There is a great deal of confusion in our world about the church:
· some thing of it as only a building…brick and mortar with no identity to a particular group of Christians
· some see it as a gathering place for an increasingly marginalized segment of our society
· they identify ‘church’ with rituals and altar calls
· they equate it with the bizarre and irrational conduct of the TV ministers
But it’s also becoming clear that even among those who call themselves ‘religious’ there are many who want fellowship with Christ but want nothing to do with the church!
We are a nation made up of rugged individuals…we’re becoming more self-sufficient and are very suspicious when it relates to giving groups authority over our lives.
· Can one be a Christian who is pleasing to God without having a significant commitment to a church?
· Does the statement: “I am my own church” describe you?
Let’s begin right now with an affirmation that is needed: THE CHURCH IS GOD’S IDEA!
· With all its flaws and faults, God intends for the church to be the living incarnation of Christ in the world today! If the world sees Christ, it will have to see Him through each of us, who wear His name.
· The church is God’s instrument to reconcile the world to Himself
The church can not become “an option” that one can “take it or leave it.” It must not be treat casually or with apathy. Our goal as we begin this year-long study today is to:
· reevaluate our understanding of the church
· reaffirm its place both in the plan of God and in our own lives
Someone might say: “Ahhhh, that’s all your opinion. It doesn’t surprise me to hear a minister say that we need to treat the church more seriously.” (Let’s spend our time today answering three questions or comments that usually come our way).
- WHO’S CHURCH IS THIS?
“I’ve been part of one church or another for a long time now, and I don’t see many churches involved in spiritual business. They seem more concerned with budgets and buildings, power and prestige, programs and creeds. I look at the church and it looks like a man-made institution, pursuing human agendas, worried about worldly things.”There is no doubt that many churches have lost their calling and sense of mission…that many have “changed management.”A church that does not respond to the direction and leadership of Christ and that does not further the kingdom of God HAS become peripheral to God’s plans! Some do spend more time at business meetings worried more about brick and mortar instead of souls.
But that is not what God wants! When the church behaves as God intends:
· it is His instrument to accomplish His will upon earth
· the church is not just God’s idea…it’s His possession
· Jesus came “to build my church” (Matthew 16:18)
· Christ is the head of church, which is His body (Eph. 5:23)
· God established His church at Pentecost and adds believers to it (Acts 2:47)
· Ephesians 2:19: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…”
If the church you see around you “has changed management,” it is something we have allowed and it is something we can change.
- “THE” CHURCH OR “A” CHURCH?
“All Christians are part of the church—that great, universal community of believers which transcends time and space. The church is made up of those who believe and respond by faith to Jesus, no matter when or where they lived. I am the church whether I go to church on Sunday or worship on a lonely mountain top. You don’t have to belong to a church to belong to a church.”Of course, every believer is part of the universal church if he/she has responded to the gospel that is preached in the New Testament.
But for any Christian who has a choice in the matter, failure to cleave to a particular ‘congregation’ is failure to obey Christ…for it is only through a confessing, local body of believers that we carry out the work of the church in the world:
· it is within a congregation structure that we commit ourselves to intimate relationships (IF we are to “love the brethern” we must worship somewhere so we can know “some brethern”)
· it is in a congregational structure that we submit to accountability, duties, and responsibilities
· our Christian character is both shaped and practiced ‘first’ among ‘church family’
· this is the context in which our spiritual gifts are developed and exercised
· it is the ‘training ground’ that disciples and equips Christians to be God’s people against the world system
Look at the New Testament and you see a pattern:
· they confessed faith in Jesus
· they were baptized for remission of sins
· they received the gift of the Holy Spirit
· they became part of local congregations which met in Galatia, Philippi, Ephesus, etc.
The visible, tangible church was not an option for them…it was something they wanted, needed, and desired. It was seen to be at the very heart of what it meant to be part of God’s kingdom.
3. YOU DON’T KNOW MY CHURCH!
“That all sounds very good…but you don’t know my church! Faulty people, flawed preacher, flailing leadership. We can’t get people to participate; some don’t attend more than once a week and some once a month. I know some are encouraged, but I often leave feeling lonely and isolated…I always have a hard time finding a parking spot…decisions are made I don’t agree with.”
There IS a great tension between the ‘church of faith’ and the ‘church of fact.’
We see the shining, pure, beautiful, faithful bride of Christ…loving, harmonious, humble, and hard working…on the other hand, there is the cantankerous bunch of stubborn people who belong to the church where we attend!
It’s the same tension we experience in our personal walk with God:
· the tension between the ideal and reality
· between what we should be and what we are
· between perfection and actuality
Some has said that the “church is like Noah’s ark. The stench inside would be unbearable if it weren’t for the storm outside.”
There will always be problems with the ‘church of fact’ because the church is made up of fallen but redeemed people
· We are imperfect and flawed
· But at some point, we must come to realize that in spite of ourselves, God is using us to proclaim His wisdom and show His glory in this community!
We must not withdraw ourselves from the process simply because the church we are a part of is not the paragon of virtue we (and God) would like it to be!
If this were a place of perfect people, rather than ‘perfected people,’ would any of us fit in?
The truth is, we’re a lot alike and we’re in this together…our goal is to one day be like Christ, and that won’t happen in our lifetime!