I was reading a book review this past week where the author asks the question, “Why is it so hard for us to be church?” One answer that is proposed is that the contemporary church is on FIRE. FIRE is an acronym that stands for freedom, independence, rights, and equality. FIRE at first blush probably sounds like a good thing. After all, FIRE sounds like the Bill of Rights upon which our country is built upon. So what is so bad about FIRE?
The author gives the following example of why FIRE is dangerous for the local congregation: “If freedom seems essential to a person, she’ll insist on floating from church to church. As soon as she gets bored with the music in one church, she’ll change to a church with a better choir, and as soon as a better job beckons, she’ll move to another town.” The reviewer goes on to add the insight that “Scripture calls us to communities of mutual submission—how can we submit when we are centered on demanding our own freedom?”
In other words, how can we be the Church of Christ God calls us to be without commitment and submission to one another? Can you have freedom without commitment or commitment without freedom? When we read the pages of the New Testament the image is of a body that needs every member. The body of Christ cannot function or be Christ’s body without each member exercising their gifts to the enrichment of every other member.
To be a child of God added to the body of Christ inherently means we are born again with responsibilities and accountabilities to one another. Now responsibility and accountability immediately implies time and commitment. The New Testament is replete with admonitions to use our Christ-given gifts to the strengthening of the local body (Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12 are just a few noteworthy passages).
Furthermore, the Apostle Paul gives us the question, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). What we choose to do with our bodies is a choice about where, when, and how we value the gifts Christ has given and the value we have for one another in the local congregation.
Whatever secular and political freedom, independence, rights, and equality we imagine ourselves as Americans to possess dies with us as we die by faith with Christ in baptism. We are born again to a new life and a new allegiance to the Church of Jesus Christ. What freedom, independence, rights, and equality mean are completely re-ordered in Jesus Christ.
Now I recognize that the authority of the local congregation can become corrupt and even in some cases abusive. The local congregation must constantly remind itself that we are called to use FIRE for the sake of others and not for our own sakes. What the West Main Church of Christ needs is to be on FIRE for one another, and to put out the FIRE that currently burns the citizens of this world from enjoying the peace of Christ that could be theirs.