What things might be considered indispensable in a church assembly?  A small number, really.  Let me suggest a list:

  • Christians
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Hope

When I started that list, I didn’t have anything specific in mind.  The abstractions “faith,” “love,” and “hope” were not meant to come from the apostle Paul’s thought as recorded in 1 Cor. 13, but it’s probably no conceptual accident that those ideas, that he saw as timeless, are the ones that tripped off my fingertips in short succession.

It seems self-evident that if you don’t have Christians—those belonging to, or “of” Christ–you don’t have a Christian assembly.  On to faith. There probably should be some measure of faith among those gathered . . . some level of intellectual/soulful belief in God and in Jesus the Christ as His Son.  We all waver from time to time, not unlike the wireless internet signal in different spots in our house.  Sometimes yellow, with two or three bars, weaker; sometimes four bars, solid green.  But in a gathering of Christians, there must be faith, albeit stronger and weaker in various spots.

Second, as we’ve seen in the letter to Philemon, love and faith may be intertwined in a sort of mishmash directed both toward fellow[1] Christians.  As Greg Fay has suggested, the structure of Philemon verse 5 is beautifully ambiguous:

of the love

and the faith

which you have

toward the Lord Jesus

and for all the saints,

“Love” (1st line) seems to relate structurally/syntactically to “all the saints,” and “faith” relates to “Lord Jesus.”  And yet an ambiguity creeps in by virtue of the syntax:  love and faith are almost amalgamated and directed both to the Lord Jesus and to the saints.  At first consideration, having love in addition to faith toward the Lord Jesus isn’t strange, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to have faith (as well as love) toward the saints. As the message of this letter is clarified, though, we see that perhaps it’s not so inappropriate.  In fact, the partnership of faith (v. 6) is quite a horizontal (saints-oriented) thing, and it is just this communal faith-activity that Paul prays will become effective — in a very specific way to be named later.

Back to our essentials.  Love and faith are important in Christians—whether when they are gathered together or separate.  What about hope? Frankly, I don’t live with hope at the forefront very much, but it came up in conversation recently, and I’m reminded of the depth of beauty in the concept of hope.  At some level, if we Christians have not hope, we are pitiable, and of course, the Messiah’s resurrection gives cause for ultimate hope.  Somehow, somewhere in the collective energy of the gathered saints, there must be a sense that something better is coming.  Marana tha should still be the cry of our hearts.

And there you have it.  Oh, I know it’s not that simple. Or is it?  . . .

Jesus reduced everything to two commandments, and life seems to sail smoothly when those two commandments steer the ship.  So maybe, just maybe, when 1) gathered Christians have 2) faith, 3) hope, and 3) love, that’s all that is needed, and all the rest falls into place.

[1] Masculine words such as “fellow” are often rejected by modernists/feminists as gender-charged.  Hooey.  It takes a lot more effort to find a suitable, gender-neutral replacement than it’s worth, and the worth of women is not measured by adjectives and pronouns that no longer seem inclusive in English.  For me, “he” and “his” can still be gender-neutral, depending on context.  For the record, I’m including women in my mind when I use the word “fellow.”


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