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Coming to Church

June 11th, 2019

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25)

What does it mean to come to church?

It means more than just being in the church building. It means more than just speaking to a few people. It means more than just attending a committee meeting. It also means more than just listening to a sermon.

The word “church” is ekklesia in Greek and it means “the called out ones” and it was commonly used in the New Testament to describe the local fellowship of believers in Christ. The word assumes several things, including:

  • It is Christ-centered: It assumes some One has called them by His own authority, and it is Christ who calls the church into existence.
  • It is Purpose-centered: The word does not mean “the ones who are cast out” but the ones who are “called out for a purpose.” Since Christ calls it is His purpose that must predominate.
  • It includes Fellowship: The word means that people are called to come together under His Lordship.

The Troubled Church of Corinth

In the two letters to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addressed the issues of division and unity. The church was dominated and divided by strong personalities who competed with one another for attention. They did not respect one another when it came to the Lord’s Supper and they started the observance before others could arrive, excluding them from participating. They each also claimed to be the “real church.”

Paul reminded them that the entire church was the temple of God: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) He explained that they needed one another just like the physical body needs each part: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body”(1 Cor. 12:12).

So churches today, regardless of the size, must recognize their singular unity as one local church under the Lordship of Christ.

Coming to Church Means Coming to Worship Christ with the Body

In the Hebrews 10 passage above there are three “let us” phrases. The first is “Let us draw near,” and this means that coming to church is first about drawing near to Christ. The worship of the church was based upon the worship services of the jewish synagogues, and even to this day we follow the basic same order: prayer, singing, giving, preaching.

In fact the word translated “meet together” in Hebrews 10:25 above is episynagoge, and is connected to the word “synagogue.” This entire idea of coming to church means first and foremost coming together to worship Christ, or coming to Him. And we are to come together in unity, not in fractured groups that exclude one another, but in a united worship.

The first church in the Bible was not a small country church, but a large city church with multiple worship services. Acts 2:46 describes the church as continually meeting together, and since there were 3,000 believers from the first day, and no worship hall in all of Jerusalem could hold that many, they had multiple worship services.

But the thing that drove them to come together was Christ-centered worship. they drew near to Christ in songs, hymns, and the proclamation of the word of God. For every church since, to come to church means not just to stay in the hallways and speak to a few people, but to come into the sanctuary and to worship the Lord with others.

Coming to Church Means Affirming Together the Biblical Faith

The second “let us” in the passage above says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope,” meaning that coming to church is also about affirming together our faith. This is done by the whole body coming together under the instruction of the Word of God by the pastor. If you do not agree with the teaching and preaching of your church’s pastor, then find one whose teachings you can support.

I believe there are three important traits of effective sermons. Good sermons should be (1) biblical, (2) relevant, and (3) interesting. Every pastor needs to hide behind the cross of Christ, and not use the pulpit as an opportunity to talk about himself. He may use personal illustrations from time to time, but even those should be used sparingly. He must seek to present Christ and the truth and compassion of God in his preaching. He should seek to unite the people of God under the Lordship of Christ and not under the personality of the pastor. We read in 1 Corinthians:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no division among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Cor. 1:10)

If people cannot agree with the message of their pastor — and I suppose there is always the possibility of minor disagreements on some of the finer points of biblical interpretation, I am not speaking about those — then they should not hold alternative worship services, whether in another part of the church building, or on another location, or in the hallway, or any place, and preach their own message. That would be divisive and detrimental to the health of the church. If they cannot support his preaching and teaching then respectfully and graciously leave the  church and go to one that you agree with.

But hopefully, that will not happen. Pray for your pastor. Encourage him. Be patient with him. No one is always interesting to listen to. If one sermon is not as good as others, just pray for him. Preaching meaningful and effective sermons to the same people week after week requires a great deal of work — more than most people know.

Coming to Church Means to Encourage One Another

The third “let us” is: “Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works … encouraging one another.” It is a simple thing to discourage one another. All we need to do is to ignore each other, or criticize, or to say something mean-spirited. But this is not what Christians are to do. Rather we are to encourage each other, saying good things about the Lord and about one another.

The King James Version used the words “let us provoke one another to love” and “provoke” is a strong word, usually used for “provoking to anger.” So the idea is not to merely passively tolerate one another, but rather it means to get directly involved with one another and encourage one another.

In the church there will always be some people who have faced difficult times, or are dealing with difficult problems. We should especially encourage them, but not only them. We should have a basically positive view toward one another and lift each other up in prayer, in helping, and in saying good things about the Lord and about one another.

