Being Church or Doing Church?

 

According to the scriptures, the church came into existence on the first day of Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:1-41).  The church grew and spread across the globe as first the apostles and then ordinary Christians proclaimed the good news wherever they went.  Over the course of several centuries the church began to change as more and more human ideas took root within it.  In time it was so far removed from its first century antecedent that sincere men sought to reform it.  Their efforts, though noble and well-intended, did not result in a return to the first century model.

The protestant denominations which arose from these efforts, while closer to the first century model, were still marked by more human ideas than the original church.  In the early 1800s in America a renewed effort began whose stated goal was to restore first century Christianity.  The focus was on doing Bible things in Bible ways, and calling Bible things by Bible names.  Their motto was, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak.  Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”  This mantra sought to complete the work the reformers of the 1500s had begun by going back to the biblical model alone as a guide for what the church should believe and practice.

Now in the second decade of the new millennium, it appears that this noble effort, like the reformation before it, has begun to drift on the tide of human opinion and desires.  There are perhaps many manifestations of this drift, but a significant element in it is the way we “do” church.  A drive through any major city reveals countless multi-million-dollar church facilities.  Large, beautiful buildings replete with every creature comfort are the norm.  Amenities, including family-life centers, day-care facilities, and K-12 schools are commonplace.  Recovery programs and other social services, conducted by credentialed or licensed staff, are more and more frequently offered.  Worship assemblies are multi-media events, even if not accompanied by a worship band or praise team.  In short, many churches are doing everything they can to appeal to every conceivable human interest.  The question, however, is if this is what the Lord meant the church to be.

When we examine the New Testament, we find none of the things that seem so necessary today.  First century churches did not own property or buildings.  They met in rented rooms or in homes.  Their worship was simple and focused on commemorating the Lord’s death each Lord’s day by the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  The sang, prayed, read scripture, and exhorted each other to walk in the light.  Each Christian understood that he or she bore responsibility for the overall welfare of the church, as passages such as Eph. 4:11-16 instruct.  They saw their primary task as proclaiming the gospel to the lost, and encouraging each other to remain faithful.  They often did this daily and from house to house (Acts 2:46-47).

Too many churches today are consumed with keeping up with the amenities offered by their religious neighbors.  They fret over the money needed to equip themselves to do church like everyone around them, and consequently run the risk of not being the church the Lord meant them to be.  Members and leaders alike fall into a check-list mentality that seems to equate facilities, amenities, and programs with being the Lord’s church.

Is it wrong to have a comfortable building in which to meet, or to show concern for the issues so many face today?  No, but when so much of our attention is focused on these things, and the money it takes to maintain them, we have lost sight of our true mission.  We have become so busy doing church that we have ceased being the church.  Perhaps it is time, once again, for a call to restore simple New Testament Christianity.

That They May All Be One

 

On the night of His betrayal, the Lord observed the Passover with His twelve apostles.  Each of the four gospels refers to the events of that evening, but John gives us the most complete account of what transpired between the Lord and these chosen men.  No other gospel account contains this information.  In John 13-16 we have a detailed record of the Lord washing the apostles’ feet, dismissing Judas to complete his treachery, and His final instructions and exhortations to the eleven remaining men.  Then, in chapter 17 John recorded the words of the Lord’s prayer which concluded their time together in the upper room.

Near the end of this prayer the Lord said, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:20-21).  This plea for the unity of all believers has long been a rallying point in churches that identify with the Christian faith.  However, like so many things the Lord said, this plea has been used in ways the Lord never intended.

For example, many who call for the unity of all believers, do so based on emphasizing the areas of agreement among the various churches, while de-emphasizing areas of disagreement.  The net effect is that areas of disagreement are rendered unimportant.  In this way churches with differing doctrinal beliefs can still claim unity with their religious neighbors.  From a human perspective this seems to make perfect sense.  Unfortunately, it entirely misses the point of what the Lord said.

In the context of Jn. 17 the Lord’s plea for unity was based upon the unity that exists between Himself and His Father in heaven.  His plea was that His disciples would be one with Himself and the Father, just as He and the Father are with each other.  This is a particular kind of unity that is far different from what many call unity today.  While we may not be able to fully comprehend the unity of the Father and the Son, we can be certain of what it is not.  It is not based upon them emphasizing their areas of agreement, while de-emphasizing their areas of disagreement.  This is because there are no areas of disagreement between the Father and the Son.

