Are Friends The Only Reason For Going To Church?

Text: Ephesians 4:1-6

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

There is a concept called “The Friendship Factor.”  The friendship factor says that some 70-80% of people who join a church, join primarily for the reason of friendships.  In other words, the power of friendship tends to be a primary reason for people to join and stay in a church. 

You know what I am talking about.  You have heard people say before, “I joined that church because they are so friendly and nice.  I feel like I belong.” 

Now, there is no doubt about it that friendships unite people together into a church and it is good to be nice and friendly as a church.  However, is this what truly unites a church?  Is the true unity of the church based on friendships and feelings of acceptance?  Or is there something more – something more profound that unites the church than common interests and feelings?  Is there something more that makes us truly belong – truly unified? 

In today’s Epistle’s reading from Ephesians, the Apostle Paul speaks to the church of Ephesus and shares that the true unity within the church is produced by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying that you and I have been called to one hope, to one Lord, to one faith, to one baptism, and to one God and Father, who is over all and through all and in all.  Paul shares that the many parts are made one.  The many are grafted into a oneness.  To state it simply; you and I have been called together into this church through one baptism, not many baptisms held together by friendliness.  You and I have been called together to the same confession of the faith, not a bunch of different spiritual opinions held together by warm feelings of tolerance.  You and I have been called to one hope, not many different individualized goals held together by wishful thinking. 

You see, the point that is being made is that when we base unity on friendships, common experiences, similar opinions, and warm feelings of acceptance, we are not going far enough.  That is to say; if we are gathered together in unity by only friendships, then our unity is only as good as our relationships are.  Indeed, if our unity is based on common personal experiences and feelings of warm acceptance, what happens when our experiences and feelings reach a point of contention and disagreement?  Unfortunately, when unity is based on friendships, experiences, feelings, and opinions alone, the church’s unity is fragile at best. 

We do not have to look far to see whole churches destroyed over disagreements over non-essential things.  It goes like this, if unity in the church is not rooted deeply in Christ Jesus, then small conflicts can easily destroy the church’s unity.  More specifically, if unity in a church is based upon a physical building, then disagreements over the building’s carpet colors, destroys church unity.  Or, if unity is based on feelings of acceptance, then the smallest offense or the smallest insensitive comment can destroy church unity. 

There is also another problem with unity being based solely on relationship, personalities, and feelings, and that is the fact that friendships come and go.  For example, if our friends seize to be entertaining, enjoyable, and encouraging, we may choose to cut ties with them and find new friends. And if we can’t find new friends in the church, well… we break unity with the church and seek out more entertaining and more enjoyable friends elsewhere. Sadly, our relationships are not as strong as we often believe, and we humans are often superficial.  And so, if a church’s unity is based upon these fragile relationships and personalities, well… the church’s unity has been built upon shifting sands.    

And let’s not forget how this impacts the outreach of the church.  If unity in the church is based on friendships and relationships, newer individuals may find it difficult to connect to the already existing relationships in the church.  For example, what if a new person coming to our church does not have family connections and what if they do not have common interests with you and me?  How will they belong?  What if a person has a difficult time making friends or is an introvert?  How will they find unity here?  How will they find feelings of acceptance? Does a lack of family ties, a lack of common interests, or a person being an introvert prevent them and us from having true unity?

Dear Baptized Saints, the church’s unity neither exists nor is based on friendships, personal interests, and feelings alone.  Instead, real unity in the church is given and produced by the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, there is a better way to understand unity – true unity in the church is much deeper and profound! 

You see, what binds us together as a church body here and now is the unity that the Holy Spirit brings about.  Even though all of us have different backgrounds, different vocations, different last names, different ages, and different ethnicities, we are all called to one hope, one Lord, one faith, and one Baptism, by the Holy Spirit.  That is to say; Christ and His doctrine are not chopped up and divided up equally amongst us all.  We do not have multiple saviors, and we certainly do not have many conflicting doctrines of the Christian faith!  We do not have different individualistic baptisms, and we do not have individualistic confessions. By no means! 

As Christians, we have been crucified into Christ; we die in our baptisms and emerge alive together in Jesus.  Therefore, in our baptisms, we are united to the story of Christianity that extends to people on every single continent of every single ethnic background of every single generation.  Take a moment and look around at each other.  As members of the church, we join together in Christ, as common sinners with a common Savior, and with a common Christian confession.  This is unity!    

Now, we must pause to take note that we are not saying that friendships and family are unimportant.  We are not saying that individuality should be erased.  No, instead, we hear that we are not alone.  We are hearing that we are united together in a family of faith which is more significant, deeper, and eternal.  We have a unity that is more profound, deeper, and richer than shifting feelings.  Yes, we have been united in our baptisms with our forefathers that went before us, forefathers such as Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Rahab, and the Apostles.  Unity in Christ provides a much more significant foundation for the church and connects us to what is called the universal church – the church that extends around the world and extends from generation to generation. 

Dear Baptized Saints, the Holy Spirit is the one that produces this unity for you.  It is not forced upon you, but rather, you are called into it.  Yes, the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and sanctified you in the one true faith – uniting you to every single blood-bought Christian in this sanctuary. This kind of unity is so much more profound and eternal than mere friendships.  This unity of the Spirit is a greater foundation for the church than mere feelings.  This true unity grants the church the ability to weather the storms of personal struggles and inter-personal conflicts and even carpet wars. 

What this means is that since we Christians are all members together of one body; and since we have been baptized into the same baptism for the same forgiveness of sins; and since we have the same treasure of the Word and Sacraments; we then should regard each other as neither better nor worse but as brothers and sisters.  We are co-heirs of the kingdom of God, together – forever. 

The Holy Spirit is the only one that causes unity in this church. We do not produce unity nor can we destroy true unity through our actions.  And that is why we have been called by the Apostle Paul to treasure the gift of this unity.  That is the reason why we are called to abide in the unity that the Holy Spirit has already created with us!  Indeed, your Christian faith possesses a uniting power.  It binds our human hearts together.  It binds our confessions together.  It is a unity that endures beyond death and even beyond the end of the earth, because it is a unity that is created in us by the Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

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