So…

So coming to church on Sundays means to come together for united Christ-centered and biblically-based worship services, and to encourage one another in the Lord. If you missed worship, you were not in church. If you did not encourage someone, or receive encouragement, you also missed sharing in the blessings of God.

BLOG: pastor's blog

Person to Person

June 5th, 2018

And it was He who gave some to be … pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11)

What are we to do with pastors? What is the pastor to do with the people of God? Modern trends impact today’s societies in all areas, including church life. Technological trends are leading to the depersonalization of the individual, while also the individual is fighting back to assert his own existence, but to do so, often, by the neglect of meaningful relationships.

Ministry has always been challenging, but in today’ world it is challenging in a unique way due to the speeding up of societal changes. We have always had age-related generational differences, due simply to the different stages of life, but everyone was still basically seeing life similarly. The differences were based on where they were on the time-line of life. But today, along with the different age-related needs and perspectives, we have different generational thinking. We will examine three ways of thinking today that present challenges to the pastor and to the church: (1) the loss of authority, (2) the rise of technology, (3) the assertion of individuality.

The loss of authority

As with all other human authority figures, with the pastor there are built-in potentials for conflicts. In this sense the he is no different from politicians, teachers, parents, policemen, judges, doctors, employers, etc. The entire world is moving toward a lower “power-distance,” calling all leaders into account. Some of this is good, of course, but along with the good is also the worldwide tendency to rebel against leaders and to challenge authority. The pastor cannot escape this no more than any other leader in today’s world.

To make matters worse, many pastors and religious leaders have had personal shameful moral failings. In addition, in today’s world of information and the capacity to record everything everyone says or does, quite a number of leaders have said foolish things. Perhaps they were just in a bad mood, or had not thought through the matter, or were just insensitive, but a brief momentary lapse of judgment, which we all have from time to time, was spoken and recorded and broadcast across the internet nonetheless. Could any of us survive if we had microphones under our chins all day every day?

And among the people of God has risen the para-church movement, and, along with the good, this has raised the question in many Christians whether they even need a church, or if a church needs a denominational affiliation. Independence, personal and organizational, is what this trend has tended to promote. Today the leader is accountable, but the Christian is not. Whereas for centuries it was the reverse of this. Ideally, by the way, both the leader and the followers should be accountable to one another, under the Lordship of Christ.

The only authority a pastor has ever had, or should ever have, is found in the teaching of the Word of God, and in the moral leadership that such a life of dedication and knowledge brings with it. There are people in today’s world who still want to opt out of their responsibility and simply let an authority figure tell them what to do – and their number seems to be decreasing but still, I believe, there will always be some like this. But that is also wrong. The pastor must teach personal responsibility before God, not absolute servitude before the pastor. Respect, yes! Servitude, no!

To teach under constant suspicion creates a burden to the messenger and to the message itself. Pastors often do not feel free to preach the Word, period. Rather they must involve to a high degree why their message is reliable and trustworthy and biblical and practical, etc. Not all of this is bad, for the scripture says to the pastor, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Yet constantly having to prove your authority as a preacher and as a Bible teacher creates an extra burden. The pastor becomes like a cook who must begin every meal he prepares with a defense on why he is not poisoning you. Sometimes you just want to sit down and in good faith enjoy the food. And the same is said for teaching the people of God.

The rise of technology

I read a recent statement from the medical field that increasingly the doctor depends on the technology of his or her equipment, and the profession has been focused more on the curing of disease than the treating of a person. Medicine has become machine vs disease, where it used to be a doctor helping a patient. The author lamented that the more the doctor disappears in this decision making process, the more the patient also becomes invisible.

Something similar is happening worldwide in all enterprises that deal with people. We live in the “Information Age” and every vocation has more information before it than ever before. Again, most of this is good, but not all of it. The educator, the advertiser, the therapist, and law-enforcement person are quick to use studies and surveys and classifications to label people. Progress is seen as they fit into some preconceived notion of human development. Problems are solved along similar lines of steps and procedures and measurable outcomes. And the human person is disappearing as the world becomes more technologically advanced and urban.

Not all of this is bad, of course. Some of it is quite good and has resulted in better living. Yet personhood and our distinct humanity is also fading in this process. And it is happening in the church as well. We are learning more about how to measure spiritual growth, and though, again, this is good and positive in many ways, yet it also has the potential to leave the pastor and the individual out of the picture. Ministry is going through similar changes as medicine has gone through, and becoming more about some well-known church model being applied to the church organization, whereas spiritual growth used to be about pastor and people.