In Jn. 12:48 the Lord said that His word will judge at the last day.  However, He went on to say, “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a command as to what to say and what to speak.  I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (Jn. 12:49-50).  This means that everything the Lord spoke is exactly what the Father told Him to speak.  They are one, because they both speak the same thing.

This fact cannot be overemphasized.  The unity of the Father and the Son is based upon compliance with the Father’s will.  Even as a full-fledged member of the godhead, Jesus did not go His own way.  He bowed to the Father’s wises in everything He did.  If we today wish to experience this unity, we also must comply with the Father’s will.  In Eph. 4:3 Paul exhorted the Christians in Ephesus “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.  The unity of which he spoke is the unity that comes to us when we obey the gospel and the Father adds us to His kingdom.  We preserve this unity by being of the same mind and judgment on matters of faith, as Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:10.  We can only be of the same mind and judgment, however, if we bow to the Father’s will in everything we do.  If we humbly submit to the Father’s will, then we will all be one, just as the Lord prayed.

What Does the Lord Require?

 

As Moses prepared Israel to enter the promised land, he wrote a book called Deuteronomy in which he reviewed their history up to that time.  He also recounted the law that God had delivered to him on Sinai.  Amid the details of this law Moses included a summary statement of what Israel must do to please God.  In Deut. 10:12-13 he said, “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all our soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?”

As we consider this statement we see that God required four things of His people.  First, He required that they fear Him.  In this case, fear means to revere and to respect.  This is an attitude of submission to higher authority.  If Israel feared God, they would subjugate their will to His will.  Even the Son of God practiced this kind of submission.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “yet, not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39).  If we fear God today, we will do no less than the Son of God did in this regard.

Second, God required Israel to walk in all His ways and to love Him.  This denotes a way of life that is governed by God’s will.  Walking in God’s ways and loving Him are essentially the same thing.  In the scriptures, to love God means to obey Him.  In Jn. 14:15 the Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”  Thus, if we love God we will obey Him.  We cannot love God and walk our own way.

Third, God required Israel to serve Him with all their heart and soul.  This is how God separates true disciples from fake ones.  Our Lord made this distinction in many of His confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees.  These men were considered the best keepers of the Law of Moses, but the Lord said their hearts were far from God (Mt. 15:8-9).  They were insincere in their worship and often set aside God’s law in favor of their man-made traditions.  God requires sincere worship, and true disciples will not fail to serve Him with all their heart and soul.

Fourth, God required that Israel keep His commandments and statutes.  In a word, this is obedience, and it is the foundation of being acceptable to God.  In fact, each of the preceding requirements is also based upon obedience.  The bottom line is that God requires all who come to Him to obey Him.  There is no wiggle room in this requirement.  We either obey God, or we don’t.  It is each person’s choice, of course, but God will not suspend His commandments if we choose to ignore them.

The final element of Moses’ statement is crucial.  At the end of Deut. 10:13 Moses said that the things God commanded Israel were for their good.  Later in Deuteronomy Moses spoke in detail of all the good things that would come to Israel if they obeyed God’s law.  He also warned them of the evil that would befall them if they disobeyed.  Knowing that God’s laws were for their good should have motivated them to faithfully keep it.  It should also motivate us to keep God’s will today, for Paul said that godliness holds promise for the present life and for the life to come as well (1 Tim. 4:8).

What the Lord requires of us is not complicated.  It is a simple matter of each of us deciding to put His will first in our lives.  If we do so, good things will come to us in life, and at the end of time we will receive a home in heaven for eternity.  With such a reward in view, it just makes sense to do all the Lord requires.

Courage

 

One of the sad realities of the modern world is that the meaning of certain words has become distorted and thus diluted.  Courage is one of these words.  In the twisted thinking of the politically correct world, a man who decided that he is actually a woman has been touted for having the courage to publicly proclaim that he is now a she.  At the same time, those whose actions demonstrate the true meaning of courage are mocked by the cultural elite.  It is no wonder that so many in our world are so confused.

Courage is defined as, “the attitude or response of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it; fearless or brave, valor, pluck.”  This definition reminds us of words attributed to the late actor John Wayne.  He said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”  We see this attribute every time a fireman goes into a burning building or a police officer responds to a 911 call.  We see it in our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, who run to the sound of the guns.

