28:18-20 Rethinking our Foundations
Today we begin a new series of Bible studies on the theme of "Rethinking the Church". For many people this is their image of the church. (Show Mr Bean video). What struck you about Mr Bean's caricature of the church? An ancient building. A handful of odd people. Boring. Irrelevant. Cold, unwelcoming. Regrettably that stereotype is based on reality. It is true of fat too many churches to be a joke. If that is a rather benign image of the church here is another one. (Show clip from Leap of Faith). What struck you about that caricature? Manipulative. Entertainment. A sham. Leap of Faith was actually modelled on the ministry of Benny Hinn. Both caricatures are rather close to home to be funny.
If the church is going to survive into the 21st Century, if we are going to be effective in reaching a lost world, however painful, we need to address and answer the caricatures of the unchurched. But more important than that, we need to review our own understanding of the church and how we are to reach a changing world. When you think of the word [Church] what comes to mind? Is it primarily a [Building] [Institution] [People] [Body]? Some of these are complimentary, some are mutually exclusive. Which is right? Who decides? On what basis? Irrespective of what the world thinks, as Christians we are not at liberty to give the word "Church" what ever meaning we wish, any more than we have changing the Gospel to make it more attractive. That is not what we are on about. Our message is unchanging but the methods we use must be constantly evaluated.
That is why we are reviewing the layout of our church seating, our services and activities. We want to be effective in making Christ known and to ditch anything that gets in the way of that. Tonight as we begin this series by rethinking our foundations, and Jim White invites us to answer five foundational questions:
1. What is the Purpose of the Church?
2. What is the Church's Mission?
3. Whom are we trying to reach for Christ?
4. What determines whether the church is alive and growing?
5. How will we accomplish the mission God has given to us?
In the next few weeks we will consider some answers. Lets start by looking at Matthew 28. Moments before His ascension Jesus gives his disciples their final instructions. It is a summary of all Jesus had taught them about being his Church.
1. The Authority of the Church (Matthew 28:18)
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go..."
What is the authority of the Church? In a couple of weeks I am giving a paper at a Muslim conference at Leicester University. They have invited me to explain why the Church is nearly extinct in the Middle East. In part it is because of Muslim persecution as well as Israeli Zionism. They will want to hear about the latter but not the former. So I must be tactful but truthful. I will begin by defining what I mean by the Church and I will use the words of Jesus as my authority. We must do the same with a word like the Church. Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go..." There is no higher mandate, no greater authority in heaven or earth than the authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the eternal Son of God came to earth on a rescue mission. He came to die for our sin in our place, to reconcile us to God and give us eternal life. Those who believe in Him, who trust and follow Him, he called [His Family, His Body, His Church, His Bride]. Jesus has delegated his authority to those who follow Him to invite others to join his Church also. Many churches are instead driven by tradition or by personalities, by programmes, buildings or events. The authority of the church does not lie in its Bishops and Clergy. It does not rest in our traditions. It does not lie with those with money and influence. It rests with Jesus Christ alone as revealed in His Word, the Scriptures. The authority of the Church is then determined by the purpose Jesus has given the Church in Scripture. We have no authority to do anything else.
2. The Purpose of the Church (Matthew 28:19-20)
What is the purpose of the church? Deep in every Christian there is an awareness that we are on this planet for purposes greater than having a career, paying the bills, loving our families, and fulfilling our roles as citizens. Even meeting together on Sundays can sometimes leave us feeling that something is missing. After all, we'll worship God for eternity in heaven. We don't meet primarily to do that on Sundays. That is not our primary purpose for meeting. The Bible says Worship is something we should consciously do every moment of our lives. But there is one supreme role we can only fulfil while here on earth that will have eternal consequences. In the short time God has given us on earth we can make an impact that will outlast us, indeed will last for eternity.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
The construction of this sentence shows Jesus was placing the emphasis on his strategy, to "make disciples". This was their primary task - disciple making. Everything else was subordinate. Notice what is not mentioned. Building Churches and Cathedrals is not mentioned. Appointing Bishops and clergy is not mentioned. Founding denominations, missionary societies, or charitable institutions, is not mentioned. These things may be useful, some may even be essential to a mission infrastructure, but only in so far as they contribute to this ultimate objective, this priority, this strategy. Making disciples who will replicate themselves. If these institutions, these buildings, these activities do not enable us, do not equip us to be better, more effective followers of Jesus Christ, then they become at best a luxury and at worst, as we saw in the videos, an impediment to our mission, and we must ditch them.
Everything we do should be shaped by our overriding mandate expressed in our mission statement. "To assist irreligious people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ." That is why our mission is to [win, build, send] Why then do we meet together on Sundays? We meet primarily to learn how to be disciples of Jesus Christ. All our activities, all our energy, all our time, all our discussions, all our expenditure should be evaluated by this simple criteria. Does it assist us in fulfilling our Christ given purpose? We have no mandate to engage in anything that does not help us fulfill this final great commission of Jesus Christ - to assist people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. As Archbishop William Temple said in the 1945, "The church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of its non-members." If we forget this, if we neglect this, if we ignore this we lose our purpose and we forfeit God's blessing. The Authority of the Church, the Purpose of the Church.
3. The Power of the Church (Matthew 28:20)
"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
It is not so much that he goes with us. It is rather that we go with him. Jesus is not like the general waving his troops off as they go into battle as he remains safe behind the lines. Luke makes this clear in his foreword to the Acts of the Apostles. He begins with this introduction, "In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven..." (Acts 1:1-2).
Acts 1:8 also records Jesus instructing his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they have received the Holy Spirit and then he says, "You will be my witnesses." But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Jesus commands and we obey. He leads and we follow. He equips and we serve. He fills and we witness. That's exactly what happened in the early Church.
Turn with me briefly to our second reading. Acts 2. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)
Jim White and Rick Warren draw out from these verses five essential roles for the Church.
1. Devoted to the apostles teaching - grow deeper - discipleship
2. Fellowship - they were together - grow warmer - community
3. Breaking bread and prayer - grow stronger - worship
4. They shared their resources - grow broader - ministry
5. The Lord added to their number - grow larger - evangelism
These five elements constitute the purpose of the church. They all flow from the first - discipleship based on the Scriptures. This is what a biblically functioning church looks like. This is what the church is for. And that is why we plan to do some rethinking about our foundations, our purpose in the next few weeks. Lets summarise: Our foundations as a Church rest in:
1. The Authority of the Church - Jesus Christ
2. The Purpose of the Church - Making Disciples
3. The Power of the Church - The Holy Spirit
In the next few weeks we will explore in more detail rethinking our evangelism, our discipleship, our ministry, worship, structure and community. I commend to you Jim White's book, "Rethinking the Church". In it he tells a story about the watch. Are you wearing a watch this evening? Look at it. Not at the time but the place of manufacture. Where was yours made? (story of the demise of the Swiss watch) Like the Swiss watchmakers many in the established churches are not asking the right questions. They are preoccupied with outmoded traditions more in common with the churches visited by Mr Bean or Steve Martin. They are preoccupied with wine skins rather than the new wine. With doing things right rather than doing the right things. As a consequence the established churches are in a state of decline, retreating in the face of the onslaught of secularism, immorality, and modern cults and isms. That is why it is imperative we rethink our foundations. That is why this is an exciting time to do church. We follow a living Lord Jesus Christ who has given us his Holy Spirit and promised to be with us for ever. He has promised that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church. Lets pray.