“One another” commands appear about thirty times in the New Testament, depending on how you count.
If you are only working your spiritual muscles through personal disciplines, your spiritual physique will be distorted, much like the body builder who has a massive chest and arms, but toothpick legs. A significant aspect of our spiritual walk with the Lord is in the context of growing with and alongside other believers.
Much of the reason for this is that proximity to other people invariably reveals weaknesses in our character that we tend to hide when we are only dealing with ourselves. With the personal disciplines, then, we also practice corporate, or group disciplines.
Worship & Ordinances. These are the most obvious outward acts of the church, and they must be done with others. If the world observes an individual Christian worshiping and baptizing, it will assume he’s simply taking his hygiene very seriously. A Christian should certainly worship alone, but worshiping with others demonstrates the power of God, and forces us to put our personal preferences in their place.
You might be the only one getting wet in baptism, but the congregation is there to testify that it agrees with your profession of faith and to confirm mutual commitments of membership. You may receive an individual portion of juice and bread, but you eat with others to jointly proclaim the Lord’s death and to testify to your repentance and forgiveness in him.
Hearing the Word. One reason that simply gathering regularly with other believers to do many of the things that you could do alone is to proclaim to one another that assembling together to face God and proclaim his greatness affirms to one another that for that time, no other people on earth are as important. Gathering to hear the word together solidifies group bonds forged with the truth of God.
Bible Study. Digging into the Word for greater understanding is enhanced when we study together. This might occur in Sunday school, small groups, Bible studies or with one-on-one accountability, but studying together helps us avoid conclusions that might be biased or the result of blind spots in our personal application.
Prayer. “Prayer Meetings” are going the way of the proverbial dinosaur, though attendance might increase significantly if one were the featured speaker or topic of conversation. The Bible is clear, however, that God’s people should be praying together, and saying grace before meals or listening to the Deacon of the Week on Sunday morning doesn’t meet our need for this discipline. If you are not praying with others from your congregation, you are not obeying Christ, and rather than contributing to the operation of the Spirit in your midst, you are constraining Him.
Fellowship. In the South, where I’m from, “fellowship” happens whenever and wherever there is fried chicken and sweet tea. But biblical fellowship is much more than the youth pizza party, the men’s group bowling contest, or the senior adult bus outing. Biblical fellowship is the camaraderie shared with others based upon a mutual salvation and centered on the cross of Christ. As such, fellowship will include the following:
- Membership. Though it is increasingly out of favor among many professing Christians, membership in a local congregation is a biblical concept, and the obligation of every believer. Believers should avoid earning for themselves the “regular attender” moniker. If you’ve attended enough to be “regular,” you’ve made a commitment; go ahead and formalize the commitment biblically through membership.
- Participation. Membership, though, is not enough on its own. Many churches have a list of those who are “inactive members,” but aside from being an oxymoron, the concept relieves both the actives and the inactives from the biblical work of disciplemaking. Each believer should be participating in the life of the church.
- Service. A crucial component of participating is serving. Biblical participation in the church is not merely observing others labor, or receiving blessing from others, but actually serving others.
- Spiritual Gifts. Some might disagree that the spiritual gifts are active today, but whether you classify them “spiritual gifts” or “body roles”, each believer has a part to play in the health of the local congregation. Playing that part outside the congregation doesn’t meet each believer’s obligation to the body, much like the orchestra member who only plays his fiddle in the local tavern.
- Stewardship. Godly management of all one’s resources — whether finances, or passions, or time, or spiritual gifts — will effect the overall health of the local body. Thinking of all our resources as tools for the health of the body requires discipline, and helps us put on righteousness.
- Evangelism. Individual believers each have a duty to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, but in this series I have not listed the practice as a personal spiritual discipline. Instead, I encourage everyone to think of evangelism as an personal, individual responsibility supported and informed by the interpersonal, corporate duty of the church to make God known. Each congregation should have, as one author puts it, a “culture of evangelism” in which individuals are equipped to evangelize, alone and with others, and in which efforts to evangelize are strategic, prayerful, and celebratory.
- Giving. There are many advantages to giving our offerings to the church secretly, by using envelopes or automatic drafts or ATM-style kiosks in the foyer. But there is a reason that taking up offering is a part of most worship services. The practical reality is that churches need funds to operate, but the spiritual component of giving is not that each member know what the others contribute, but know that everyone contributes. We affirm one another when we say by our presence that it is more important for me to be here rather than there, and when we say by our giving that is more important for my money to be here rather than there.
We work, yet it is God working in us. He will complete in us what he started, which is to conform us to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Holiness works in us to produce holiness, which we must pursue else we not see God.
Behold the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and be transformed as you discipline yourself for godliness.