|Photo by Jamie McCaffrey 2014|
As we enjoy Labor Day, the last weekend of the summer, many students have already returned to school. Regardless of our age, there are lessons to be learned in the classroom of life for as long as we live.
If you have ever marveled at the beauty of the seas from the unique perspective of a diver or a submergible vessel, no doubt you have been awestruck by myriads of small fish swimming in organized patterns, known as schooling.
Scientists suggest that there is a genetic basis for this behavior, which has many advantages including the multiplied sensory input to many pairs of eyes, making it easier to spot danger and avoid it, or to find food and swim toward it. The hydrodynamics of swimming in a group formation make travel faster and more efficient, with each fish expending less energy than it would if it were swimming alone. And, being in a group has many social advantages including making it easier to find a suitable mate.
Schools of fish are an apt metaphor for the church, or body of Christ, and Christians who are faithful to church enjoy many blessings not available to those out of church. When Jesus recruited Peter to be one of His apostles,
He promised that if they followed Him, He would make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17).
The two intersecting arcs, representing the profile of a fish, were easy to draw in the sand as a subtle declaration of one’s faith. If a newcomer was a Christian, he would recognize it and announce that he, too, was a follower of the Way (Acts 16:17), But if the stranger was hostile to the cause, he would not know the symbol and would assume the Christian was just doodling, so the Christian would avoid persecution.
Like fish, born-again believers (John 3:3-8) are meant to engage in schooling rather than going it alone. Once we are saved by placing our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we become members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12,27). When we come together as His body, we can follow Him with new beauty, submission, and holiness, glorifying Him (Ephesians 5:24,27).
The unity that should bind together the body of Christ allows the church to function “in one accord” (Acts 1:14; 2:1,46; 4:24; 5:12, etc.). The church acting as one can sail on currents of peace and righteousness (Isaiah 48:18); feed on God’s Word (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4) encourage one another even while swimming against the tide of public opinion (James 1:6); and ward off attacks of Satan, who constantly tries to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).
Sadly, few churches today accomplish this ideal. Instead of following Christ’s command to carry out the Great Commission by sharing His Word at home and throughout the world (Matthew 28:19), many churches function essentially as social clubs designed to entertain their members. Because they are focused on self rather than on Him, they tend to stagnate, like schools of fish that remain in one place too long, becoming slowly poisoned by buildup of their own wastes and depletion of oxygen.
Praise God that He is the Living Water Who will forever satisfy our thirst (John 4:10-15) with His pure, flowing fountain (Song of Solomon 4:15; Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13; Revelation 7:17), if we remain sensitive to move freely (Acts 17:28) wherever and whenever He leads us! A church should facilitate this in its members by having a clear, Christ-focused, Bible-centered mission to follow Him.
Many churches today do attempt to encourage their members and foster a sense of belonging, but not always as members of the body of Christ. Even atheists have banded together in “churches” that sing “feel good” songs, discuss self-help, and contribute to community causes.
But when Christians assemble together (Hebrews 10:25), their main purpose should be to glorify Him, and to encourage one another through God’s Word rather than apart from it. They should strengthen the body by submitting their own needs to those of one another and to the common good (Ephesians 5:21), Then the church experiences the joy and peace of unity (Psalm 133:1), loving, praying and caring for one another (1 Peter 4:7-11).
As the tide of political correctness turns against Christianity (1 Peter 4:12), church members should encourage one another to strengthen their faith and to know and follow what they believe (Ephesians 3:17-19), not only individually, but corporately (Hebrews 3:13). But this is difficult, if not impossible, when leaders in some churches allow their thinking to be conformed to the world, rather than transformed by the renewing of their mind through God’s Word (Romans 12:2).
False doctrine and false teachers (Matthew 7:15; 24:11) can then infiltrate the body, introducing corruption and heresy instead of Scripture-based schooling (2 Peter 2:1-3; Revelation 2:8-23). Even worse, they can cause division and argument among the members, which is an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:16-19).
When worldly entertainment and dress (1 Peter 3:1-4), focus on self-help instead of Scripture, and social networking replace the unity of purpose to serve God and spread His Word, that church is doomed to leave its members vulnerable to spiritual attack. Instead of small groups for age- and gender-appropriate Bible study, cliques form based on popularity, multilevel marketing, or other worldly pursuits (Revelation 3:14-19).
Those left out or even actively wounded by other church members often drift away from the school, where they are most vulnerable to Satan’s attack (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). The Christian can expect spiritual warfare daily (Ephesians 6:12), but his chances of defeat are much greater if he is not part of a loving, protective, strengthening body of Christ (Ephesians 6:18).
My husband and I are blessed to be part of such a God-honoring church family, and my prayer is that all Christians would be equally blessed to serve Christ in a body of believers moving as one to serve, worship and honor Him.
Because every church is made up of people, all of whom are sinners (Romans 3:23), no church is perfect. Yet it is also my prayer that members of every evangelical church would work together in unity to serve God, support their pastor, encourage one another, pray fervently (Romans 12:11-12), strengthen one another in God;s love and in His Word, and to spread the Gospel in their local neighborhoods and across the globe!
May we learn from schools of fish that there is strength not just in numbers, but in unity of purpose. May that purpose be to move in synchrony with His perfect will in all that we do, and to help our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same!
© 2015 Laurie Collett