Saturday, November 22, 2014

Church and Partnership

Yesterday afternoon I got together with a few of our local church leaders to talk about the question of church "membership," or, as we have called it at Crossroads, "partnership." The word "partnership" as we have used it at Crossroads comes from Philippians 1:5 where the Apostle Paul expresses thankfulness for the way the church in the town of Philippi has shared in "the gospel from the first day until now."

As we shared together in conversation, and as I've been reflecting on it and studying today, I have learned how, in scripture, partnership is truly different than membership.
  • Membership (Greek "melos") applies to the entire Body of Christ, that is, to the church around the world. The word "melos" means "body part." On the other hand:
  • Partnership (Greek "koinonia") is an association of some of the members who respond to a particular call from God to participate in and to support a particular ministry, like that of a local church.
In Philippians 1:5 Paul thanks this one group of Christians for their partnership. He says, a few verses later, that there was a time when they "had no opportunity" to be in partnership with Paul. That means, therefore, that partnerships can be temporary, whereas membership is permanent. And partnerships involve some members of the body, not all.

It seems to me, therefore, that the word "partnership" (or any of the other synonyms such as "fellowship" or "sharing" or "participation") is God-given for the association that so-called "members" of local churches have with one another, and for other supportive relationships within the body, such as partnerships with missionaries and larger associations and alliances.

As I've been studying this for the last hour or so, I've noticed that, in the New Testament, the Greek word for "partnership" is used both for the deep and mysterious spiritual sharing that we have with Jesus and one another in the Body, and also for the friendship and practical support that believers give one another. Partnership (that is "koinonia") can not be separated from the ways we care for one another when some are in need. In fact, in several places, the word "koinonia" simply means "contribution"! I guess this is an practical way that "where your treasure is, your heart will be also."

We began our conversation yesterday by reading the scriptures that we sent out to the church in an email on Thursday.* One of the passages (Acts 4:32-35) we read spoke about the first Christians holding everything "in common" and selling "lands or houses" and distributing "to each as any had need." Someone asked why it is that we seem to keep coming back to scriptures that seem to be "communistic" in some ways. I said that we probably notice those scriptures because our American life is so individualistic when it comes to our finances and possessions. Someone else refocused on the point that the Lord calls us to care for one another when we are in need--and that the selling of our property is connected with that, not on any principle or philosophy that says everyone should be equal.

In any case, Holy Spirit directed fellowship is not stingy or partial. Though our partnerships may be temporary or opportunistic (depending on where we live and who we know at this stage of our life) if they are truly Holy Spirit driven they will be full and open. We will share much more than what is normal when people think about "joining a church."

There's more to share about this, but that's enough for now.
*You can download Thursday's email that went out to Crossroads here. The scriptures included in that email, and that we read yesterday at our meeting, are the ones we planning on reading tomorrow morning--all from the Community Builders month: John 13:34-35; John 17:22-23; Galatians 6:10; Acts 4:32-35; Colossians 2:12-17. Tomorrow, after some time in the Word of God, we'll share together about how we have seen our Lord growing us into a deeper life together in practical and visible ways -- with one another -- and with our Lord. We'll then pray about how God would lead us to grow even more into these truths.

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