By Tracy Weaver
The New Testament warns against placing any other authority over the authority of God’s word. Jesus rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees saying, “for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God” (Matthew 15:6). The gospel of Mark records a similar admonition, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9). The Apostle Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to guard against being deceived by “human tradition” instead of living “according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
The word for “tradition” used in these passages is Parádosis – to hand over from close beside. It’s the idea of influencing behavior from one generation to another. A “Culture” can have the same effect as “tradition”. Culture can be defined as “the attitudes and behavior characteristics of a particular social group.” When we grow up within a culture, we assimilate the values and behaviors of that culture. They become so deeply embedded and naturally acted upon, its like breathing, we don’t even think about it. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to break free of a culturally embedded value or behavior. The Christian life, however, is all about becoming a person who chooses not to conform to this world but to be “transformed” by renewing our minds according to the will of God (Romans 12:2).
The growing concern on my heart is that our western Christian culture, with a high value of independence, has resulted in an over-emphasis on “our” local ministry and blinded us to our strategic participation with the broader Body of Christ within our community … the Church of the City. Consider these New Testament truths:
- Jesus fervently prayed that his followers would be “one”, even “perfectly one” so that the world would know and believe (John 17:21-23). In this passage, Jesus directly links the effective accomplishment of the Great Commission (knowing and believing) with the visible unity of his followers.
- The Apostle Paul directed the majority of his epistles to all the believers within the city or region. “To all those in Rome” … “To the church of God that is in Corinth” … “To the churches of Galatia” (a region) … “To the saints who are in Ephesus” … ‘To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” … “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae” … “To the church of the Thessalonians.” Therefore, all the imperatives to love, honor, be kind, forgive, forbear, be devoted to, etc., are incumbent on all the believers to one another within the city and not simply to their local gathering!
- We typically apply Paul’s “body” metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:20-22 to our congregation, stressing our individual need for each other – “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you.” But since this passage is directed to “the Church of God that is in Corinth” a more accurate application needs to include clusters of believers or congregations not being able to say to another congregation “I have no need of you.” First Conservative Church can’t say to First Charismatic, “I have no need of you.”
- The metaphors of the Church in the New Testament all speak of one cohesive Body – Christ’s Bride, Christ’s Body, One Temple, One Man, and One Loaf. Paul exhorts all the saints in Phillippi to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
- All Seven Letters in the book of Revelation are written to the City Church and not simply a single congregation within the city.
Jesus makes it clear that he only speaks and does what the Father directs (John 12:49-50). The core value of Jesus for the oneness of his followers, therefore, reflects the heart of the Father. Our Lord’s desire must become the priority of the Body of Christ. The Church must pursue and embody the prayer of our Lord for the visible unity of his followers.
The strong implication of these passages (and many more) is that the Lord’s under-shepherds, as stewards entrusted with the care of the saints, must play a vital leadership role toward breaking free of established cultural norms and pursuing Christ’s call to supernatural unity and visible witness.
City Church Unite exists to serve as a supportive catalyst in the lives of leaders and churches to nurture the oneness and vitality of the Church of the City. Pastors play a strategic role of embracing and modeling Christ’s heart for the unity of his people in the Church of the City (the broader Body). Their Church family and ministry peers will be influenced by their example.
Don’t be surprised if, as you read this, there is a natural resistance in your spirit. All of us are deeply influenced by our independent, western culture. The question, of course, for all of us as members of Christ’s body is “What does God’s word call us to do?” I invite you look at the passages, consider the implications, and ask the Lord of the Church if this truly is the desire of his heart for his followers.
For further reading:
City Church: Working Together to Transform Cities by Kelly Malone
A Disruptive Gospel by Mac Pier