Monday, March 20, 2006

Friendship and Church

Just to let you know: we are making some good friends here. We miss our friends in Australia. But we are making some new ones here in NYC.

The picture above is one of The Boy's new friends. Her mom (and dad) lives near us and her mom is having a great time with the Wife!

So this is good.

However, my thought for the day...

We were walking with someone about a month ago in Times Square, and we made the observation that our new church is small.

[But, interestingly, larger than the average American church - don't let the mega-churches fool you. We are at about 100 (+/-) people who we would consider regular. We are growing each year, and for that, I thank God.]

Anyway, our Times-square-walking-partner said: "That's a small church - and you are kind of stuck there - are you sure that you will be able to make any significant friends? Ones that you actually want to hang out with? Someone with common interests? People who are on your wavelength?"

I understand the question. It was harmless enough. Everyone wants to make a friend at church. No one wants to be friendless. People leave churches all the time saying: 'I tried to make friends and I didn't.' And it’s great when you have someone who you feel safe enough to confide in.

All this I get.

However, I just finished spending time in Ephesians. And it struck me that ‘friendship’ is not the unifying feature of church. Jesus’ blood is. So a necessary outcome of the gospel is this: that, in Christ, Jew and Gentile are friends and therefore learn to be friends. They do not go to church looking for a friend. They are friends already because of Jesus, and therefore this needs to be expressed.

I can imagine in the early church, a Jewish believer saying: ‘I hope that I can find a significant friend who is like me’. And I can imagine a Gentile believer saying: ‘I hope that I can find someone with whom I can have a bacon and cheese burger on Saturday afternoon.’

But for Paul, being in Christ means that you necessarily [and deliberately] spent time with people different to you: people who you might not have naturally been friends with. The Dividing Wall of Hostility has broken down, and in Christ the Jew and Gentile stand together with common access to God. And this therefore needs to be expressed in the Church.

Said here: Ephesians 2:11-22, which necessarily leads to here: Ephesians 4:1-6.

The upshot of this in my mind is this [at least this is the theory]:

When I come to Church, I do not go looking to find the person who is most like me. I look for the person most unlike me and learn to express the unity that already exists by our common access to the Father.

I don’t go to Christ’s church looking to make some friends.
I make friends because it is Christ’s church.

If you do this, you will of course surprise yourself by making some surprisingly good friends.

We have already.

Very Bonheoffer, without the eloquence.

Love, Justin.


chelsea said...

Good thoughts Justin! Challenging too! I was kinda thinking about that last night, we had a BBQ before 645 and i was just looking around amazed by the fact that not only there were so many people there, but there were so many different people - all so different in many ways, but united in Christ. Its awesome!
So thanks for those thoughts, it is so true, we are so tempted to look for our friends when we arrive at church, stff like that, but theres no need for that! Ive realised that heaps more recently!
ps. glad u and the fam are getting to know more people :)

clarefish said...

We are in the process of building friendships in our new church. Simon found a way to make friends - order a kilo of buffalo wings at New Orelans Cafe and then insist everyone have one.
friends for life? at least for a mealtime :)


Justin said...


Jesus AND Chick'n wings will cement friendship.


Anonymous said...

SO SO TRUE - what an amazing place the physical 'church' would be if we all acted that out. I am totally challenged. This is the way out of cliques, out of 'having an in (and therefore out) crowd. People who don;t know Jesus would want to come to a place like that! And, far out, throw chicken wings into the mix at my church in Newtown, and church wuld be the hotest place on a sunday night! RH

NickW said...

Full marks, J! I think this is especially true when it's a new church, in a new country and everything and everyone is strange and foreign. Quite often, family will be missing too.

Yet in the church we are meant to be, as you say, friends already. Even more so, we're actually family! Family is one of the toughest things to be without overseas, so this ought to be a great comfort to us.

K and I are definitely guilty of what you describe - we have wandered around our church looking for what K has dubbed "PFs" (Potential Friends). This is totally determined by the subjective ("are they kinda like us" (scary!)) rather than the objective ("we're already unified in the body with these people - we need them, and they need us).

Like everything else in our lives, Christ delivers the hammer blow in Mt 6:31-34 - esp. "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you"

Just like you said - subjugate our desires to pursue the Master's wishes first and foremost, and He will more than make up for it ;-)

grace and peace,

Nick (+K!) W.

Scott said...

Is there any way you can mind meld with my entire congregation and deposit that clarity of church and friendship into their brains? I love it and I get it but i have a scary feeling that if I told Joe Blow he wouldn't. Why is that?

For some reason I was pondering the sunscreen song the other day and remembered the line . . ."leave NY city before it makes you hard . . ."

Sounds like this last post is a good safe guard agains that.

sharon said...

great words Justin, and you do have eloquence! I found a whole new 'family' in my church - especially good when my family is so far away and think i am nuts for still being a christian. And the best thing is that i now have so many weird and wonderful friends in this country that i don't have time to keep up with them all.....i never imagined anything so wonderful when i first arrived - and all this from initial conversations after church and deliberately inviting people out for coffee and over for supper!
Hope you guys end up with an eclectic bunch of friends that eventually become family!

benjamin said...

Justin, Allow me to preface my comments by acknowledging that I am the most arrogant person I know by a mile. It seems to me that your comments miserably fail to acknowledge the reality of evil in the world, in the church, and in yourself. You give one very tiny parenthetical statement thus "[at least in theory, anyway]". My experience has been that although yes, there is great beauty in the concept you are describing, it is utterly impossible to attain or even to approach. I for one am 99.999 (etc.) % incapable of doing this, despite my best intentions. This is basically because I am very nearly entirely (I guess a mathemetician would say arbitrarily large without quite reaching infinity) selfish. I find I am completely helpless and almost hopeless to even begin to work towards this beautiful, infinitely to be longed for picture of what the church is meant to be like. And I have found that most other people are (albeit to a somewhat lesser degree than me) mostly selfish also.

Justin said...

Dear Ben,

Thanks for posting. I don't know you, but I do know your wife from University days.

OK – First, are you serious? I'm just trying to work out if you are just being provocative. If you are, then I genuinely appreciate it! I like some spice.

But if you are serious, I have four questions for you:

1. What do you then make of the imperatives of Ephesians, like Ephesians 4:1-3. Or Ephesians 4:17-24. Or Ephesians 5:1-10. Surely they come out of a true understanding of the gospel – Ephesians 1-3. Does Paul, as you say ‘miserably fail to acknowledge the reality of evil in the world, in the church, and in yourself?

2. Do you think that Paul’s comment to Peter was impossible or ‘undoable’. On the contrary, it looks thoroughly doable. All Peter had to do was resume eating with Gentiles. That’s not impossible – even us selfish boffins (Peter was eating with them before.)

3. Are you, or have you ever been to Grace Seattle Presbyterian? They are PCA, right? Love the PCA. That church has a vision: "Because of the power of the Gospel, in and through our lives the city of Seattle will begin to look more and more like” the City of God." Great vision. Is it impossible? I really like the statement. Are you critical of this vision for the same reasons as my post?

4. Have you had some difficulties with Church relationships in church recently? (A genuine question.) And have you repented yet? Of being the most arrogant person you know? (Another genuine heart felt question.)


PS You can email me personally on anything here. I’m jmoff at hotmail dot com

Justin said...

Thanks for your personal email Ben. We can take it up there.

but you are welcome to make it public if you like.