Wineskins Archive

February 6, 2014

Longing to Belong (Sep-Oct 2001)

Filed under: — @ 4:56 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
September – October, 2001

Christianity is not a series of private e-mails between a solitary soul and the Savior. Jesus doesn’t make private, undisclosed salvation deals with people. No, when God saves any one of us, that person immediately has a relationship to all of us. We are born again not only from above but into the family of God. To be a Christian is to be linked to brothers and sisters in a spiritual bond. No Christian is an only child. Deep down, I believe all of us sense a longing to belong.

Since Jesus used parables to teach important truths that otherwise might remain abstract, let me try unpacking the paragraph above with one of my own.

Behold, a drunkard went forth in search of sobriety. Having heard about Alcoholics Anonymous for so long, she sought out a meeting of the group.

When she entered, a few people glanced her way but no one spoke. When the meeting began, she listened to a speaker who denounced alcohol and said there was no place in the group now assembled for anyone who craved, used, or was otherwise implicated with it. Heads nodded. Someone shook the room with a thunderous “Amen!”

The woman cried. So when the meeting ended and some people nearby noticed her tears, she said, “But I am an alcoholic, and I’ve disgraced myself because of drinking. I have two failed marriages behind me and several arrests for prostitution. I thought maybe I could get some help from this group, so I …”

“We have to make a statement to this community about people like you!” said someone in the group. “And we’re not about to be compromised in this town by letting anyone think we approve of drunks and streetwalkers! You obviously don’t belong here.

“If you ever get straightened out, though, we’d love to have you as a member. Go forth with our blessing now. Be ye warmed and filled. Here’s a copy of the Big Book to read and follow in your recovery. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Ridiculous, you say? Of course it is! Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t treat people – even drunks with alcohol on their breath – that way. AA is a community of people whose price of admission is nothing more than an honest desire for sobriety.

Yet it is altogether possible to imagine a church treating people the way described above. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve even done it – God, forgive me! Why, just read the parable again and substitute the words “sinner” for “drunk,” “church” for “Alcoholics Anonymous,” and “Bible” for “Big Book.” The unimaginable will seem familiar.

Community is part of the fabric of redemption and spiritual health. Alcoholics Anonymous works because t understands this critical truth. So why doesn’t the church get it? I wonder. I really do.

Shall we define the church as “a group of baptized believers”? That’s not enough! Try visualizing church as “that community of people redeemed by God’s grace that is learning to exchange his grace with sisters and brothers in Christ who otherwise would be unbearable annoyances.” Now we’re getting closer to a biblical definition.

Solitary Christian is an oxymoron. God’s initial intention was to unite us with one another in community for his oly purposes. It isn’t too late to embrace his original plan.

“The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20, NRSV).New Wineskins

Randy Gill

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