When I say the word “church” it causes many things to come to mind. Among those things might be outdated, rude, giving, kind, charitable, selfish, powerful, large, small, big buildings, and money just to name a few. The Church has endured thousands of years, growing larger in numbers and influence as well as losing numbers and influence. There have been people who have tried to shut down the Church and those that have given their lives to help it succeed.
Some that throw stones at it and others that use those stones to build the buildings for people to gather with one another and grow in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though our opinions might be very different about what the Church is or isn’t, it’s important that, beyond all the speculation and personal opinion, we look to see what Jesus defined the Church to be and what Jesus intended the Church to do on the earth after He had risen and before He returns once again. In this session we will discuss what the Church is, what Jesus’ relationship to the Church is, why preaching is important, and why Christians should join a Church.
What Is The Church?
With only a 120 people present in the upper room where the Holy Spirit was poured out, Jesus would then be taken from inside that room out into the streets and public squares as the early Church began to share the message of Christ with a lost and dying people. A couple thousand years later, and with just a handful of people, there are roughly three billion Christians worldwide. The message of Jesus began to spread through the early Church faster than it could keep up with the growth.
The Church isn’t a holy building in which spiritual meetings take place or a moral police force that works to oversee the purity of people by behavior legislation. A theological term for the Church would be this “A community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. They love scripture, organize under qualified leadership for preaching, worship, baptism and communion. They are joined by the Holy Spirit, disciplined for holiness, and are filled with passion for the great commandment and the great commission.”
Christians aren’t just a few people that attend together on the weekend. We are actually a part of what’s called the universal Church. The universal Church is the Church worldwide that represents all Christians that have ever lived in all places. And the local church is where we connect with one another on a regular basis for fellowship and preaching weekly. It’s important that we are a part of a local Church, but also that we don’t forget that Christianity is much larger than just the local Church, it’s global. Our family includes billions of brothers and sisters and some step-cousins that will surprise us when we get to heaven.
Within Acts 2:42-47 we can see 8 things that help us provide the standard of evaluating every Church:
1) The Church is made up of regenerated believers. Because God lives within those that are Christians, we long for fellowship with other like minded people that we can talk about the Bible with, worship with and share our time, treasures and talents with.
2) The Church must be organized under qualified leadership. The Church should have a lead Pastor, or lead Elder and then other elders and deacons and a staff that help keep it healthy and on the right track of loving God and loving others. Every Church needs to be led by strong male leaders and filled with passionate women that long to see Jesus make His home on the earth through them.
3) The Church should gather regularly to worship Jesus and hear God’s word rightly preached. Every Christian Church should be governed by the apostolic scriptures. This means that when we come to gather together that we aren’t just there for information, but for transformation as God’s word is rightly preached. We are gathering together to exalt Jesus Christ as the King above all kings and the Lord above all lords.
4) The Church is where baptism and communion are shared. It’s within the Church that we continue to do the two things that Jesus commanded us to do which are communion and baptism. These are visible expressions of the Gospel at work within our family of Christians.
5) The Church is unified by the confession and shared life of Christ through the Holy Spirit. There must be unity in our theology, relationships, style of ministry, and our common mission of sharing Jesus with lost people and within our organization. Some Churches don’t fit everyone and that’s okay. What’s not okay is to never join a Church because they are so different and never use the gifts that God has given you. That’s called being a wicked and lazy servant. There are many different Churches, doing it many different ways, but wherever you do, you need to join and plant yourself.
6) The Church is disciplined for holiness. Church leadership is to use the Holy Scriptures to equip others in holiness in the same way that God uses the scriptures to equip pastors and leaders in their own personal holiness. We are called to do for others what God is currently doing for us.
7) The Church is to obey the great commandment to love. A Church must first love God, then our families, then our Church and its leaders and then the city, nations and the earth. The order is important to God and so it must be important to us also. We are to love God first and love others second. This doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, but rather one is a priority over the other. We love others best when we love God first.
8) And lastly the Church must obey the great commission to share Jesus and our lives with others. Because the Church understands the devastation of sin we are to share a relationship with Jesus not impose religion on others. Because sin has impacted all of us the same, we can’t keep the message of Christ for ourselves and forget others. We must commune with God as we gather and then share Christ with others as we scatter. If you find those realities taking place within a group of people you will have found a great Christian Church.
What Is Jesus’ Relationship To The Church?
