In other words, we are all engaged in “the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58). We all do our part in helping the vine to grow through prayerfully speaking the word, whenever and however we can. Luther put it with typical sharpness like this:
“The ministry of the Word belongs to all. To bind and to loose clearly is nothing else than to proclaim and to apply the gospel. For what is it to loose, if not to announce the forgiveness of sins before God? What is it to bind, except to withdraw the gospel and to declare the retention of sins? Whether they [that is, the Roman Catholic Church] want to or not, they must concede that the keys are the exercise of the ministry of the Word and belong to all Christians.”
Does this sound too extreme? Or too demanding on the struggling Christians you know? Or just too hard to persuade people of? We need to think further about the nature of the normal Christian life.
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine (pg. 175).
In his book, Love in Hard Places, Don Carson tells us, “Ideally… the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politic, common ancestry, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort….In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”
A church composed of natural friends says little about the power of the gospel. Yet the gospel-revealing community of natural enemies will require sacrifices of every aspect of our life together.
Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever, The Compelling Community (pgs. 80-81).
To fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart. We who have the privilege of living in countries where we may freely join a local church should keep this admonition from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind:
It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude…to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps.42:4)…Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.
Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member?, (pgs. 70-71) quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.