Why Bother with the Church?
As your typical unchurched friend what they think of when the word Church is mentioned and I suspect the three top answers are going to be:
It grieves the Lord that his church is caricatured, maligned and misunderstood so frequently in the media and in many people’s minds. The very means he has created to rescue people repels them rather than draws them. Sadly, the attitude of the wider Church sometimes exacerbates this misunderstanding. Ask a typical church goers what matters most to them about church and the typical answers have to do with preserving the church the way it was or the way they like it - tradition - liturgy, robes, choirs, and resistance to change and new ideas. The needs of the unchurched are singularly lacking in many Christian’s perception of what the church exists for.
See if you can identify with this story…
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, there was only one boat, but a few devoted members kept constant watch over the sea. With no thought for themselves, they went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this station. Soon the station became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the local area. wanted to become associated with the station, giving of their time, money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, new crews trained.
Some of the members of the station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds, put better furniture in an enlarged building and used the station as a popular gathering place for its members. Fewer members were interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work.
Then a large ship was wrecked off the coast, the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some had black skin, while others had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos.
At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. most of the members wanted to stop the lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose, pointing out that they were still called a lifesaving station. These members were voted down with "If you want to save the lives of all the various kinds of people shipwrecked in these waters, begin you own lifesaving station down the coast."
This these members did, but the station experienced similar changes as before. The station evolved into a club, another lifesaving station was formed. History continued to repeat itself. The coast line has a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks still occur, but most of the people drown.
When we turn to the NT what a radically different picture of the church we are given.
There are several pictures or images used in the NT to describe the Church. Tonight, lets just look at 3.
1. The Church is the Building of Christ
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
“As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4)
The Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. Jesus is at the centre of a building that is still under construction but already operational. Have you ever gone on holiday drawn by the brochure photograph only to discover the hotel was unfinished? That the workers were using noisy construction equipment while you were trying to enjoy a peaceful holiday? If you want a holiday or a retreat from the world, the church is not the right place. The church is not finished yet because you are not completely mature, and the full number of God’s elect have not been discovered and drawn in. Yes, our church will be full of babies - noisy baby Christians - young in the faith.
The church is under construction while fully operational, because it is a living temple.
2. The Church is the Body of Christ
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 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. 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. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-20)
Its not about the clergy or even about ‘us’ - its about every member ministry. We are all gifted. We have all been given spiritual gifts to build one another up. So church is not just a construction site, its also a place of work - works of service.
If you are seeking a place of quiet solace this is not the place.
The axiom “Let God and let go” is not a NT imperative.
Christ we are a family of brothers and sisters here to serve (not just those on
duty any particular week or just those wearing a lanyard. That is why our
distinctive values as a church states, "We believe that loving
relationships should permeate every aspect of church life... We believe that
full devotion to Christ and serving his cause is normal for every
believer." So look for ways of expressing your devotion in acts of
selfless service. The more we express our devotion to one another, in serving,
in caring, the more visible our devotion to Jesus will be.
Not only that, the more visible our devotion, the more attractive we will be. The more attractive we are the more convincing we will be in our witness to Jesus. The more convincing we are the more infectious we will become. What was the strongest evidence of their devotion? Was it in the number brought to faith? Verse 41 mentions 3,000. That's pretty impressive. I think it is in that simple phrase uttered by unbelievers, "See how they loved one another."
Then we will be contagious Christians. Then you will be contributing to our mission statement, assisting irreligious people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Why bother? Because the Church is the hope of the world. The only hope.
The church as a building. The church as a body.
3. The Church is the Bride of Christ
“You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:28-29)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7)
At the heart of the NT concept of the church is a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are looking forward to the day when Jesus will return. We are probably not ready for him to return. We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in that transformation.
We must do everything we can to prepare one another for that day. We must be ready for Jesus. We are waiting for Jesus. We have been betrothed to Jesus. We belong to Jesus.
“The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:7)
Why bother about the church? Because Jesus did and he is coming soon.
MEMBERS ONE OF ANOTHER
Scripture makes vividly clear the fact that our individual relationship with Jesus Christ automatically produces a special corporate relationship among all true believers. Jesus hinted at this when He replied to the Pharisee's question regarding the most important commandment.
"You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40).
Here our love for our neighbour is a natural result of our love for God. The thought is further amplified by the Apostle John who writes,
If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:20).
It is for this reason that we are further reminded that members of the body of Christ are "members one of another". "When one is honoured, all are honoured; when one suffers, all suffer". (1 Corinthians 12:26).
In view of this unique relationship, we also need to treat one another with a proper sense of dignity. Such dignity is clearly implied in the following verses:
Receive one another (Rom 15:7) Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
Greet one another (Rom 16:6) Prefer one another (Rom 12:10)
Care for one another (1Cor 12:25) Correct one another (Gal 6:1)
Edify one another (1Thes 5:11) Help one another (Gal 6:2)
Teach one another (Col 3:16) Be
patient with one another (Eph 4:2)
Encourage one another (Heb 3:13) Forgive one another (Col 3:13)
Stimulate one another (Heb 10:24) Confess to one another (James 5:16)
Comfort one another (1Thes 4:18) Consider one another (Heb 10:24)
Submit to one another (Eph 5:21) Love one another (John 13:34,35)
When we fulfill our responsibilities to one another in this way, it is a dramatic demonstration of the living reality of Jesus Christ. Indeed Jesus said that the visible unity His disciples displayed would cause the world to know that He was sent from the Father. Let us pray that people increasingly say of us as they said of the disciples, "See how they love one another".