We think far too little about church in the modern day cultural christianity of America. And especially teaching about it. Teaching about church to some is about as important as a church sign. I mean for like two months, I was supposed to buy a new sign for the church, and I am like, what's wrong with the old one. I just couldn't get myself to spend $400 on a church sign. So I kept putting it off, and putting it off. And that's how I think most Christians think about church.
Perhaps it's needed, perhaps it's not. Church is not needed for salvation, so whats the big deal. Christianity is about a relationship with Christ, not that formalized nonsense. I can do church on the golf course. Or in the woods. Or at the coffee shop. Wherever 2-3 are gathered right. But it should not be this way. As John Stott the great British Theologian once said, "The church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history." So many people say that you don't have to be part of a church to be a Christian. Is this true? Do you have to be part of a church to be a Christian? Yet, even as I think about it, I am not sure my instant reaction is that right one. For how can you be a Christian and not be part of a church. There just seems like such a big disconnect. More than once Jesus said that if you love him, you will keep his commandments. (John 14:15, 23) So I wonder when we read Hebrews 9:24-25: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Is that just a suggestion? You know if you feel like it gather together. And if not, do not worry about. Or is it more than that. How does Bible say others will know us? (John 13:35) By our love for one another.
Yes, we are to love our neighbors, and even to love our enemies, but the Bible says that the world will know we are his disciples, not by loving our neighbors who are our enemies, but by our love for one another. By those who are disciples loving other disciples.
This is one of our biggest witnesses to the world. When we proclaim the gospel, people hear it, but when we live out the gospel together in local congregations, people can see it. The church is the gospel made visible.
There are loads of phrases in the New Testament that have been deemed the one anothers: “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50) “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
And how are we supposed to do these thing without a serious week in week out commitment? You cant love people in these ways being passerby’s on the street. How are you supposed to do what Hebrews 13:17 says, and submit to your leaders who are going to give an account for you, if you have no leaders who are going to give an account for you? How are we as Christians supposed to approach another brother or sister in a Matthew 18 type way if we have no church to bring them in front of? (Matthew 18:15-17). This is not given as way to deal with situation in the general public. To the NT authors. Church is just an interwoven, intermingled part of being a Christian. There is no Christianity without it. In fact would we even have our bibles if the early church hadn't seen church planting as integral what God had called them to do. Think about it. Almost all of the NT is written to churches. Romans - written to the church in Roman Corinthians - written to the church in Corinth
Galatians - to the church in Galatia
Ephesians - to the church in Ephesus
Philippians - to the church in Philippi
Colossians - to the church in Colossae 1& 2 Thessalonians - written to the church in Thessalonica
1 & 2 Timothy - written to a young pastor instructing him, exhorting him, and encouraging him to fulfill his duties as a pastor
Titus - another book to a young pastor sent to plant a church in the very hard place of Crete
The Book of Revelation - written to 7 churches
Not even to mention the narrative of Acts. The central theme being the expansion of the church. Or the general epistles, like 1 & 2 Peter, Jude, James, and 1,2,3 John which were meant to be circulated amongst all the churches. The apostles and disciples gave their life for the church. The Apostle John was the Pastor of Ephesus, James was a Pastor at Jerusalem, Titus was a Pastor in Crete, Timothy was a Pastor, Paul was a church planter. And almost every other Christian mentioned in the NT was a co-laborer in some way for the good of the church. Gods plan for this world, yes it is hard to believe, even in the midst of all this social unrest, is still the church. In Matthew 16:16-18, Jesus says to Peter, upon this rock. What is the rock? It was Peters confession in vs. 16 Upon this rock, upon this rock of your confession Peter. That is, upon confessors, Those who confess me as Christ I will build my church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it Literally without the idea of church. It is impossible to make any sense of the NT. The NT writers wouldn't have any category of understanding Christianity without church. These people nowadays who call themselves christians but don't have anything to do with church, it just wouldn't make sense to them. The NT wasn't written to individual christians all by the themselves. It is not meant to be read all by ourselves. Yes. read it by yourself. But don't think of yourself as a loner. The NT was written to christians. Not just to a Christian. Its not just written to you personally. There is no category in Biblical christianity for lone lone ranger christians. Christianity is a together thing. And thats how you must think of it. Because that is how the bible thinks of it. I know it totally goes against our rugged American individualism, but thats just how it is. And no it is not socialism either. We are not being forced to give away all our stuff by some evil dictator, so we can all be poor. No. No. We have a gracious master, who gave his life for us. Who saves us by his grace, calls us into a people, and gives us a great purpose. So it is not individualistic either. It cant be understood that way. So the question of, do you have to be part of a church to be a Christian all of a sudden gets tricky. Maybe its safe to say that, you can be a christian and not be part of a church. But what you cant be is an obedient christian if you have access to a gospel preaching church and your not part of it. Because some of the stuff we are called to do, can only be done in the context of a church. Some people don't have access to a church. Well, if they are a christian, maybe they need to either drive far to get to one, move or plant a church, or at least be praying hard that someone would plant one so that they could be part of it. How intimately does Christ associate it himself with the church? Does anyone know the famous story that is found in Acts 9? Pauls conversion. Turn with me there. He was going to Damascus to persecute Christians there. He was not yet a Christian. This guy who was going to end up writing half the New Testament was not a Christian yet. So he was going there to persecute, these Christians. Well, while he is on the way there, the resurrected Jesus appears to him and he knocks him to the ground. And vs. 4….. What does Jesus say?
