During my time leading up to the 2014 G3 Conference, I spent much time reflecting upon the nature and function of the church. As I sat through a marathon of preaching on the doctrine of ecclesiology, I was reminded of how important this truth is to our spiritual life. This is one of the reasons that I enjoy conferences. It makes me think critically, reflect deeply, and examine myself to see where I stand in relation to these truths.
When was the last time you looked closely at where you spend your time? Did you know that many different clubs and organizations are competing for your time and attention? Some clubs and other secular organizations include:
- American Red Cross
- Salvation Army
- Kidney Foundation
- Boy Scouts
- Girl Scouts
- Ronald McDonald Foundation
- US Military
- Homes for our Troops
- National Military Family Association
- Special Olympics
- Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
- Moose Lodge
- Rainbow Girls
- Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs of America
- Chess Club
- Bowling Club
- Dancing Club
- Running Club
- Bird Watching Club
- Horse Riding Club
- Dog Training Club
Not all secular clubs and organizations are bad, but God has a desire for His children to spend their lives for Christ through the local church.
Under the umbrella of the evangelical faith, we have many different institutions and organizations known as parachurch ministries. These ministries were once created to come alongside the church to accomplish a vision. Today, the roles have been reversed. The parachurch ministries are often viewed as more exciting, more front-line, and a better way to do ministry than the local church. Did you know that there are more than 91,000 parachurch ministries in America? Their revenue exceeds $1.8 billion dollars per year and they have assets over $4 billion dollars! While parachurch ministries are indeed helpful (seminaries are parachurch ministries), they should never replace the local church.
As we examine the Bible and redemptive history, it’s apparent – the church is God’s will for our lives as the children of God. God has not saved us in order for our lives to waste away on self-service. God has saved us and joined us into His family – into the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. That membership has purpose and specific functionality. We must not neglect the church. We must not waste the church.
The word church is taken from the Greek word, ekklesia. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary on Ephesians writes, “The Greek word for church, ecclesia, is made up of a prefix and a root. The prefix is ek—out of. The root is the verb coleo, to call.” As we survey redemptive history, we can identify the church under two general headings. The universal church is the entire group of redeemed from every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation on planet earth. However, most of the time when the word “church” is used in the New Testament, it’s a reference to the local church. The church exists across the entire world, but we know that it was never intended to be an invisible group. God intends for His church to have visibility and functionality as the body of Christ meets together, worships together, and serves Christ together.
Many Christians are searching for God’s will for their lives. They are reading books, attending seminars and conferences, and researching online. First and foremost, we must come to the sober reality that the church is not an option to consider. The church is God’s will for the Christian’s life.
The Church as God’s Will for Spiritual Growth
Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 to “preach the Word.” He goes on to say in verses 2-4, “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” The point is not just that some in the church at Ephesus would walk away from sound teaching, but the positive side of that statement is clearly visible – Timothy was to be preaching and teaching sound doctrine. God’s will for pastors is to preach and teach the Word of God. God’s will for the Christian is to be submitted under that teaching just as we see in Acts 2 with the early church.
The Church as God’s Will for Spirit-Led Worship
Just as we see in John 4, God desires for His children to be assembled for worship! God has not saved us in order to spare our souls from the wrath we deserved in hell. He has rescued us in order to make us worshippers. John Piper, in his excellent book, Let The Nations Be Glad, has rightly stated, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” God is the seeker and He is seeking worshippers. God’s will for the Christian is to be assembled with people in the church to worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). God desires for His people to worship from the heart and from His Word – His revelation of Himself and His redemptive plan. This is God’s will for our Christian life.
The Church as God’s Will for Spiritual Service
As Ephesians 4 records, Christ has given gifts to the church for teaching and instruction. This teaching edifies and equips the child of God for the work of ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12 – “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” God has given pastors and evangelists in our church today for the equipping of the body to actually do ministry. Romans 12:1-2 records an often neglected passage. We are called as God’s children to be “living sacrifices” who give spiritual service of worship to our God. Luke 9:23 records the fact that we are to deny self and pick up our cross daily and follow Christ. Luke 14:26 is another hard saying by Jesus. In that verse He says that we must love Christ supremely and in comparison to the love for Him – our commitment and love to our family will seem like hatred. We must put Christ first.
Almost every local church has people who assemble to “watch” church rather than become part of the church body. Each week a certain percentage of almost all congregations gather to:
- Watch the preaching
- Watch the singing
- Watch the attending
- Watch the giving
- Watch the going
- Watch the serving
- Watch the learning
We are not watchers of the Word – but doers of the Word! Jesus did not call us to ecclesiastical spectatorship. He called us to church membership.
Tragically – R. Kent Hughes is exactly right with his assessment of the church today. In his book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, he writes, “Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, ‘You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas — and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.’ So it is with the credo of so many of today’s church attenders: ‘You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills —and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out — my thumb is always out for a better ride.’”
If a person decides to place their secular club, recreational team, or even their personal family before the church of Jesus Christ, they will see long lasting negative consequences as a result. I have personally known of families to place sports above God and it has cost them far more than they were willing to pay in the beginning. I have witnessed mothers place their family above the church to the point that they were unwilling to serve in any other ministry outside of their home. The consequences for such errors could be a generation of practical atheists who see mother talk much about God, but they never see her serve Him. They perhaps see her as more interested in her home, her family, and her material possessions than serving God and loving her neighbor. This disconnect from the church and ministry will take root in the children. The results will be devastating. We should teach our children in doctrine, but we must not refrain from teaching them in deed as well. We are called to be “doers of the Word.” God’s will is for the church to be serving through the different gifts He has provided each one of His children (1 Corinthians 12). What better way to teach and disciple children than by giving them a glowing example of what it means to serve Christ?
The Church as God’s Will for Spirit-Bound Relationships
God has ordained the church to be a community rather than a campus. The church is not brick and mortar, it’s made up of living people who assemble in community together. This community has one primary bond of unity in the blood of Jesus Christ and held together by the Spirit of God. The church is a diverse group of people who come together in relationships. As we see in Acts 2, they loved one another, prayed for one another, and cared for one another. That sounds much like a family. The “Lone Ranger” Christian is an oxymoron. God’s will is for the church to meet together and have genuine relationships that have lasting roots.
In conclusion, we know that God’s will is not for everyone to serve in the exact same way. God has given different gifts to us all and that’s why the analogy of the body is used in 1 Corinthians 12. We all go through different seasons in life, but those seasons should never isolate us from the gathered church for worship and service. Anytime a particular member of the body decides to “focus on their own family” or “devote time to their jobs” or to “pursue a sporting goal” – it leaves the entire body of Christ in that local congregation weak. However, even if it’s a small function, if each person works and serves together – the body is able to function with efficiency.
I’m not anti-parachurch ministry. I’m pro-church. I’m not against the family, but I believe we should exalt Christ above family and other relationships. Although many people are looking for God’s will, what they may not realize is that God’s will is the church. Could it really be that simple?
Donald Whitney said, “As wonderful and sophisticated as the heart is, it was never made to be just a heart, but a part of a body. It has no value to the body outside the body. And the heart itself can’t thrive outside the body. As incredible and wonderful as you are, Christian, you were never made just to be an individual Christian, but a part of body. As every organ and every cell is God-created to be an active member of the human body, so every true Christian is God-created to be an active member of a local body of Christ.”
For the glory of King Jesus!
Pastor Josh Buice
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Monday – “Multi-Site or Multi-Church? Defining Terms and Setting the Record Straight”