Because we as Christians are emotionally wired for community, we naturally seek out others who have likewise been spiritually born anew. “Church” is simply the plan of a Creator who designed us to function together socially as a collective of born again disciples of Christ. Though we are spiritually born anew individually into the universal body of Christ, it is not natural for us to function autonomously from the body in our spiritual relationship with all those who have likewise come individually into an obedient relationship with the Son of God.
Our innate desire to be with others who have been born again sends us as individuals on a quest. We seek to function in fellowship with the “church of the firstborn ones” (Hb 12:23). It is for this reason that the body (church) is always defined in Scripture to be a relational function of all those individuals who have been individually born again, and thus lovingly function under the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. When our Founder stated that we would be identified by our love of one another, He was saying that we would be known by our relational function of love (Jn 13:34,35).
Jesus taught that His disciples would be defined by loving relationships, not as a legally defined corporate institution. Christians are identified by their mutual gratitude for the grace of God, not by the restriction of perfect law-keeping. Grace excludes justification through perfect keeping of law, but especially the restrictions of man-made laws (Rm 6:14). We are saved by grace through faith in God’s grace to save us (Ep 2:8).
Law challenges the relational nature of the body of Christ, for law sets aside mercy. But mercy rejoices over judgment according to law (Js 2:13). If we would seek to be under the legalities of the laws of man-made religious institutions, then there would continually be strife or competition among individual members of the universal collective (church). There would be continual dissention as to which lawgiver the members should follow in a legally structured organization. In our dissension as to which legally defined religious institution we would adhere, we would naturally denominate into our favorite groups. Lawgivers would choose their favorite names for their groups, and thus, offer options for us concerning which group to which we would “place membership.”
In legally defined institutions there is always competition “to climb a ladder of power” for influence and recognition. Where love should be exalted, seniority marginalizes the weak, or those who are unfamiliar with the accepted laws of the legally defined institution. Lordship always encourages competition. However, love always considers others before one’s self. Lordship always prevails in institutionally defined groups. But where fellowship is based on love, relational servanthood prevails. We must never forget that lordship among leaders in the body always marginalizes the Head of the body.
Legally defined institutions are defined by organizational structures that encourage lords, judges and lawgivers to reign. On the other hand, the New Testament definition of “Church” is the relational behavior of the members with one another that is based on love (Jn 13:34,35). The more legally we define the church of Christ, therefore, the less relational the members become in their patience with one another through love. The relationship between lawgivers and judges is always strained.
The more the members focus on maintaining the institutional ordinances that define a man-made religious organization, the less they function relationally. The more the body of Christ is defined by institutional structures, the more stringent we seek to maintain legal codes that define our existence. We become legally stringent because we are afraid that we will lose what we believe defines who we are. Leadership in such institutional organizations turns from teaching the word of God to lords who see their duty to regiment the members of the body into conforming to legal structures that define the institution. Lords always function as regimenting leaders.
In lordship scenarios, relationships are always sacrificed in order to sustain the legalities that define the institution. It is for this reason that the religious institutions of men work contrary to the relational identity of those who have individually been born into the body of Christ. And it is also for this reason that the more we identify the body of Christ as a legal institution, the less relational the membership becomes, and subsequently, the more divided the members become in their debates over defining the legalities of the organized church. The problem with a legally defined church is that judges and lawgivers always seek to insert and bind their opinions. We thus end up squabbling over whose opinions must be legally bound in order to define who we are.
At the end of our journey in life, and when it is time for all of us to stand individually before the Creator in judgment, each one of us will not be held accountable for keeping or forsaking any legally bound opinions that were established by men to define a legal religious institution. Each one of us will be held accountable for his or her relational behavior with all other individuals of the body. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” are relational identities that are not enjoined on the members of the body through law (See Gl 5:22,23). They are inspired by love. Nevertheless, these are relational standards by which each member will be held accountable. And because the degree of each of these qualities in our lives always falls short of perfection, there must always be grace to make us perfect in Christ. Being judged by relational abstracts, therefore, must always be by God’s grace and through our faith in Him to bring us into His glory (Rm 4:16). Grace and mercy, therefore, must always reign in the hearts of body members in order that we be at peace with one another.
That which destroys peace in the body are relational dysfunctions as “fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, etc.” (Gl 5:19-21). These behavioral dysfunctions are not based on the love by which the disciples of Jesus are to be identified (Jn 13:34,35). They identify those who are void of love for other members of the community of born again disciples. These “works of the flesh” are relational dysfunctions for which we will be held accountable, since being identified by such character qualities and behavioral practices disqualifies one from cohabiting with others in eternity. Social dysfunctions of the body on earth make it impossible for one to transition into an eternal society that will dwell in peace in the presence of God.
Individuals are born into a fellowship wherein they are held together as one body because of the fruit of the Spirit that is emulated by each member. The members of the body are identified as the collective body of Christ because of their relational function with one another through love. Their function through relational identities, therefore, results from their love for one another (Jn 13:34,35). When the New Testament historian stated, “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common,” he was defining the relational function of the body according to the implementation of the fruit of the Spirit, not the submission of those who were born again to a legally defined institution (See Act 2:44). Those first believers knew little or nothing about “church,” but they knew everything about Christ. And because they were obedient to Christ in their baptism for remission of their sins, they were church (At 2:38,41). They were born again through baptism into a relational function of love whereby each member was communally loved into eternal glory through the fruit of the Spirit. When members so function, any efforts to define the body through legal statues pales away under the power of love.
It is for this reason that we must first identify the church through love, and not by the adherence of the members to legal identities. Do not be mistaken. We seek to be obedient to the commandments of God, but being so obedient without the love that generates the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, is futile in reference to salvation. Perfect attendance without love will not take anyone to heav