Darius* and I were meeting in a cafe to conduct an informal baptism interview. Leaning on things I had learned as a young pastor in the US, I was asking questions to gauge his understanding of the gospel and of baptism, looking for clear evidence of repentance and life change, and also casting a vision for local church commitment – the absence of which is the kryptonite of church planting among our people group.
“Darius, you know that many who come to faith among your people refuse to gather with other believers. They refuse to commit to a church body and instead try to follow Jesus on their own. Because of this choice they can never become mature believers and the church cannot be built up and multiply here. It’s a tragic thing.”
“Yes,” Darius nodded.
I continued, “When you get baptized you are not only proclaiming your commitment to Jesus, but you are also proclaiming your commitment to his people, the Church, Christ’s bride.”
Darius continued nodding in affirmation.
“Darius, I know there are many reasons why other local believers are afraid to gather with others to worship Jesus and to be the church… but in order to obey Jesus, we must be committed to do this, no matter what. If you say you are ready to get baptized, are you also ready to commit to gathering with a body of believers for the rest of your life, even if things get bad?”
Darius looked at me, a little puzzled.
Then he asked, “Why would I stop gathering with other believers? It’s because of the church that I became convinced that the message of the gospel must be true. When I saw your lives, how different all of you are, when I saw your relationships with one another (and here he cycled through the names of our small church plant of locals and foreigners), that’s when I knew the gospel was true.”
Darius was speaking as if what he was saying was the most obvious thing in the world, seemingly unaware of just how rare this stand was among local believers.
“I am a believer because of the church. So of course, I will gather with a church for the rest of my life, no matter what happens.”
There it was, Darius had taken his stand. I wanted to ask him to say it again, or at least to stand up and give him a big bear hug. After three years of pleading with local believing friends to gather with others, and mostly failing to convince them to actually do so, here for the first time was a brother who simply knew it deep down in his spiritual bones – to be a believer means to not forsake the assembly. Here was evidence that if exposed to a gathering of the saints early on, a local could actually have the importance of church as part of his new-believer DNA. Here was a fulfillment of the Bible’s promises about the power of The Church Observed. It was like stumbling onto water while traveling through the desert. It was wonderful.
We were departing soon for the US, and we were asked to plan to move to a new city after our return. But our last time worshiping with Darius and the other believers included a kiddie pool in a kitchen. Darius confessed his faith in Jesus and in the presence of witnesses went under the water and came back out again, his spiritual death and life in Christ now made visible through the waters of baptism.
To this day Darius has kept his commitment to Jesus and also to his bride, the church. May the Lord raise up an army like him.