Most of the time these are the images that come to mind when we think of courage, but there are many other examples of this attribute that do not necessarily entail putting oneself in harm’s way.  An unwed mother who chooses to give up her baby for adoption rather than aborting it, shows courage in doing so.  A single parent who works hard to provide for his or her children while also training them to be responsible citizens is another example of courage.  So also, is the Christian who stands up for his or her commitment to the Lord.

In our country it has not generally been dangerous to be a Christian, but even so, being a disciple of Christ can be difficult or painful.  The pressure from unbelievers and skeptics to conform to their ungodly ways is great.  The open mocking of Christian faith that is becoming more common in the media and in society at large is real.  These are most often the circumstances in which our courage may be tested.  The scriptures certainly anticipated these circumstances and thus call us to have courage as we walk with the Lord.

One of the most powerful examples of our call to courage appears in the Old Testament.  When Moses was about to die, he commissioned Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land.  In Deut. 31:6-7 Moses exhorted Joshua to be strong and courageous as he led them.  After Moses’ death, God spoke to Joshua and repeated this exhortation in Josh. 1:6-9.  In God’s exhortation, however, we see a crucial element in the courage to which Joshua was called.  God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, and to obey the law that Moses had delivered to Israel.  This, ultimately, is the key to having spiritual courage.

If we give God’s word first place in our lives, we will have the courage He calls us to have.  This was the case with Paul.  When he was in custody in Jerusalem under accusation from the Jews, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must also witness at Rome also” (Acts 23:11).  Paul could have courage because he was doing the Lord’s will.  As a result, he was able to accomplish all that the Lord commissioned him to do.

None of us may face the same dangers that Paul did, but we can still have spiritual courage if we do the Lord’s will as he did.  We demonstrate our courage by living up to the high calling of Christ.  Our faithful walk with the Lord defends His integrity before unbelievers.  Our faithful obedience to His word shines the light of God’s truth into the darkness of sin, and accomplishes His will.  It takes courage to do so, but we can do it, just as Joshua did, and just as Paul did.

If You Love Me

 

Love is one of the most powerful motivations in human life.  It is something that every person needs and desires.  It is a subject that has dominated literature and music for hundreds of years, and movies since the inception of this medium.  Love can move men and women to do things that they might not otherwise do.  As a result, people sometimes try to use love as leverage to get others to do what they want.  Sadly, this influence has not always been used for good purposes.

It is this fact that illustrates how skewed society’s view of love is.  Much of what the world calls love is little more than feelings or desires.  Thus, people glibly speak of “falling into” or “falling out of” love according to how they feel at that moment.  When viewed in this manner, love is fickle and fragile.  It is merely a vehicle for the fulfillment of one’s personal wants.

When we open the pages of scripture we discover that love is nothing like this.  The predominant word for love in the New Testament is agape, which is the highest and noblest concept of love.  It is an act of the will in which one does what is best and right for others in every circumstance of life.  This is the love that God showed for mankind when He sent His one and only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Paul described it best in Rom. 5:8, where he said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

Mankind did nothing to cause God to take this action.  He took it because we needed it, and because He chose to do so, despite our indifference to His will.  This is what true love is, and this is the love to which each of us should aspire.  If we made this kind of love our goal, we would never ask anything of another that was not in his or her best interests before God.

In addition to this, the kind of love to which God has called us requires something else of us.  On the night of His betrayal, the Lord spoke to His apostles about many important subjects.  During this discourse the Lord revealed another essential aspect of biblical love.  In Jn. 14:15 He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

The scriptures do not reveal how the apostles reacted to this declaration.  This omission suggests that they were not surprised by what the Lord said.  Apparently, they recognized and acknowledged the connection between love and obedience.  Whether they made the connection or not, however, the fact remains that the Lord required this of them, and consequently, requires it of us as well.

In simple terms, God expects us to show our love for Him by doing what He has commanded in His word.  When we understand this important truth, it should change our attitude about the Christian walk.  Many people want to emphasize love, while diminishing obedience. The words of our Lord show that one cannot be separated from the other.  If we love God, we must obey Him.  We cannot do otherwise, because to do so means we do not love Him.

If we love the Lord, we will only do that which is right and best for all in every situation, and we will not fail to obey all that the Lord has commanded in His word.  If we love the Lord in this way, we will please Him, and we will be among the redeemed who are ushered into heaven at the end of time.