He says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute...” And Jesus doesn’t say “why do you persecute those Christians up in Damascus.” And he doesn’t even say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute the church?” He says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Jesus identifies himself with his people, with the church, with that local church there in Damascus. Jesus was speaking to Saul and said, “Me,” and what he meant was these Christians.
Friends, the church is Jesus’ idea. Christ called the Church, “Me.” That is why Paul calls the Church the body of Christ. He understands how closely Jesus identifies with his Church. How many times have I heard. Oh I love Jesus. Its the church I cant stand. Thats doesn't even make sense, If you are here thinking that you are a Christian, sporting a kind of Christianity that doesn’t know an allegiance to a church, I want to warn you to think. Consider carefully what you mean when you say that you are a Christian, that you love Christ when you don’t give yourself for the very church that he bought with his own blood as it says in Acts 20:28. I have heard a saying once, I don't know by who. But it went something like, “the church is a harlot, but she is our mother”
For so long, people were not allowed to have bibles, burned at the stake for having one. Catholic Heirachy with their perverted view of Scripture ruled the world with an iron fist, or at least tried to. So much evil happened in the name of the church. The word was hidden. People were taught they were saved by works and nobody knew any better. The church fleeced people for money. The atrocities were numerous. But instead, of the reformers, saying were done. No more church. Instead of being done. The saw within the pages of scripture, the true church. The way things were supposed to be. And they gave there lives for it. There was also another saying, Post tenebras lux - After darkness light. Seeing the word of God for themselves. People dying so that it could be translated into the common language people could understand. And the light started breaking upon peoples hearts. That the gospel really was the power of God for salvation. The just shall live by faith. And it became the battle cry. So what I think it means is something like this. The church is broken. It is beat up, it is a raggedy. It is a motley group. Full of broken sinners like you and me. Full of Pharisees like you and me. Full of people that don't always follow Jesus correctly. But oh she is beautiful. She is the bride of Christ. She is the body of Christ. And she is beautiful. And yet there is till much need for reformation. She is still worthy to give our life for that cause. Why, because we have been bought with the blood of Christ. What does Ephesians 5:27 say? Why is Jesus going to present the church to himself without spot or wrinkle? Is it because the church doesn't have any spots or wrinkles? No. No. No. Look around at the churches, just in the United States alone. You will see lots of spots and wrinkles. It’s not to hard to pick on the church these days. But the only reason Jesus is going to present the church to himself without spot or wrinkle is because of his blood. It is all because of and on the account of Christ finished work on the cross. In 1 Corinthians 6:11, right after it says, that the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, and the list goes on, will not inherit the kingdom of God, it then says, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” You cant hate yourself. Especially because Christ loves you. Don't ever think that God hates you? He sent his son to die on the cross for you. He loves you. And to say you love Jesus but don't like his church doesn't make sense. Mainly because it doesn't make sense to Jesus. It is a contradiction in terms. Because Christ and the church is so intimately related. God doesn't want just a bunch of lone ranger Christians? Mainly because he died for a people, not just individuals. And we will see that as we get into this study in the days ahead. Why? Oh there is all kinds of implications. But mainly what we have to be concerned with right now, is because that is what Gods word says. And woe to us, if we think we can place ourselves over Gods word as its judge. Today, so many local churches are adrift in the shifting currents of pragmatism. Whatever we think works best. Whatever you have to do to get the job done, even if it is unbiblical, or unfaithful. Pragmatism in a lot of ways has been the death of the church in the United States.
So many people believe the goal is to get the church filled with people. So then they do whatever it takes to do that. Often resulting in compromise, to the point where the church looks no different than its surroundings. Basically just a christianized version of the world. Instead, churches must once again begin measuring success not in terms of numbers but in terms of faithfulness to the Scriptures. We don't start with man and his felt needs. We start with God who really knows what we need. Faithful Christians, and there has been some throughout history and there are even some today, have persevered not because they met immediate success or advertised themselves as “relevant." And that is exactly how faithful Christians will persevere during this day and age as well, faithfulness to the Word. And so the question we must ask ourselves, is do we want to be counted among that remnant? Do we desire to be faithful, more than we desire to be relevant or even liked? And are we willing to count the cost? The other day I listened to Al Mohler preach to the new students at Southern Seminary. And he read Psalm 119:89 where it says “Forever, oh Lord, your word is settled in heaven.” And then he said, if forever the word of the Lord is settled, than that settles it. We're not trying to figure out what to believe. We're not trying to figure out what to teach. We're not trying to figure out how to make the faith more relevant for the modern age. We're here to stand with the faithful down through the ages.”
Jesus is worth more than anything we have to go through to be faithful to him, and he is better than anything we have to give up. More than anything I want to be faithful. I want to see my heavenly Father smile. I want to here him say, like only a father can say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…” My whole goal in life is to get to the end being faithful to Christ. I want to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8) Do you long for his appearing? If you do, then you must also long to be faithful. You can’t long for his appearing, and simultaneously care more about your personal preferences. It just doesn’t work. Do you see the importance of the church. Do you think the Apostle Paul would understand if he were here right now, and you told him that you were a Christian, that you love Jesus, but you are not part of a church. I know I have flip flopped back and forth on the way I used the term church. But can you agree with me than in reading the NT honestly, you can begin to see the importance of the church?