by Wayne Turner

In pre-marital counseling the young woman said, “I believe marriage is for life.” Then she added, “But I’m not sticking around in a bad marriage!” Her subsequent actions showed that what she really meant was that she was not willing to completely commit to the relationship. Is it any wonder the marriage soon ended in divorce?

This difficulty in making or keeping commitments can be seen in Canada’s 2006 census. Though the country’s population had grown by 7.2 percent since 2001, the number of married people only grew by 3.8 percent. The number of people who were separated grew by 5.7 percent and the number who were divorced by 12.5 percent. Perhaps most revealing, is that the number of people who were living together increased by 19.6 percent! While there were 12.4 million married people in the country, 2.7 million were living together. One in six co-habiting couples is not married! Increasingly, people are choosing to be in non-committed relationships. Obviously, such a tendency toward non-commitment is also showing in other areas--family and home, workplace and community, just to mention a few. It seems that the “Me” generation of the past has given way to an “only Me” generation with little sense of responsibility to anyone other than self.

This non-commitment has also carried over into the religious world. Under Walter Kallestad’s leadership the 200-member Community Church of Joy in Phoenix exploded to become a mega-church of 12,000. While recovering from a heart attack, he came to realize that the church was based on entertainment and catering to consumerism. People were not committed to anything--God, the church, or one another. In “‘Showtime!’ No More” (Leadership, Fall 2008) he wrote, “Too many were observing the show. ... They meandered in and out of relationships but weren’t in real community.” They were no more committed to one another than movie-goers in a theatre. Attendance dropped by a third when the church leaders changed its approach to worship and shifted expectations from passive spectators to involved, committed disciples.

For some time, there has been a well recognized distinction between religious groups: those which expect a high level of commitment and involvement and those with low expectations. The first are more participatory in their worship and emphasize personal faith, the priesthood of believers and use of spiritual gifts. The latter tend to emphasize liturgy, ritual, and clergy with the congregation as spectators. In more recent times, a new category has arisen. Like Kallestad’s church, though they hope to lead people to higher commitment, they use a low commitment attraction approach to get people in the door--highly scripted, professional productions with professional performers. Looking back, he writes. “For us, worship was a show, ... We’d put all our energies into producing religious goods and services. ... We’d produced consumers--like Pac-Man, gobbling up religious experiences, navigating a maze but going nowhere in particular.”

Typically, we have measured commitment by attendance at Bible classes and worship assemblies (especially Sunday and Wednesday evenings), giving, teaching classes, leading worship, visitation, fellowship. Many congregations have experienced a decline in some (or even most) of these. Due to lack of participation, some churches have even dropped Sunday evening and midweek activities altogether. (This is not to include those who are using other activities, like small groups.)

What should be asked is how committed are church members to each other? Do they have any commitment--any sense of responsibility--to the church, its activities or its members? Has the non-commitment of our culture infiltrated and undermined the work and fellowship of the church? Should we not be concerned if it seems that some feel no responsibility toward others, and feel free to disassociate or leave whenever the mood strikes them?

In Romans 12:5 Paul said, “... each member belongs to all the others” (NIV). The KJV and NASB say we are “members one of another.” Several passages tell us that we are all one body in Christ. We should have the same concern for each another. Our assemblies are neither to isolate us from one another nor to entertain. We are to build up, edify, encourage, teach, and admonish one another. This is why Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to neglect or forsake our assembly. Coming to a worship assembly or Bible class is not just about us and “what we get out of it.” It is about fulfilling our commitment to one another. We normally think about attending and participating as part of our faithfulness to God. What about being faithful to one another?

Jesus intended for the Church to be more than a loose association of casual strangers. It is to be a family with a real sense of commitment to each other. We might even suggest that, like marriage, it should be seen and lived as a life-time commitment. We are to be devoted to, honor and live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:10, 16). Our commitment to Christ is directly measured by our commitment to each other.

Reprinted by permission from Gospel Herald, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, December 2008.


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