Beginning this Sunday evening, our local association of churches will be hosting a series of renewal services focused on the theme, “Standing Together.” For a long time, our association had struggled with unity and fellowship between the churches, which even resulted (unfortunately) in an annual meeting being canceled a couple of years ago. Today, however, is a new day and with it has come a new (and growing) desire to see our churches standing together in the unity and joy.
It is no accident, I believe, that the guiding verses for our services this year are Philippians 1:27-28: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” Each week a different aspect of that passage will be proclaimed by four different pastors from our churches: living a life worthy of the Gospel, standing firm in one Spirit, striving side by side in one mind, and not being frightened by our opponents. I have been given the honor of preaching the first message, which will take place Sunday evening at 6:00 pm and will be hosted by Trinity Baptist Church in Kalamazoo. We have been studying the book of Philippians since the beginning of this year, and will be concluding our study this Sunday. It has been both a wonderful and challenging series for me, as I hope it has been for you. Through my study of this book in preparation for preaching, the Lord has shown me several areas within my life where I needed to focus more on unity and joy. Of course, true unity comes from standing together with those who proclaim the true Gospel, not with just anyone who uses the name of Jesus (and there are many who use His precious name as a means by which they might enrich themselves or aggrandize power). Paul certainly made that clear in chapter 3! True joy comes from finding our identity in Christ alone while living in community with His body, the Church.
I’m thankful to see these being made a priority again within our association. As Baptists, we believe in the autonomy of the local church. That is, we do not believe there is any hierarchy of human power above and outside of the local church that can speak authoritatively to that body of believers in terms of how it should organize and conduct itself. Christ is the head of the local church, and He has given us both His Word and certain individuals who should lead that specific body. Yet from the very beginnings of the Baptists, we have recognized the great truth of God’s Word, that we can do far more together than we can individually. So it is that we form associations and conventions, neither of which have any direct authority over the local church but rather serve as conduits through which we might pool our gifts and resources in order to glorify God by extending the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
It is my hope that you’ll make plans to attend these renewal services with a desire to see this renewal not only in our association of churches, but within our own lives as well. As the days grow shorter before Christ’s return, we need to be standing firm with one another all the more. Just something to think about…