Am I my brother’s keeper? Cain asked that question to deny his sin before God. The obvious answer to that query is that he was his brother’s keeper in one sense; at the very least, he shouldn’t have murdered him. But that question is relevant for the church today.
In practical terms, the New Testament presents the church as community. People who have been changed by God’s grace come together to live out the reality that they are partakers of the Holy Spirit; partners in the gospel; and members of the same family. Yes, they worship God together; but they do so much more together; they do life together. The “one anothering” commands alone make this point. Christians meet regularly in formal and informal contexts to develop deep and lasting relationships whereby they put God’s reality, love, and grace on display. Because they truly know and love one another, they function as a family and not as people who merely know each other in passing.
Of course, this line of thinking raises some questions. Why do most people in the American church have no concept of doing life together as the church? Why do they view church as basically coming to a worship service? Why do they not feel any responsibility to others in the church? Why do they seem to have the same sentiment as Cain? Not that they would murder their brothers and sisters in Christ – but that they don’t see themselves as their brothers’ keeper. Most American Christians not only feel no responsibility to get involved in the lives of fellow believers, but feel in large part that the lives of others are none of their business.
Several lines of faulty thinking contribute to this problem but one stands out. In one sense, salvation is “a personal relationship with Jesus.” But when that’s the only way salvation is talked about, a lot is missing. To refer to salvation that way flows from an individualized view of things. Americans are rugged individuals pursuing what’s best for them. But what’s missing is the corporate nature of what salvation is about: namely, the people of God as the people of God. We don’t emphasize what it means to be God’s people corporately, the nature of the kingdom, what church is supposed to be and not merely what I’m supposed to be (i.e. a biblical ecclesiology), etc. For almost a century a gospel of personal salvation without its corporate implications has been preached. Worse than that: a gospel of merely “accepting Jesus” without any responsibility beyond those words of acceptance has permeated evangelicalism. Salvation is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. It’s a truncated gospel that’s produced a truncated church.
The New Testament places a far greater emphasis on the church doing life together than most of us imagine. And most Christians seem to be pretty much like the world except they go to a worship service on Sunday. Maybe if we understood and embraced doing life together, the church would be less like the world and thereby have a greater impact on the world. As those who teach others, we have to answer that question for our fellow believers rightly and constantly; am I my brother’s keeper? Yes.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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