“For I long to see you … that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” -Romans 1:11-12
Life in the church of Jesus Christ is different than it was in the first century. It’s so different, that I say with some confidence – and aware that some faithful Christians disagree with me on this – that we cannot expect to return to how it was back in the New Testament era, and that we shouldn’t even try.
When Paul writes Romans, the Christians in Rome receive a letter from their pastor. I doubt that you can remember the last time your church got a letter from the pastor. And that’s because he’s there. He lives there, he preaches to you every Sunday and, God-willing, uses his time during the week to get to know you, to live with you, so that when he preaches on Sunday, he knows what you need to hear.
Here’s the one big difference: Back then, the pastors moved from one congregation to the next – not all of them, but certainly the ones whose names we know well: Peter and Paul, for example. But today, our pastors more or less stay where they are, and the Christians move from one church to the next.
Like you’re doing right now, if you’re a South African student getting ready to leave home for the university. So on behalf of all those pastors in Pretoria, here’s that letter:
Dear Christian university student,
I don’t know you well, and perhaps I don’t know you at all, but I know something about the journey you’re about to begin. I know you’ll be without the comfort and familiarity of your home church, just as I know that you’ll not plan to stop calling it your home, but instead to go back there whenever you can. I also know you’re about to face a double challenge: not only that of an entirely new and genuinely exciting collection of opportunities, some of which will turn into commitments, but also of the probably new task of managing all the decisions that go along with those yourself.
There’s a lot to be said about this, also a lot to be done, and most of it you’ll have to do yourself. But I would like to be there to help you along, not to make the decisions for you, but to rejoice with you when you make good ones, and show you the cross of Christ when you don’t. I’m confident both situations will come up from time to time.
To paraphrase St. Paul writing to the Romans: I’m eager to welcome you here. I look forward to encouraging you and being encouraged by you. God will strengthen us both through it.
Yours in Christ,