When I grew up, I loved going to church. I had good friends at church and it was great to go to boys club and later to youth, to be involved in VBS and to teach Sunday School. I enjoyed good relationships, there was a sense of purpose and meaning in the work we did and I grew in my relationship with God. I enjoyed it so much that eventually it was a factor in my choosing to be a pastor.
Our first church involved us in some difficult work. We were not really gifted for the type of work that was required. There were some people who were hard to get along with. One summer after we had been there for about 3 years, we drove home from vacation. As we came closer to the community, Carla and I both admitted to each other that we really did not want to go back. The joy we had had about church was not there any more. It wasn’t long before a minister who was also a mentor confirmed that our feelings were accurate and within a year we moved and afterwards became involved in churches that once again gave us joy.
What have been your experiences of the church?
Sometimes the church is a place of joy and meaningful participation, sometimes a place of pain and difficult growth. We keep going. We keep committed. We keep working. Why?
A few weeks ago a number of us attended a seminar with Dave Balzer. He was showing us some statistics done by Ipsos which revealed that there are many people in Canada who claim to have a relationship with God but a much smaller number who attend church. We are among those who attend regularly because we are committed to this body and to the concept of church. Why?
Our confession of faith speaks about what we believe about the church.
Confession of Faith:
“We believe all who have experienced new life in Christ belong to His church. All who repent and make a faith commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord are united to His holy church by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 16:18; 28:18-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 16:31; 17:30; 20:21; Romans 8:20; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:25; 4:19; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 4:5; Colossians 1:18; 3:1-4; I Peter 3:21).
We believe God calls the church to conform to the image of Christ, to care for its members and to evangelize all people. Those who are a part of the church seek to 1) live holy lives, considering their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and denying themselves and their lusts (Mark 8:34-35; Romans 13:14; I Corinthians 6:19-20; II Thessalonians 3:6; Titus 2:11-14) 2) avoid entering into binding relationships with unbelievers (Romans 12:1-2; II Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:11) 3) exercise proper stewardship of their abilities, time and possessions (I Corinthians 16:1-2; II Corinthians 8-9).
Let us examine our beliefs about the church.
We say that “We believe all who have experienced new life in Christ belong to His church.”
The statistics which Dave Balzer presented tell us that many people have a personalized and individualized faith without reference to a body of believers. Our belief, which is based on the Bible, is that all Christians need to be a part of a fellowship with other believers. Let me ask you some questions. If someone with influence in our church would begin to teach doctrinal positions which were contrary to Scripture, would you leave the church or would you work together with others to develop a Biblical consensus? If the worship of the church was not to your liking, would you leave the church to find one that was more to your liking or would you stay, accept the differences and work towards worship that was glorifying to God? If someone in the church hurt you deeply, would you leave and find a church where this person didn’t attend or stay and find a way to reconcile? How you answer these questions tells a lot about what you believe about the church. If we have an individualistic faith, we may be quick to shop around and move to different places or not go to church at all. If we are committed to the importance of the church as the body of Christ, then we will be active in building His church, even if it gets difficult.
The Bible tells us that the church is God’s idea. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus had asked Peter who he believed that he, Jesus, was. Peter confessed that He understood that Jesus was the Messiah come from God. Jesus replied with the promise, “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Jesus is the head of the church in the sense that He is the one who began the church. If we belong to Christ, we also belong to one another, we belong to His church and need to relate to one another in His church.
Jesus is also the head of the church in the sense that He is the leader of the church today. Ephesians 1:22, 23 says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” When we examine the big picture, what we see is that Christ is over everything – every created thing, every part of nature, every star in the far flung heavens, every government, everything there is. That position over everything has an intimate connection to the church, which, as Ephesians 1:23 says is “his body.” The church of Jesus Christ has a critical place in the whole universe and everyone who belongs to Christ has a connection to that place.
Someone will say, however, “I am glad to be a part of that church, but the church I attend is something else.” The truth is that the only expression that the church has is in the local gathering of believers.
What I am trying to communicate, the belief which is ours as EMC and which arises out of Scripture is that the individual connection of every believer to the church is not an optional extra in the kingdom of God. If we belong to Christ, we must belong to the body of Christ in its local expression, the church.
A further statement of belief connected to this understanding is that we believe that “All who repent and make a faith commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord are united to His holy church by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
This is a powerful statement which also comes out of Scripture. I Corinthians 12:13 says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Now we know that not everyone who comes to church is a Christian. Some people who do not have a relationship to Christ come to church and they are welcome at the church meetings, but they are not the church. On the other hand, all those who belong to Christ do not merely go to church, they are the church.
The thing which makes them the church is not membership or a system of organization or the enjoyment of spending time with friends or even the value of being involved in a good endeavor. The thing which makes us the church is our common connection to the head of the church, Jesus Christ, through the Spirit who indwells each one of us. A. W. Tozer said, “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.”
Sometimes I fear that we have not fully understood what it means that we are a people of the Spirit, that we have all been baptized by the same Spirit. It is the Spirit who is the source of our unity, of our common vision, of our common concern for one another and of our common working together to build the kingdom of Christ.
The practical implications of that are that when someone among us sins, we care for one another and work with the Holy Spirit to restore such a one. When we are seeking direction for the work of the church, we discuss and we also rely on the guidance given by the Spirit who indwells each one.
If the church is that important and if those indwelt by the Spirit make up that community, it is a good thing to formalize that relationship. We cannot merely assume the Covenant Community we have with each other. We need to formalize it and say to each other I belong to you and you belong to me. It is a celebration of the oneness and commitment we have with each other. Another word for this is membership and I would invite those who are the church in this location and are not members to make this covenant.
But being the church is not only a matter of who we are. The church is not just something that is, but something that does. Our confession of faith helps us understand what it is the church is to do. There are three primary tasks.
First of all we say that “We believe God calls the church to conform to the image of Christ…” Conforming to the image of Christ means that we are involved in the work of making disciples of Jesus.
In Galatians 4:19 Paul speaks about discipleship when he says, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” That is the passion of discipleship! The depth of His passion is that he is “in the pains of childbirth.” A person expecting a child and close to giving birth has all kinds of pains. The pains of waiting and looking forward to the birth. The pains of contractions and the pains of childbirth. What a powerful picture of the deep desire Paul had for the Galatians to be like Jesus. Do we have a similar passion?
Of all the things we do in regards to discipleship, the bottom line is also revealed in this verse. We are not in the business of developing nice people, or developing people who know a lot of things. Discipleship is about becoming like Jesus. I appreciate the emphasis Rick gave us last week when he talked about the importance of memorizing Scripture at AWANA. He was concerned that they not just learn the words, but also what they mean. However, even knowing what they mean is not enough. My passion and that of Amos and the passion of every leader, of every teacher in this church, indeed the passion of every person here must be to see Christ formed in every individual.
I have to confess that I have had a great passion for people to know the word of God, but have not always had as great a passion to see Christ formed in them. May we all be about the work of seeing the image of Christ formed in every person!
Another significant work of the church is that “We believe God calls the church to …care for its members…”
Is it Biblical to do so? Of course! Let me remind you of Romans 12:10, 13, 15, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves….Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality….Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
We have spoken of this before and today I would just like to remind all of us, we know this, we do it, let us not neglect it!
Our task as a church also goes beyond our own existence. “We believe God calls the church to …evangelize all people.”
Once again we ask, “Is it Biblical?” and once again we answer, “and how!” The commission comes directly from Jesus in Matthew 28 where he assures us of His presence and commissions us to “make disciples of all nations.”
The question is, are you and I involved in the work of proclaiming the good news? In order to proclaim the good news, our lives must intersect with those who need to hear the good news. Is your life intersecting with unbelievers? Since it is the Spirit who convicts and the Father who draws people to Himself, it is evident that we need to pray for those who are lost. Are we praying? Since it is our responsibility to communicate the gospel, the further question is, are our words and our life giving witness to God’s good news. I have in the past suggested the 4x4 concept. The idea is that you 1st of all identify 4 people whom you know who need Jesus. Then 2nd, you begin to pray for them. Thirdly, you look for opportunities to spend genuine time with them – not “project” time, but real time. The fourth thing is to communicate the gospel as the Spirit opens the door. I would again encourage that we do that.
In just under a year, we will have a chance to participate in the Franklin Graham Festival which will take place at the MTS center in Winnipeg. The key to success in this Festival is the prayers of God’s people. I would invite you to begin to pray for the festival and for those whom you would like to invite.
There are many opportunities for us as a church to be involved in the task of gospel proclamation. Our Confession of Faith says that we believe this is the task of the church. Are you involved?
“The building committee had met to look at some designs for a new house of worship. One member objected to some of the concepts. "Let's build a church that looks like a church," he said.” Whatever your tastes in architecture for the building, spiritually the church should look like a church. To put it better, the church should look like Christ. If the church is Christ's body, it ought to resemble him as it is involved in the tasks of making disciples, caring for its members and doing the work of evangelism.
If that is the work of the church, the next question is, what are the responsibilities of the individual members of the church?
Our Confession of Faith says, “Those who are a part of the church seek to 1) live holy lives, considering their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and denying themselves and their lusts 2) avoid entering into binding relationships with unbelievers…”
It is the responsibility of every follower of Christ, and thus every person connected to a church, to be a faithful representative of Christ. Another way to put that is that each of us is called to live a holy life.
Our confession mentions three things about living holy lives, namely, recognizing that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, denying ourselves and avoiding “binding relationships with unbelievers.” Scripture speaks about each of these things.
I Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” Mark 8:34,35 challenges us, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” II Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.”
Each of these things is important, but I would like to spend a little time talking about the last one because it can cause some confusion.
One of the primary places we find this command is in II Corinthians 6:14-18. The background of this passage, from Leviticus 19:19, is that Israel was not to plough with an ox and a donkey together. Mixing things was imagery deeply engrained in their minds to teach them not to associate with those who were idol worshippers. As soon as Israel began to associate with their idol worshipping neighbours, they were soon worshipping idols themselves. It became a mark of being a Jew, not to associate with unbelievers. Paul picks up on that Old Testament language and applies it to several specific situations in Corinthians. He mentions that disciples should not marry unbelievers in I Corinthians 7:12-15 and he talks about avoiding eating meat taken from idol worship in the home of an unbeliever in I Corinthians 10:27ff. Christians have read these passages and in the past and even today, have chosen to avoid, for example, being on a sports team with non-Christians or having close friends with unbelievers or isolating themselves in so called Christian communities. Is that what God had in mind when he taught us this?
I remember a church that was part of the community in which we once lived. They were very aloof and did not participate in much in the community. They wanted to do the work of evangelism, so they put a tract in everyone’s mail box. I was disturbed at the insensitivity of their approach. How are we going to proclaim the gospel when we don’t even know people who don’t know the Lord? It is clear that God does not mean that we should isolate ourselves from unbelievers. I Corinthians 5:9, 10 has already spoken of this. There it says, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.”
In my understanding there are several things to consider. One is that we are to be a light in the dark world, which means that we need to be in the dark world, but we must always be a light. Ephesians 5:11 teaches us to “Avoid all the fruitless deeds of darkness.” This means that we are in the world, but we do not participate in those things that lead to death. Another key consideration is to understand what a yoke is. There is a great difference between having contact and even relationships with unbelievers and, on the other hand, being yoked together with them. As long as we are in relationships where we have the freedom to follow God’s path, we are not in a yoked relationships. A marriage is a yoked relationship and that is why a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. Another perspective is that we need to live graciously and not in a judgemental way. In the parable of the tares and the wheat, we learn that there will always be an influence that pulls away from God even in the church. There are weeds among the wheat, but we should not pull the weeds out. That means that we act graciously without ourselves compromising. I trust that these thoughts help us understand that although it is not always easy to live the Christian life, as much as we know, we ought to live holy lives.
The other responsibility is to exercise Stewardship. Our confession of faith says, “Those who are a part of the church seek to… exercise proper stewardship of their abilities, time and possessions.”
We all have something to contribute to the kingdom. It may be the gifts God has given us. As some of us have been studying the Network course, I have been encouraged once again that the stewardship of our gifts is essential for a servant of Christ. But stewardship is not only about giving God our spiritual gifts for His service. It also means offering time and possessions. As we come to the end of the year and it is election time, it is good for each of us to think about what our contribution to the body will be. As we come to the end of the year and need to make the budget, it is important for each of us to consider what we can contribute financially.
In Suffolk, England, there is a church called the Tattingstone Wonder. It is not a real church at all. The local squire wanted to see a church from the windows of his country house. Since the real church was out of his sight, he built an imitation. Is our church a real one or an imitation?
The church is important to God, is it important to us?
The church is a community of the Spirit. Are we part of the community of the Spirit that is empowering us in worship and service?
The people of the church are to live holy lives and exercise stewardship. Are you involved?
May each of us fit the part God has for us in His church.