ARTICLE BY EZEKIEL OWINO, COVENANT BAPTIST CHURCH
A lone ranger Christian is a person who professes faith in Christ and thinks himself a believer but is not a member of any physical body of Christ (the church). Another term that has been used to refer to such a person is, ‘an island Christian’. All these are foreign ideologies with respect to the early church and a biblical understanding of who a Christian is. We cannot spot a lone ranger Christian anywhere in the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts. What we however see is a community of heterogeneous individuals bonded in love because of their faith and are sharing the same hope (Acts 1:13, 2:1, 2:42, 4:23, 4:32, 5:12, 6:7, 8:14, 9:19b, 9:32 et cetera)
I am writing this article not as an exhaustive summary of the true nature of the lone ranger Christian but as a fickle spotlight that I’m hoping will shed some light on this issue to see whether we can come into grips with the danger involved in such a fad. Also, my aim is to take heed of what apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13:5– examining ourselves– so that the lone ranger and anyone out there who is drifting towards that state may repent and be restored with full encouragement.
Lone-ranger(ism) communicates more than we can probably think about. The following 5 attributes can be the main messages that this condition is trying to pass.
In the book of Ephesians 4:7 Paul writes,
‘But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.’ (ESV)
What Paul essentially means here is that every Christian is gifted with a specific gift. This gift(s) is to be used …to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… (vv. 12) or as he writes to the Corinthians …for the common good… (1 Cor.12:7).
A lone ranger Christian however, communicates the exact opposite. He is someone who does not want his gift used in a formal gathering of the saints. He does not want to …gladly spend and be spent for his brothers’ soul… for high rewards. He is not investing his resource for higher returns in the blessed future. He resembles the third servant in the parable of ten minas (Luke 19:11-27) who said …‘“Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief…”’. This led to a tragic end for him (vv. 27) as opposed to the faithful ones in verses 17 and 18. There is a reward for every Christian who makes good use of his gifts, especially for the benefit of those that belong to the Lord. Above those common rewards to all faithful Christians are the precious words of our Lord to everyone who will be faithful with what was entrusted to him, ‘…well done, good servant!’ (vv17)
On the other hand, there is condemnation to wicked servant who keeps the gift to himself because this proves his unbelief. He neither honor his master, nor honor His gift to him by ‘…engaging in business…’ And so it is with a lone ranger Christian. He does not invest his gifts in the church.
As the lone ranger Christian keeps himself back from being used in the edification of the brethren, he is also keeping himself from enjoying other people’s gifts. He essentially is saying, ‘I don’t need anybody contributing to my life (especially my spiritual life). I am sufficient. I’ve got all in control.’ Selfishness keeps us from giving, pride keeps us from receiving. Let the lone ranger Christian examine himself with these series of questions; Are you sure you don’t want someone praying for you? Someone to help you carry your burdens to God in prayer? Are you sure you don’t want somebody encouraging you when you feel so low? Or don’t you have the need of somebody paying you a visit in your times of crisis and offer you living words of encouragement? What about the Lords’ supper? You are okay not taking it with other brethren as a means of proclaiming our Savior’s death? Regarding your love for God and His Christ, don’t you want to be stimulated to love Him more? Examine yourself!
Remember Gods’ word in James 4:6, ‘…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Are you sure you don’t need grace? I hope not. Humble yourself therefore before the Lord by honoring His Bride and at His appointed time He will exalt you.
The Church is Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:12, Eph. 4:12; 16). In John 15:1-7, the phrase abide in me is repeated several times. To ‘abide’ in its biblical usage simply means, ‘not to depart’– to continue to be present. The text is mainly about personal commitment to Christ. Jesus is calling believers to continue having a personal intimacy with Him. But how can you be closer to Christ while willfully staying away from His body? I understand you can be part of the physical body of Christ yet be absent in the spiritual one (no personal relationship with Christ) but you cannot be spiritually part of Christ’s body yet be absent from His physical body.
The words, ‘abide in me’ take the imperative form, they are not suggestions. Verse 4 speaks of the fruit bearing. The fruit is borne when one continues abiding in Christ. Fruition completely depends on one’s attachment to Christ (the true vine), but the fruit thrive in the context of a local church. For example joy is ‘made complete’ in the setting of a local church, fellowship (Phil. 2:2, 1 John 1:4).
