Monday, October 18, 2004

Some of the 'Word' on the 'Church'

Hey, don't just take my word for it. What does God Word say about the church?
Though we know that all who believe in Christ are a part of the church. But to be obedient to Christ as his disciple and respond to the truth of his word, we see that in the New Testament there was not this distinction of membership in the church universal as opposed to the church local. If you are a member of the church by faith in Christ, you are to BE a member of the Church by active involvement and commitment to that community that God has created, blessed, and constantly sustains by His Word and His Spirit until He comes again.

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Matthew 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-- their Lord and ours:
1 Corinthians 5:12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?
1 Corinthians 6:4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!
1 Corinthians 11:18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.
1 Corinthians 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.
1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
Ephesians 1:22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church
Ephesians 3:10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
1 Timothy 3:15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth
1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
Philemon 1:2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home:


A Call to 'The CHURCH'

It has been said of the membership of the average American church that 5% don’t exist, 10% can’t be found, 25% don’t attend, 50% show up on Sunday, 75% don’t attend prayer meeting, 90% don’t have family or personal worship, 95% have never shared the gospel.
If these statistics are anywhere near the truth, and I am afraid that sadly, they are, then the state of the American church is rather pathetic.

But, let’s not be hypocrit-ics…let’s look at Four Oaks. Sadly, I must say that Four Oaks Community Church in many ways mirrors the culture of the church nation wide. Of our regular attenders, only 35% are ‘committed’ to the local church as Ministry Team Members. Of those that are ‘ministry team’ members, only perhaps 20% minister in the context of the local church on a day to day basis.

When the New Testament describes the church, it sees it in two ways. There is the reality that the ‘church’ is a UNIVERSAL (or catholic) entity. The Church universal is the global, timeless, assembly of God’s redeemed by Christ and empowered by the Spirit. This is a glorious fellowship that transcends language, culture, and socio-political boundaries.

But, we only catch brief, imperfect, blurry glimpses of this glorious, universal entity called the church. Membership in the local church throughout the NT is known, understood, and experienced at an intimate, practical, and local level. The local church is the instrument that God uses to advance his kingdom. It is CRITICAL to the ongoing purposes of God in the WORLD. It is CRITICAL to the ongoing life and health of any individual Christian.

This membership in the local church is defined throughout the pages of Scripture. The defining metaphor is that we are to be a ‘member’ of a ‘body’. When you believe on Jesus Christ and transformed by the work of the Spirit you are made a ‘member’ of His body. You become part of a living, organic entity. And your part in it is important to its health and survival. If you are ‘surviving’ just fine without the ‘body’, then you are not part of it. If the ‘body’ is surviving just fine without you, then you are not a part of it.

But, what does this ‘membership’ look like? Is it going through the class, paying your monthly or quarterly dues? Is it signing up for a committee every now and then? Is it showing up for the latest parenting class or latest book study that interests you? Is it making a meal every now and then? Well, involvement and ministry of course is going to always look different for different people at different times. We are, after all, members. And not all members have the same function. But each member must have the same life blood coursing through it. Each member must be aligned in goal and purpose. Each member must be grafted in for the organic good of the whole, under the leadership and authority of its head- Jesus Christ.

The New Testament seems to give us a pattern for ‘life’ in the local church. The members must have certain commitments and priorities if the body is to do its work. At Four Oaks, we ask all who ‘join’ this body to affirm these commitments.

The Believer who is biblically committed to the local church is to:

Be spiritually committed.
A commitment to a vibrant personal spiritual life with Christ.
Be corporately committed.
A commitment to weekly corporate worship in the Word, under the leadership and teaching of the elders
Be intimately committed.
A commitment to weekly, small group investment in others lives, opening your life to others ministry as well.
Be submissively committed.
A commitment to the direction and authority of the leadership God has put over you.
Be sacrificially committed.
A commitment to SACRIFICIALLY giving of your talents, time, gifts,and life to the health and growth of God’s kingdom through the church.

You might say, well, I am not a part of that 30% you spoke of before (or of the 20% of the ministry team), but I am involved in ministry!
I give regularly to the mission field. I go to a neighborhood bible study, or attend a men’s study at another local church. I pray regularly with a multi-church men’s group. I am heavily involved in a para-church ministry.

These are what I call ‘noble’ excuses. They are all ‘good’ things in their own way, in their own right. But all such endeavors are to be secondary to the priority of ministry in the local church. You might give to the mission field. But your giving is to be directed and stewarded through the local church and under its authority. Your corporate, or small group bible study is to be under the direction and doctrinal authority of the local church.