Jesus’ incarnation was the greatest culture shock any missionary has ever experienced. Becoming a Man was much like a mission trip led by the Holy Spirit to the earth for the purpose of sharing His life with others. Jesus left the glory and splendor of heaven, being the center piece of all created glory, worshipped day and night, to live as a human, suffering at the hands of His creation and to be killed for the sake of others coming into relationship with the Trinity. That is the definition of culture shock. On a side note, if you have ever had to move to a new location, make new friends and work a job in a place you didn’t feel comfortable, if you have felt like an outcast; be encouraged that Jesus knows exactly how you feel.
Because Jesus was a good missionary, He spoke the language of His culture, enjoyed their holidays, ate their food, enjoyed their drink, attended their parties and made friends. And just as God sent Jesus to us, so the Holy Spirit is working to send us in like fashion. Many of us, as parents, would love for our kids and our students to be protected from coming global pressures, but Jesus is working to release our sons and daughters into the midst of a giant crisis for the purpose of being missionaries leading people to Jesus. Jesus isn’t working to get them out of here, but rather to send them empowered with the Holy Spirit for the purpose of making Jesus known in their generation. In John’s Gospel alone Jesus said over 39 times that He was sent by God to the earth!
When God was making Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, there is a profound principle that God was showing us about both natural marriage and the spiritual marriage between Christ and the Church. After God had created Adam He put him into a deep sleep and took a rib from Adam’s side and began to create woman from the rib of Adam’s side. In Christian marriage God says that chauvinism is sinful because it puts the woman behind the man. But God also says that feminism is sinful because it puts the woman ahead of the man in a way that God didn’t intend for it to be.
The reason that God made Eve from Adam’s side is so that they would be a team and walk side by side, not having the man ahead of the woman or the woman ahead of the man. When we look at the bride of Christ we can see that God intends for the same reality to take place. If we aren’t careful as God’s missionaries (those that are in relationship with Christ) we can be so far ahead of Christ that they we up in deep liberalism and enter into sin along with the culture in which we are trying to reach.
But it’s also possible that we can stay behind Christ so far in deep conservative values that we don’t even engage the culture in which we live, thus not giving the opportunity for a lost culture to come to know Christ. What we want to do is stay next to Christ, saying what He is saying; doing what He is doing and going where He is going. Jesus isn’t only in the Church house or only in the public square. He is in both, at the same time and so also must we be. Jesus has called us to reach the people of our culture by being with Him, on a mission of loving with our whole hearts and working to love others in the way that He loves them.
Why Is Preaching Important?
Our God is a preaching God. He is not a God who is silent like some religious groups suppose Him to be. He is not a God who is withdrawn and quiet when it comes to making known who He is and what He is like. He has never been silent and that will never change. In fact when we look at the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 we see that God actually created all things by the words of His mouth. Then He gave us the scriptures through the holy prophets who wrote down what they heard God speaking to them and through them. Today, the Holy Spirit carries on the ministry of preaching and speaking both through Himself and through the scriptures.
God is a speaking God and therefore the Church must be a speaking people. Because we are made in the image of God, we have a passion to speak and make known God through words in writing, singing and speaking. Jesus ministry included feeding the poor, clothing the naked, healing the sick, delivering demons, fighting for the outcast, and preaching. Though He didn’t do many things, everything He did was built upon the foundation of preaching and teaching and this is why preaching is the central ministry to the Christian Church.
The Church must not only preach and teach about good spiritual advice and better living which permeates much of western Christianity, but about the beautiful God, the Kingdom of God and the Holy Scriptures. The writers of the New Testament told us time and time again that there is coming a day when people in the Church won’t endure sound doctrine, but will be lead astray by the passions of their own hearts and led into another gospel. It’s important that beyond nice, cute messages that help us in life, that we are hearing sermons, teachings and trainings that are helping us understand who God is, what He is like, How He operates and what He is looking for from His creation. The exaltation of Christ Jesus must be the central theme of all Christian preaching for its sermon’s must be rooted and grounded in the reality that God became a Man and was crushed by the wrath of God for the purpose of bringing a people, who were far from Him, close. Good preaching should be biblical, practical, helpful and powerful in the way that it transforms people’s lives.
All of our sermons should be springing out of something far greater than our own opinions and insights, but rather, what the scripture has to say about the things in which we are discussing. We aren’t looking for man’s ideas on who God is but what the Bible has to say about who God is. From that foundation we can then talk about what God has been like in our personal lives and how we have learned to relate with Him. Sermons should be practical even though it may have deep and heavy content. Nobody likes to sit and listen to something they have no understanding of.