Hebrews 10:25 is a text that has been used to emphasize on the need for believers to continuously gather together. This verse is a continuation of verse 24. The words,’… let us consider…’ at the beginning of verse 24 commands attention (Greek: kataneo). It communicates that whatever follows should be treated with much attention. To paraphrase it: Pay attention not to abandon the gathering together of yourselves. This is a command. Disregard to such an imperative by a lone ranger proves rebellion. Christ said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). Obedience proves love, disobedience proves rebellion.
“Fruition completely depends on one’s attachment to Christ (the true vine), but the fruit thrive in the context of a local church.”
- Infancy in Christ
An infant in Christ is a person who has experienced the spiritual reality of regeneration in his soul but one whose behavior is so inconsistent with that truth. In other words he is considered a spiritually immature Christian.
One characteristic of an infant in Christ is that he is controlled by the flesh (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Selfishness (Strife) which forms part of the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19 characterizes a lone ranger Christian as we had established earlier. This indicates spiritual immaturity in him. A babe wants things done his way. He has a prescription on how he should be treated and how things ought to work out. He can decide to forsake the assembly since people aren’t performing as he wishes. He is obsessed with ‘me, myself and I’.
There is a danger in staying an infant in Christ. The danger of being tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes… (Eph. 4:11-14). Also, ‘…Everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness since he is a child with no powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil…’ (Heb. 4:13).
Spiritual immaturity can also lead to the greatest spiritual disaster: Apostasy- falling away from the faith. Since immaturity in the things of the Spirit proves that a person has not held strongly to the elementary doctrine of Christ, with and has no foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God… he is unstable and so prone to fall away. Yet we know ‘For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (Heb. 6:4-6).
Apostle John also says that apostasy is a proof that the individual was never born again (1 John 2:19). The Lone ranger will walk down this dangerous path until he makes a shipwreck of his faith. Dear friend, the man who walks alone will at the end of it all be found alone – away from Jesus and his people.
- Lack of endurance
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24-25).
In this text, Christ is giving conditions for the would-be disciples. What He is simply saying in verse 24 is: “Following me won’t be a walk in the park. It will require sacrifice and endurance.” Denying self essentially means self-forgetfulness; dying to self-will. This does not sit well with the flesh as it involves sacrificial service, loving the hard to love, spending and being spent for the cause of Christ, being patient with stubborn believers while understanding that you are one of them, tirelessly studying the Word of God, loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, loving your neighbor as yourself the list can go on and on.
Joining a local church magnifies self-denial. The church is full of sinful men who have been saved by grace and are gloriously justified. It is not easy to love these elected ones since they are sinners and they can irritate and disappoint. But remember you’ve got to deny self.
“Joining a local church magnifies self-denial.”
Displayed in Christ, self-denial will cause us to empty ourselves of all but love; to love the unlovable. God loved you even after knowing that you would disappoint Him because we are sinners by nature- ‘…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8). Christ chose a bride He knew very well would cheat on Him, that’s love. Doing all these requires endurance or perseverance. Loving sinful brothers in the name of Christ demands endurance. A lone ranger will keep off church because of the mere fact that he cannot endure. It’s worth noting that we will not have perfect men until glorification. We therefore need endurance (Heb. 10:36). Let this be your daily prayer matter. Remember, it is better to endure the sinful, unlovable saints for a while and spend eternity in heaven rather than going to hell with the rest of unbelievers and sinners. In order to follow Christ we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses.
I would like to borrow the words of Mark Dever from his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church as he remarks on the issue of church membership. He says,
“If the church is a building then we must be bricks in it; if the church is a body, then we are its members; if the church is the household of faith, then we are part of that household. Sheep are in a flock, and branches are on a vine. Biblically, if we are Christians, we must be members of a church. …Joining a particular local church is an outward reflection of inward love for Christ and His people.”
Being a lone ranger Christian just won’t cut it in the faith. Do you love Jesus? Then you will love his people and desire to be with them. Remember that a lone sheep is easy pickings for wolves. Dear friend, walk the path of wisdom and be with God’s people. Be found in their lives and may they be found in yours.