Week of January 14

Are You a Congregation of One?

Read: Genesis 23-24; Luke 9
“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”
Luke 9:23, ESV


Social scientists have been engaged in longitudinal studies across several generations to discover reasons for the apparent decline in religious involvement. Indeed, twenty percent of Americans are now described as being “nones,” meaning they are religiously unaffiliated. This number has doubled in just one decade. Some are anti-religious, others are skeptical about God, or only have “vague” beliefs about religion, while others define themselves as “spiritual,” but simply do not attend religious services.

There are also those who are still searching for a religion that meets their needs. Many religious seekers today shop around for those elements of religious experience that they believe hold the possibility of meaning and “fulfillment.” In fact, the religiously diverse adults in our nation today have been characterized as a “congregation of one” (Families and Faith, pp. 7-8) Something similar occurred in Jesus’ day, so we do well to examine it to see what our Lord requires for His followers.

The Meaning of the Text

Truth for “nones” and “ones”
Here is a straightforward question: How many reasons do you need to accept something as being true and binding? Luke employs a “rule of three” pattern in our passage today. He presents us with three conversations Jesus had with individuals and uses them to make a specific point (EBC). Genuine discipleship requires our all. Jesus has a critical message for those who claim to be “nones,” and for the rest of us who fall along a Christian discipleship spectrum. Several important clues within the passage point to the rigorous nature of true discipleship that need to be evident in our own discipleship journey.
The true nature of discipleship
Luke has already showed us that Jesus is Lord over all the calamities that befall humans and rob them of flourishing—nature, illness, and death. The big question Jesus’ own disciples asked was, “Who then is this?” (Luke 8:25). The Gospel writer follows this line of thought in chapter 9 to show us that Jesus is indeed Savior and Lord. Jesus, in fact, demands (and gives) awareness of who He is (see 9:18)! Peter declares that He is “The Christ of God.” Friends, the foundational commitment that each true Christ-follower makes is that Jesus is God’s Son, the Savior, and Lord over all the universe.

Secondly, the search by nones and ones for meaning will prove fruitless unless they are aware of the costs of discipleship. Jesus was/is a suffering Messiah, which holds implications for His followers. Disciples too, must be willing to suffer hardship in His name and for His glory. Jesus suffered as a prophet, as the Son of Man, the Christ, and Lord (see Luke 13:33-34; Acts 2:36). His followers look to Him as the supreme example of living the life God requires of kingdom-of-heaven citizens.
Thirdly, Jesus’ disciples must do/be three things. Christians are required by the Lord to deny self. Unlike the modern quest for elements that appeal to a person’s spiritual or religious tastes, following Jesus means more than a denial of certain things. This commitment means that we reject a life based upon self-interest and self-fulfillment. We will seek to fulfill the will and teachings of Christ. We also must take up our cross. This becomes a daily commitment, which may lead to martyrdom, but surely requires our firm resolve in service to Jesus’s commands. The following of Jesus must also be continual. Luke uses a present imperative to demonstrate the totality of this commitment (NAC).

The Message for Your Heart

I watched a television documentary of a gentleman who, decades ago, decided to move to an isolated and deserted island to live out his days. I determined that a sub-theme of the show was a man’s quest to commune with nature apart from civilization. Living with people is hardly civil at times because humankind is flawed and finite, so I assumed that he wanted nothing of such messiness! He represents a congregation of one in the “church” of nature.
Christians hold a different conviction. We believe that we are created to commune with God, who is Lord over nature, and have been given a mandate that includes serving Him with others of like commitment (see Genesis 1:28; 12:1-3; 15:1-6; cf. Luke 8). We have received a wonderful mandate from Christ to take God’s love to the world. This requires a radically committed community of faith (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:1-6). Our joy is to embody the requirements of discipleship and to encourage others who are searching for life’s meaning and fulfillment to do the same.

For Thought and Action

1. Take time to consider who you know who may be self-defined as a none or congregation of one. How may you live as an encourager to help them join the community of committed Christ-followers?
2. For Families: As this devotional explains, on average, almost a fourth of our children’s school classmates belong to families who do not go to church at all. They are “none” children, who have not made that momentous decision for themselves. In a way, maybe without even thinking through the consequences, their parents have decided that their children will grown up without any teaching about God.

This may be a wonderful opportunity for your children to invite their school friends to attend your church and Sunday School with your family. A large percentage of adult and active Christians today trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior as children because their friends’ families invited them to go to church with them.

It may involve sacrifice for your family. It may require your children to draw or write some invitations, to pray and invite their friends to come to church with you. It may require you to call and follow up with the other moms or dads to get permission and make arrangements, and for your family to leave a little earlier to pick up your children’s friends. And yet, think of the eternal significance of these small invitations! We are praying with you and your children as you seek to make disciples as a family. Let us know how this goes!
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock