Membership & Mission
October 31, 2010
· Transd., Piper: American individualism
· 1 Cor 12, Rom 12
Scripture reading: matthew 28:18-20 (Jewel)
· Happy Halloween!
There is a lot of cover today – Membership, why belonging to a church is important and the mission of the church, and finally where we are going. This is the part of the sermon that I am most excited about and most nervous for.
Love jesus, hate the church
Have you noticed that church is becoming increasingly uncool? One guy wrote a book about this called, “Love Jesus, Hate the Church.” He notes that during the past 10 years, approximately 50 million Christians left the church (1/6 of the population).
· The percentage of American adults who attend religious services has dropped from 49% to less than 32%.
I recently talked to a burned out church planter, a guy with an MDiv, and he basically said we don’t have to be involved in church, my wife and I have it in our living room.
· “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.”
Do I have to go to church?
Q Let’s hit this head on: Do you have to be part of a local church to be a Christian?
A It’s complicated.
First I need to distinguish terms – there are two types of churches:
· The universal church – all Christians everywhere and at all times. Every Christians are automatically a part of this.
· The local church is the smaller group of believers meeting and growing together, under the same leadership.
No, you do not have to be part of a local church to be a Christian. But you also don’t have to pray, worship, take communion, be baptized, or grow in godliness.
· We are only saved by God’s grace, not anything we do, but if these are lacking, it is questionable if you’ve been changed.
Building the case
I am making a pretty strong statement – being a Christian without being committed (not just attending) a local church is as Biblical as being a Christian who does not pray, worship, or strive in righteousness.
Q Where does it say that in the Bible?
It’s more complicated than finding verses that spell that out – the underlying assumption of the entire NT is that when a person becomes a Christian, they will become part of church. This assumption is so firm that they seldom talk about it.
· We all agree that “don’t murder” is pretty important, but I yet to preach a sermon on it!
It fact, there is only one verse telling people to go to church (though that is enough), because it was so assumed they would! It’s like how there is only one verse telling husbands and wives to have sex – in most situations that wasn’t a problem.
· It’s worth noting that of the 66 books of the Bible, only 4 were written to individuals, the rest written to churches.
Furthermore, we can look at the history of the church.
A short history of the church
I want to take a few minutes to do so, because I want you to see that “Christian without church” didn’t come from the Bible, but from an American sense of individualism and self-sufficiency.
Romans 12:2 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
As the Apostles spread the Gospel, they founded a church in every city. Not churches, but a church – the church as Jerusalem, at Ephesus, etc.
These churches met in houses, and frequently got so big they had to meet in several houses, but it was still “the church,” all the believers united together under one leadership (e.g. Jerusalem, Acts 11:22)
· These leaders were called bishops and were over the church in each city or region.
The first bishops were appointed by the Apostles, and then they appointed the next bishop, in order to ensure that that church stayed true to the teachings of Jesus.
These bishops would get together, as the universal church, occasionally to decide theological matters. That is what the “Nicene Council” was, were they created the Nicene Creed.
· But if you were a Christian, you joined the local church.
So far, so good. Even in the face of great persecution, the church is growing rapidly. In 313 Emperor Constantine ends persecution and later becomes a Christian.
Instantly the church gained prosperity, prestige, and political power. Good thing, right? No, very bad thing. It was kind of like they won the lottery.
As a result, the corruption filled the church, which included profound theological errors, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many other Christians first tried to reform, but then split away from the Catholic church.
· BTW: Happy Reformation Day (1517).
For the first time there could be two churches in a city, one Catholic and one Protestant. At the same time, they clearly understood that they were still “the church” and if you were a Christian, you were part of a local church.
As time passed, these Protestant churches began to split more and more, until by the time America was founded, there were perhaps a dozen significant denominations in America.
· But there was still a fundamental assumption that to be a Christian was to be part of a local church.
Q So how did we get here?
1. American individualism and self-reliance the same independence that had the positive effect of the Revolution had the negative effect of separation.
2. 19th century American Transcendentalism – a movement that sought to transcend churches, dogma, and any institution, relying entirely on self to experience Spirituality.
· It is true each of us has a personal relationship with God, but not at the expense of the church body.
Q Are you getting a sense of how much we have been “conformed” to the American pattern?
The interesting thing is that in most parts of the world, the church is still the central factor of faith.
The Local body
As I said, I don’t have a bunch of verse to say “being committed to a church is a vital part of Christianity.” Instead, there is the fundamental perspective Paul describes:
1 Corinthians 12:13 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.
Q What is the body? Look at the context – the church!
1 Corinthians 12:14-16, 24b-27 14 ¶ Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
...But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 ¶ Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The key point here is “interdependent,” we need each other – no part can continue to grow and thrive apart from the rest.
Q Does this describe the universal church or local?
Local! All of the work of church can only be done in a local church – teaching, discipleship, baptism, fellowship, caring for each other, discipline, can only be done in local churches.
Q Where do we find a sense of belonging, knowing that we are loved and accepted? The local church!
Q Where do we “rejoice with those who rejoice, morn with those who morn? The local church!
Q Where do we hear the Bible carefully taught (because the worst heresy happens in isolation)? The local church!
Q Where are we held accountable and pushed to grow, to become better husbands, wives, parents, children, and friends? The local church!
Stay connected to the body!
Q So what happens when we violate God’s design for faith?
I have something I want to show you, but I warn you that is it pretty graphic – a couple years back, 1,600 men in Asia took part in a tug-of-war. One guy decided to wrap the rope around his arm for better leverage. What could possible go wrong?
Close your eyes! The rope snapped and the recoil exerted so much force that his arm was torn off. I dressed up as this guy for a Halloween party yesterday!
As we’ve seen, the Bible describes the church as a body, each of us being a different part, having a different role:
NIV Romans 12:4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
· So next time you think “I can be a Christian without being a part of a local church,” think of this picture!
You are disconnected from the life of the body, you are severed from the strength and health. It is through the body that you are nourished.
· It is impossible to reach your full potential in Christ without the church.
For better or for worse
To go back to that big question: Can you be a Christian without being a part of a church? Yes, technically you don’t have to be part of a local church to be a Christian. But technically, you can be married without having sex.
Q Why would you?
Obviously that is a joke, but being part of a local church is like marriage – both the good part and the bad parts. Being part of the church is work, it isn’t always fun, but it is good.
· God intends church not to be a “have to” but a “get to.”
attender or committed?
But this can only happen if you are committed to a local church – simply attending is not enough. It’s like the difference between casual dating and marriage.
There may be some companionship, some enjoyment, but we would be crazy to expect it to provide the same payoff as in marriage.
Q What is the big difference between the two? Commitment!
There is a big difference between saying:
“This is my church, I am a part of it, I invest my time, talents and treasures here, I am submitted to the leadership, it is a priority be here on Sunday”
“I go to church there, usually, sometimes, when the weather isn’t nice, when we feel like, when we can get the kid up, unless I am offend by someone, or the sermon is boring, or Josh is preaching.”
Being an attender means you show us when you want to, hide when you want to, and don’t feel accountable to the church, the phrase “It’s none of your business” lingers in your mind.
· If that describes you, you’re still welcome; I’d rather have you here than nowhere, but know that is not Biblical church.
But being committed to this church means:
1. This is where you belong – you are committed to the people of this church, even when you have to give back.
2. This is where you serve and give – you believe in what is going on and you put your money and actions where your mouth is.
3. This is where you grow – you are not stagnant, and you are accountable to the people of the church and submit to the leadership as they help you grow.
We describe this commitment by using the word “membership.” Some folks react strongly to that word. Member simply means “part of a body” and membership is the state of being part of a body.
· The membership covenant describes the commitments we make, just as a marriage certificate to demonstrates commitment.
It’s not the term membership that’s important nor is the signed covenant – it is committing yourself to one local body, not moving around when ever things get difficult.
· We aren’t polygamist, this isn’t “sister wives.” I don’t want you churching around!
Why this church?
I think you get my point – it is vital that every Christian be committed to one local church. It is absolutely impossible to reach your full potential in Christ without it.
· This to me is a close handed issue – I will fight for this.
Saying “you don’t have to go church...” isn’t heresy, but it is close, and leads many to apostasy.
But I won’t fight over is whether it should be this church – that is up to you.
· There are 100 different Biblical ways to do church. No way is perfect, and no one way will fit everyone.
There are a lot of good churches in the area, and I want to see everyone committed to the church that fits them. Once a month I attend a pastors’ luncheon with local pastors, and there are a lot of godly pastors out there.
· We are not trying to please everyone.
I don’t expect everyone will like this church. In fact I know that is impossible. The only way to avoid offending everyone is to be nothing, do nothing, and say noting, but then “they” will complain to that we are too boring!
· The Gathering has always been too liberal for the conservatives, and too conservative for the liberal!
If you are offended by references to R rated movie, having a beer, or talking about sex, humor that is irreverent against us (we take God seriously, but not ourselves), this might not be the church for you!
On the other hand, if you are offended by clear call for the Gospel, if you are offended when I say we are all sinners, we suck, but God is good and love us, and Jesus is the only way to God, this might not be the place for you.
Our mission statement
We use our mission statement to describe what we are like and why are doing what we are doing. It also helps describe why we don’t do certain things.
It doesn’t cover the things that should be true of every church, it defines our unique personality:
“We are a Christian community striving to glorify God and engage our culture.”
This is simple enough: Jesus is Lord and Savior, the Bible is the Word of God.
I don’t need to spend a lot of time on this – this is what we do best. This is community committed to each other. We still have room to grow, but we are on a solid trajectory. This is what we have been focusing on for the past two years.
· This is such a strength that it is in danger of becoming a weakness (more on that soon).
We are works in progress. We have not arrived, but by God’s grace we keep striving to get there. Likewise we love you just the way you are, but too much to leave you there.
· Some are offended by the people we welcome in.
· Some are offended that we call people on their sin.
Don’t let me get started, but we bring glory to God when we desire him and enjoy him more than anything else.
The more we see him as everything we really want and all the joys of this life as reflections of him, the more we will pursue him out of desire, not obligation.
· And as our friends and family sees this, they will how glorious God is.
Engage our culture
Ever since we wrote this mission statement, we’ve been focusing of various parts of it – community, glorifying God, building our Christian foundation, but not “engaging culture.”
· We haven’t focused on reaching outside of these walls, to emphasis the “go” part of the Great Commission.
On several occasions over the past two years, I have wanted to make outreach our emphasis. But each time, I knew God was saying not yet, not yet. The church isn’t ready. You are not ready.
· But finally it is “yet.”
It is time for us to move outside these walls, it is time to bring the outsiders in, it is time to get a little uncomfortable for the sake of sharing the joy, hope, and salvation that is only found in Jesus and experienced in community.
Q Are you ready?
Look, I know that most of us are comfortable were we are. I want to make us a little uncomfortable, including myself.
But if you have any encouragement from this community, if you have grown and been changed, then you are being selfish to keep it to yourself.
“Saying you don’t want your church to grow is the same as saying the world can go to hell.” Rick Warren.
So here’s the deal: For the past several months the Elders and Deacon have been praying and discussing where God is taking us in 2011, and he has given us a pretty big objective:
· In 2011, you and I will commit to “engaging culture” and by the end of it, there will be twice of many of us sitting here.
Look around you, now imagine what that will look like – feel full in here, folks sitting in the balcony, and not just because they are anti-social.
· Think through that further – twice as many community groups, twice as many leaders, twice as many Sunday School teachers...
And this growth will be healthy growth. We are not going to bride a bunch of people to be here. We will helping people grow closer to God, to be deeper in community.
· Very important: This is not about numbers; it is about reaching all of the people that we can reach better.
In our own idiom
Q How is this going to look?
It is will look like us. It will fit our personality, our mission statement. We won’t be passing out tracks, we won’t be doing skits to Carmen songs (if you don’t know what I mean, consider yourself blessed).
· We will continue to be a little quirky, and we will find that we enjoy the methods we use, because they will fit us.
We will do it through “Community,” “Striving,” “Glorify God,” and “Engaging Culture.”
Is this an audacious goal? You bet! Am I a little nervous to be publically proclaiming it? Yes! But that’s the point.
I have to be honest, as I was preparing, I felt fear creeping in. There are two types of fear: “this is hard and scary” and “This is really bad idea.”
· I recognized this as the “this is hard and scary,” like when I first became pastor here.
God has given us a goal that we cannot pull off on our own: The Gathering had never attempted to do anything this big.
1. It will require prayer – we need Divine Assistance (I will preach on prayer next Sunday).
2. It will require the entire church – the Elders and Deacons can’t pull this off.
So now it is your turn. Evaluate yourself. Are you on board? Are you ready to bring outsiders in and make them into part of the community? Are you willing to share what you have been given? Are you willing to push yourself?
Here is what you need to do:
This week, carefully and prayerfully consider if you indeed are committed to this church and where God is leading us.
If the answer is yes:
1. Attend next week’s membership class, whether you are a member or not. If you are not, become one.
· Take a membership manual home, and complete it in advance.
· Notice the list of members in the bulletin.
2. Pray: Pray for God’s guidance, that we remove the obstacles to health, and that God give you opportunities.
3. Be ready: to take advantage of church opportunities, personal ones, and think up new ones.
Main Point(s) of sermon:
1. Why attend a local church?
2. Why commit to a local church?
3. Why commit to this church?
Objectives of sermon:
· People to leave excited for the mission and future of TG and be motivated to advance that as members