The preacher must work to explain what is being said, and break down the larger words so that people can leave the gathering time with something they can hold onto. This doesn’t mean that we should make our sermons shallow, or light, but rather we are meeting people where they are and working to take them another level of understanding and growth. God is always calling us higher in Him and inviting us into more of who He is, so our sermons should be nothing less. God meets us where we are, and then invites us deeper, so in preaching we work to do the same thing. And beyond information, our sermons should be leading people into transformation.
Often times the Church discounts information and only goes for impartation but this isn’t biblical. God wants His people to be filled with knowledge about who He is, but He also wants that knowledge to impact us at the heart level where we begin to experience what we are reading and hearing about. We have too many heady Christians with no heart and too many Christians with all heart and no head. We want to be filled with both knowledge and experience in who God is. It’s not an either or, but a both and. God is raising up Christians and preachers that will be educated with knowledge but impassioned with fire to experience what we are learning about. Our sermons should be leading us into transformation as we are hearing what God is like and responding in a right fashion.
Why Should Christians Join A Church?
What we believe about what the Church has greatly influenced how we live our lives in relationship to the Church. If we think that Church is just a Sunday morning service, then we work hard to fill out the Christian time clock and punch ourselves in at 10:30 and punch out at 12 and let ourselves off the hook for the rest of the week until the following Sunday. But if we believe that being a part of the Church is a way of life that we live throughout the week then we live differently. Something that God is working to do is change the expression and understanding of Christianity across the earth and especially in the western world.
Joining a Church means that we belong to both the universal Church and the local Church. It means that we are committing to live our lives in light of Christian community. A better word for us to understand this would be the idea of being a part of a family, or a community. Church in Jesus’ mind is something more than a service and more like a way of life. When we say yes to Christ we must also say yes to His family that He has called us to be a part of. And what that family should look like is something that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament have clearly spelled out. Now, what I am not talking about is exactly what it should look like, because Jesus has left some of that up to the leadership. The Bible says preach the Word, but doesn’t tell us how to do that. He has given some freedom in expression because we are all different, but the foundation is something that Jesus has clearly laid out and commanded us on some key foundational things.
The Bible tells us why we should join a Church; it’s not because you have a great social justice mission and the Church is your platform. It’s not because you are a political vigilante and the Church is your platform, it’s because Jesus commands that you join and be a part of a Local Church. Here are 4 reasons why you should join a Church;
1) Real disciples commit to a Church because they know they need the help of others while following Jesus. A real disciple will live in community so that they can be provoked into righteousness and spurred on to follow Christ for the journey of a lifetime. We aren’t looking to love Jesus for a moment, but for a lifetime.
2) Disciples know they need to be equipped for the work of the ministry. Just like a new person at a machinery job wouldn’t know what to do without training, so it’s true in Christianity. As a new convert or a mature believer, you don’t know all that you need to know, and that’s why we are called into community so that we can learn from those among us who can help us as we seek to do what God has asked us to do.
3) It’s easy to fall into deception on your own apart from other believers. If you remember watching WWF (World wide Wrestling Federation) some years ago there was this cool thing that took place when you got out of the ring. As soon as a wrestler would step out, or get thrown out of the ring you had 10 seconds to get back into the ring or else you would lose the match. But as long as you were in the ring you were okay and could keep on going. The ring is like the Church in community and outside the ring is like church without community. When we get outside of community it’s only a matter of time that we will be taken out. We must live among other brothers and sister if we expect to survive and fight the good fight of faith.
4) Jesus’ heart and commitment for the Church should compel us to love and serve the Church. Ephesians 5:25 says;
“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.”
Because of Jesus’ great passion for the people of God to both be in relationship with Him and others, He became a Man and suffered under the hands of His own creation so that we could live together. If Jesus is our example and the role model that we are striving for, then we must also love the Church like He did. John F. Kennedy once said in a speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” This is a very Christian statement. Many people join the Church for their own causes, for their own purposes and they become consumers and this is what often kills the Church.
All the money, all the passion, all the resource of that Church often goes to the people who are in it that only take from and never give to. We want to love and serve the Church because of what it did for us. If we were to stop and think that the Church was the vehicle that helps us move from hell to heaven, we would, in turn, become passionate about helping it succeed so that others could be reached like we were. Be a helper of the Church not a taker from it only. It’s just like our welfare system in America. It’s there for those that need it, and for that we are forever grateful, but those that only take from the system and never work to change the way they are living their lives, it becomes abused and therefore billions of dollars are spent into it when it could be spent on education, medical and other social justice issues. Use the Church for what you need and then as you get strong, get up, give back and build the Church so that others can be impacted like you were.