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Forming (in) Community by Practicing Relationship – Part Two

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Recap on Church as Family – The Practice of Relationship

While I was away for the past two Sundays Waynne Pienaar and Lerato Moselane taught on Church as family, and Jo Robolakis taught on how to resolve conflict for relational health. We have said that the first practice of forming – and being formed in – community, is being family. That essentially is about relationships. We’re a relational church: God’s family, a home from home. What does this mean? How do we practice this?

Relationship with God (“Come, Follow Me”, following Jesus) is the basis of all relationships: “How can you say you love God whom you haven’t seen when you don’t love your brother and sister whom you do see?” (1Jn 4:20). The vertical relationship with God is the source and means and measurement of our relationships with one another. And the quality of our relationships with one another is the test of the authenticity of our relationship with God.

Therefore, the NT teaches “church” as a “relational happening” at various levels of gathering – because of Christ’s relational presence – beginning with 1) the two’s & three’s who meet in Jesus’ name (Matt 18:20). This is like the nuclear family on which all human society is built, but sadly is now falling apart. Then 2) the home group is the next level of “Church Relational Happening” (Rom 16:1f). That’s why we’re a ‘Home Group Church’ (they’re the place of real belonging and growth), rather than a ‘Church with home groups’ (where home groups are an optional extra program in the church). Then 3) when the home groups gather in the town or suburb it’s the local congregation (see 1 Cor 14:26f). Then 4) there is the church in the city, the nation, and the universe – we’re all relationally connected in Christ! Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as belonging to the universal church of Jesus Christ without concretely belonging in committed relationship in the local (house) church.

Types of Relationships and ‘The How To’ practice them

The NT (especially Paul) teaches the various kinds of relationships that make up our lives, the church, and even the world – and how to ‘do’ them as Christ-followers. Life is made of up relationships. Life is relational. Ultimate reality is relational – God is the Eternal Community of Relating Persons. Significantly, the apostles specifically taught the early churches the details of how to relate as Christians in each of these relationships. I can’t comment on them, but merely list them so we see the big picture of relational life in the NT:

  • As we’ve said: the source relationship between God and us in Christ, by the Spirit
  • Between husband and wife … and between parents and children
  • Between church leaders and leaders… between church leaders and members… between church members and members
  • Between church and state (government)… between church and world (engagement in the world as in racial/culture, social/class, and gender/sexual relationships)… and between employer and employee… and also the church and creation (ecology)

We ‘do’ these relationships – beside specific instruction that Paul and others give on each of the above topics – by practicing what in the NT can be called the 21 positive “one another” sayings (they’re actually commands, like “love one another, accept one another, forgive one another, etc”) and the 7 negative ones (like “don’t steal from one another, don’t lie to each other, etc”). We have to be very vigilant in the moment to simply obey and do them, regardless of how we feel. They are not suggestions or conveniences if we feel like it or not. They are commands to be obeyed for our own sake, for the health of planet earth and all it’s people! We must conscientiously learn to proactively love people in every situation, in every interaction, in every word and deed. And we must learn to reactively resolve any and every shadow or tension that may arise with any person at any time, as per Jesus’ teachings in Matt 5:21-26 and 18:15-35 (go and be reconciled by forgiving “from the heart”). “God is Light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship (koinonia, transparent shared life) with one another and the blood of Jesus keeps cleansing us from our sins” (1 Jn 1:4-6). Be quick to remove any shadow immediately!

Keeping Relational Reality and Unity

The challenge of growing and maintaining relational health must not be underestimated! One of our core Kingdom values in the Vineyard is ‘relationship and reality’; i.e. we want real relationships, not religious relationships. We don’t relate ‘religiously’ as in saying “the Lord told me…” or “I will pray about it…” when clearly there is a relational difference that must be faced and resolved. We avoid the ‘Christianese’ and Christian sub-culture common to many churches – often a haven for dysfunctional relationship, for spiritual manipulation and control, for use and abuse. We want to be REAL and honest in our relating as Jesus modeled and taught, creating an environment of Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. People must walk into our midst and feel the warmth and security of relational health in the air.

It’s what the Hebrews call Shalom: God’s harmony, peace and abundance, on the basis of rightly ordered relationships… as opposed to Disunity: Satan’s disorder and chaos via unresolved dysfunctional relationships. The psalmist celebrates the unity that God gives in human relationships: “How pleasant and good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity” (Ps 133). He says it’s like the anointing oil that is poured over Aaron and streams down his beard onto his robes (unity in community is the result of, and attracts more of, the outpouring of God’s Spirit on us); and it’s like the dew of Mount Hermon that refreshes Jerusalem in the heat of the day (relational unity is so refreshing and renewing when the heat is on!) “THERE – where there is unity – the Lord commands his blessing!”

I conclude with two texts from Paul on relational unity. I do not want to elaborate, but merely record them here for your meditation and practical application on how to ‘do relationships’ for God’s sake! “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Shalom)” (Eph 4:1-3). “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in mind and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil 2:2f).

Search your heart in light of this teaching, specifically these texts, and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need relational healing, where you need to repent and make things right with people, where you need to change for relational health… then do it!!

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