Without ignoring the many good things that come out of knowledge and effective church organization, we should be careful not to abandon God’s ordained way of church structure and function. He sent pastor-teachers, not managers, not church growth experts, and not the newest organizational trend. We grow in our faith as our souls are cared for by living, breathing people, and not by a random collection of books, manuals, and youtube videos.

And worship has become more about having the right music, having the right lights, having the right video display, rather than an encounter with a living God. People can be incredibly fussy about the way the sermon is presented, rather than the heart of the man who is preaching and his faith and his love for the Lord and for them. It is better to have good music than bad music, good sound than bad sound, a well-organized and well-presented sermon than a bad sermon. But the greater issue is always the heart of the man who is preaching.

The pastors tend to demand better organization and the people tend to demand better music and preaching. Neither is bad in and of itself, but we must be careful that we do not let these secondary things become primary. But in a technologically advanced world, our humanity becomes secondary.

I remember a comical scene from back in the 1960’s television cartoon, Rocky and Bullwinkle. In one episode some evil mastermind shut down all the television broadcasts in America and children had to actually sit and talk with one another. I recall two children in the cartoon walking through the house in a semi-comatose state, which constantly looking at television had created, and bumped into one another. One said, “Who are you?” The other, “I think I’m your sister.”

What was a spoof was somewhat prophetic of what we are dealing with. We have forgotten how to be people and how to listen to one another, how to interact with one another, and how to let a godly pastor minister to our souls.

The assertion of individuality

Perhaps the greatest danger of all of this is the rise of the individual. The irony is that in the midst of technology that misses the individual, that while serving him also depersonalizes and marginalizes him as an individual – in the midst of this phenomenon of modern culture has risen a very self-focused human being. To be a Christian in this world is to merely believe, and not to belong. Christ, yes! Church, no! Personal growth, yes! Personal accountability to spiritual authority, no!

And this feeds into the anti-denominational trend in today’s world. This is not based on logic, for logic would tend to see the need for balance. The denomination brings doctrinal continuity and makes the pastor and the leaders accountable to those higher up. As the mega-multi-national companies now rise, as the mom and pop stores decline, in the church is seen the reversed trend, that the independent and non-denominational church is favored over the denominational one.

To me the only explanation for this trend is the simple rise of individuality and that means that all accountability is unpleasant. Denominations have many different ways that they function, but most, because the church is an organization based on volunteer associations, operate in very similar ways. As a Baptist – and we are called “the non-denominational denomination” because our churches are independent and our affiliation with one another is based on willing cooperation, not forced coercion – I value the help and support that come from our affiliations.

Information, teachings, encouragements, mission opportunities, consistent doctrine, moral accountability, materials for evangelism and discipleship, knowledge of current affairs, the possibility to work together, joint mission projects, the training of pastors and church leaders – these plus many, many more are the advantages that come to the church and to the Christian through our affiliation.

The biblical case

I am also an adult in this world, and understand many of these thoughts. The funny thing is that these are not bad by themselves. They have all risen as reactions to neglects or even abuses of the past. Yet, like most trends, left unchecked, they simply move to a different set of neglects and abuses. It is the pendulum-swing phenomenon that goes from one extreme to the other.

So let me reassert the biblical position, for only in the teachings and examples of the Bible do we find our safeguard against error. God has given to the churches pastor-teachers. They will give an account to God for their service. These individuals should be cherished, trained and developed. They should be given respect and proper authority, along with clear accountability. They should be taught to teach and lead well. But more important than all of these things is their walk with Christ.

They are not the “stars of the show,” rather they are the under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Himself. They are to possess the heart and character of Christ to an unusual degree among Christians. Their chief desire is that Christ would be glorified in their life and through their ministry. They should be confident in the grace and power of God, but not full of themselves. Their intent should be to be used of God, not to promote a religion of personal promotion, or a cult of personality. Christ must become more and more and they less and less.

They are to love the people of God, despite their many faults, and care for their souls. They are to lead and organize the church along biblical patterns. They are to train and equip the people, that means teaching them how to grow closer to Christ and how to serve Him. They are not to do all the work themselves, rather they are to build confidence in the people of God and set them free for service.

They are to live daily in the fullness of the Spirit, dead to self and alive to God. They are to be gracious and not argumentative. They must be rich in the grace of forgiving others, as well as filled with the courage of the Holy Spirit. They must be faithful stewards of God’s Word, and be ready in all situations and at all seasons of life. They must be people of deep prayer – both in personal worship and in interceding for others.

Above all, they should be people about whom it can be said, “We saw Christ in him.”

 

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