Your prayer ministry is optimized in the context of a local ministry where God can use the body to meet those prayer needs and minister to those praying and ministering to one another. All parachurch ministry is to be secondary (or PARA) to the priority of the life of the Church. In fact, parachurch ministry relies on your commitment to the local church for its existence.

You might say: ‘Well, Erik, in theory I believe what you are saying. And I believe it is the pattern of the New Testament. But the church is lame. The church is irrelevant. The church misses its mark.’ And to this response I must say I agree in many respects. Many churches have lost their way. They have gone off the map drafted by the Scriptures. But, one sin doesn’t warrant another. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Remember, as a Christian, YOU are the church. Be the church. If it is irrelevant, then strive as God has gifted you to be a voice of relevance. If the church is not a ‘missions’ church, then steward your gifts for the work of missions through the local church. If your church is not praying, then be the prayer warrior, organizer, and instigator of your church.

I say all this not to put you on a guilt trip. I am not trying to boost the rolls of the church. I don’t want you to just ‘do more stuff’. I say all this so that you will ‘fight for your life’. You see the very ‘life’ of the believer is built, sustained, and nourished in the local church. I say this so that you will fight for the life of the one sitting next to you, and for their children. I say this so that you might find your life in the organism that brings God such great glory, the body of Christ- the church.

Paul said to Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus, “Watch your life and teaching closely, in so doing you will save yourself and your hearers.” Do you hear that? The life and teaching of the pastor in the local church means ‘salvation’ to the flock! And this is true of all of us together, each of us one to the other. As we live and teach and grow in this body God has given us, we find salvation! And we impart it as well!


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Desperate Times

Well, the big show this fall t.v. season is 'Desperate Housewives'. A sort of suburban 'Sex and the City' for soccer moms. It's a satirical look at the state of the american dream. The show starts off with a bang- literally- as the 'star' or narrator ends it all by putting by putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger. The mystery and plot is promised to unfold as she narrates the show through the season, hovering as a ghost over the entertaining drama of her former friends' and neighbors' lives.

These wives are 'desperate'. But why? And for what? Are they desperate because they live in an impoverished country ruled by a tyrranical dictator, seeking to eek out an existence for their families on pennies a day with little food, dirty water, and the constant threat of persecution and imprisonment (as do so many women around the globe)? Are they desperate because they have been abandoned by their husbands to raise their families while earning a meager income and living in government housing (I know a few of those)? Are they desperate because they live in a country with limited health care and resources while their children slowly die of various illnesses caused by the meltdown of a nuclear reactor 20 years ago (many women of Belarus are in this situation)? Perhaps some crisis out of their hands has besieged them? Have they lost a child? Are they in desperate financial straits? Without clothing and food? Trying to salvage a broken marriage, nurture and love their children, and do so in a noble, virtuous way?

No. None of the above. The 'desperation' is simply their restless discontentment with, well, you name it. These are the 'housewives' of today, eating the fruit of some 30 years of sexual revolution. They are pathetic and shallow. Unable to manage a home, a job, a husband, a child, much less all four combined. They are like silly schoolgirls, falling over cute boys, back biting and gossiping, and totally self absorbed. And it wouldn't be good t.v. if this weren't the case.

The problem with all this is. We don't get it. Certainly, we take note that this is satire. Black comedy. But, do we really get it? Do we watch such a show and understand what is truly wrong with these women's lives? Or the men's lives for that matter. I don't think we do. That is what scares me. The fiction comes frighteningly close to the truth here. Too close for comfort.

But...there is wonderful hope for all of us adrift in these desperate times. The good news is that Jesus Christ transforms our depraved, mundane, trivial, or chaotic (pick one) lives. There is a supernatural, other worldly power that is available to those that would anchor their hopes to Jesus Christ by faith. It offers us 'all we need for life and godliness'. It gives us purpose for this age and a glorious hope for the age to come. It draws us out of ourselves and into service of others. It gives us a beautiful, mysterious vantage point on the sovereign work of a heavenly Father. A part of this sovereign work is the restoration of marriages, a promise to turn the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents, place us in community with those around us as a family, and most of all, God's sovereign work daily conforms us to the greatest man who ever lived, the man that was God himself, who gave his life a ransom for many, who rose up from the dead, who is alive and gives life, Jesus Christ.

So, come on desperate housewives, hopeless husbands, pathetic pastors, whatever you are- there is a wonderful rebirth in Jesus Christ!