The followers of Jesus Christ are a community. A body. A temple. A people. We are one. Inherently built into authentic, healthy community is the idea of accountability. Most of what’s taught as ‘accountability’ is contrived. It is not organic, nor is it honest; therefore, it is not truly effective in furthering sanctification. It does not achieve the goal of Hebrews 10, which is often wrongly interpreted as an admonition against sporadic church attendance. It goes much deeper. We have a responsibility in keeping each other “on the straight and narrow”:
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:19-25).
This passage affirms both the priesthood of the believer as well as the lesser trumpeted doctrine of communal accountability. We should joyfully (and I do mean joyfully) embrace and practice the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. However, our priesthood was never meant to put us in any position in which community isn’t involved in our sanctification. We mostly give lip service to mutual accountability while denying it in practice. We want to live this life keeping everyone at a convenient distance.
Paul reminded the Christians at Philippi to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12), further reminding them that it is God in us who “works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (2:13). In other words, though we are ultimately responsible for ourselves, we are not walking the walk by ourselves. That’s where the larger community comes in.
A church that is functioning as a New Testament church is a church that is accountable to one another. This is not to say everyone knows every deep, dark detail of everyone else’s life. There are some sins and struggles which need not go beyond the involved parties. However, how can we obey God in reconciling if we are not confessing our sins to one another (James 5:16)? The phrase “one another” calls for communal accountability.
According to Hebrews this type of accountability is encouraging. It is for the best of all involved. It helps strengthen and renew our commitment to each other and to the kingdom’s work. It’s a positive thing! Sometimes this accountability may well produce sorrow, but it’s ultimate end is to aid in ridding ourselves of the sins of apathy and lethargy, among others. It drives us towards sanctification.
Jesus referred to us as flock and branches on the same vine. Paul described us as a body that rejoices and hurts with one another. We belong to one another. We should be willing to go the distance with one another no matter how messy and vile it might get. We should be prepared to walk through deep mud with one another. It’s as much a part of our high calling as our priesthood.
In closing I’d like to say that I am thankful to God for those who’ve been there for me in times when my sin had messed up my thinking in such a way that I needed others to hate the sin I loved, and to be my strength and moral compass when I was weak and directionless. It doesn’t demonstrate to me that they in any way wanted to take God’s place in my life, but that they were obeying God by loving and caring enough to save me from myself, and the shame I could’ve potentially brought myself, my church, and my Lord.