective that aligns with ours whether that be in person or online) for “solitude” (time alone with God’s Word and Spirit).
- Hindering the efficiency of the local church by being a high maintenance member who increases instead of diminishes unnecessary drama and tension.
- Maintaining a cynical tendency to label “new” ideas and initiatives that cut in on what we are used to or comfortable with as always “bad until proven otherwise.”
- Practicing an aloof “a la carte” mindset instead of a passionate “I’m all in” vibe towards the local church in which we would be the first to acknowledge God has providentially placed us.
- Lastly, reading and proclaiming the New Testament to support our independent, illuminated views on things while ignoring the fact that all of it is written to and about a Christianity that is intricately connected to the local church.
Autonomous cars may become a mainstream and viable thing, but autonomous Christians, not just in this life but in eternity (Re. 5), will never be a thing! The two concepts are an oxymoron. Jared Wilson bluntly states, ““The Americanization of Christianity, which includes a heavy emphasis on individualism and autonomy, has caused many to believe that the faith once delivered can be expressed in isolation – that the essence of Christianity is to go out and ‘be the church,’ while gathering with a visible, local church is left as optional. But there is no ‘being the church’ apart from ‘going to church’..The two are intrinsically connected. If you pull the thread of the local church out of the fabric of the New Testament, you no longer have a New Testament.”
There is another “a” word that we must remember as we are tempted to flout our autonomy, and that word is ACCOUNTABILITY. Paul reminds us in chapter committed to dealing with soul liberty in matters of even secondary importance, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Ro. 14:12). That raises the bar, not lowers it for the New Testaments believer with soul liberty! The God we are accountable to, by the way, who clearly reveals that it is His unmistakable will for every believer to be fully engaged in the local church. As one writer puts it, ““I’ve been hurt by church people more than by anybody else. And yet, solo discipleship is not a biblical option. I’ll give up on the local church when Jesus does and not a second sooner.” Could it be that your autonomy is ultimately not just casting off the “unnecessary and inefficient” restraints of the body of Christ but also its Head, even Jesus?