Part 6: The Family Heirloom

finalblogbiggertext

A final reason why I love the church: What if it is the most precious thing on this earth? More precious than silver, or gold, or any other earthly commodity.

How precious is the church? It demanded the highest price ever paid for anything.

 “You have been bought with a price”. (1 Cor. 6:20)

What price?

 “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Pet, 1:18-19)

 Acts 20:28 refers to “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

The church is so precious that the Son was willing to suffer the agonies of the cross and die in obedience to the Father so that this eternal love gift could become a reality. The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of this great reality:

 “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)

What if this verse has nothing to do with earthly riches or material things? Neither is it about earthly poverty, but rather states Jesus was rich as God is rich, rich in glory (John 17:5). But Jesus denied himself of His glory. He became a servant King, he suffered death on a cross in which all the forces of divine wrath was poured upon Him(Col. 2:6-8).

So the precious value of the church is seen here in the price that was paid, when the One who was as rich as God in fullness of glory, became as poor as someone alienated from God (Matt. 27:46).

Christ did this so that we might become rich. His dying made us heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).

 In giving up His heavenly riches, Christ made it possible for the church to share in those riches. That makes the church the most precious thing on earth.

So why not join the local church and see your city transformed one life at a time.

Part 5: The Mirror Never Lies

blogimagepurple

Another reason from Scripture why I love the church is that it is like heaven on earth. I don’t mean that the church is perfect, or that it offers some kind of utopian escape from the realities of a sinful world. But I mean that the church is the one place where all that occurs in heaven can also occur on earth.

Christ instructed us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In what sphere is that most likely to occur? Is it likely to occur in the House of Parliament or House of Lords? Unlikely. In the Law courts? Unlikely. In the Universities? Unlikely. Town Hall – local council? Unlikely. Where is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? It is not that we don’t want it to happen in these places, we would dearly love for it to be so.

 But surely the place it is most likely to happen is in the church.

Let me pose a question. If all the activities of heaven were to be brought to earth, what activities would dominate?

First of all, worship. In every biblical description where people of God had visions of heaven, the one thing that stands out most is worship. Praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and devotion are constantly being offered to God in heaven. We see it in Isaiah 6:1-3, and we can read more about it in Revelation 4:8-11. In other words, every creature in heaven is continually engaged in worship.

Worship is also one of the main activities of the church. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul describes what took place in a typical meeting in the early church:

 “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”

 There he describes activities whose design is both to worship God and to edify the worshipers. And if an unbeliever came into the meeting, this was the desired response:

 “The secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you”. (v. 25)

A second activity of heaven is the adoration of Christ. Having finished His earthly work, Christ is now seated at the Father’s right in glory in pure exaltation (Acts 5:31). God Himself has exalted His Son, and given Him a name above every name (Phil. 2:9). Christ is “exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:27). And throughout all eternity we will be occupied exalting His name (Rev. 5:11-14). The church is the one sphere on earth where Christ’s name is truly and genuinely exalted.

A third activity that takes place in heaven is the maintenance of purity and holiness. Heaven is a holy place. Revelation 22:14-15 underscores the perfect purity of heaven’s inhabitants:

 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”

 No one is admitted to heaven who is not holy (Heb. 12:14). The church on earth is charged with preserving purity within her own midst. Matthew 18:15-20  lays out a process of discipline by which the church is to keep herself pure, if necessary through putting people out of fellowship. It’s not necessary in this context to outline the whole discipline process, but take note of the promise Christ makes in verse 18:

 “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Binding and loosing were rabbinical expressions that spoke of dealing with people’s guilt. An unrepentant person was said to be bound to his sin, and a repentant person was loosed. Here Jesus suggests that when a church on earth follows the proper procedure for discipline, they in effect mediate heaven’s verdict in the earthly church. Heaven is in agreement with their decision. When the church on earth puts out of fellowship an unrepentant member, the elders of that church are simply declaring what heaven has already said.

 Church discipline is therefore an earthly expression of heaven’s holiness.

Another activity of heaven that occurs in the church is the fellowship of the saints. Our fellowship in the church on earth is a foretaste of the perfect communion we will enjoy in heaven. The church, then, is like an earthly expression of heaven. That might be hard for us to grasp or even except.

 The church is the closest we can get to heaven on earth.

There’s a lot of talk these days about ‘user-friendly’ churches. Church growth experts counsel church leaders to try to provide an atmosphere in which ‘unchurched’ people can feel comfortable and at home. That strikes me a little odd, whilst I appreciate their approach we should want ‘unchurched’ people who come into our fellowship to leave saying to themselves, ‘I have never seen anything like this on earth!’ We want them to experience the love of God and yet dare I say be convicted of their need of Christ. When people come to our services or spend time with us it should be like they are experiencing a little bit of heaven.

I read an article about a large mega church in America where they invest tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars each year in promoting seeker friendly services. The article reviewed their attempt and concluded that they were very successful in being seeker friendly, but that they failed dramatically in making disciples.

More than any other institution on earth, the church is where the truth of God is upheld. The church is called to proclaim the truth and hold it high. (1 Tim. 3:15). Employing the truth as a weapon, we are to smash the ideological fortresses of Satan’s lies (2 Cor. 10:3-5). And it is in the pursuit of that goal that the church will ultimately realize her greatest triumph.

 What if the Church is an earthly expression of Heaven?

Part 4: From Here to Eternity

blogfinalgreenRom. 8:29-30 reads:

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

This is something He “promised before time began” (Tit 1:2).  In other words, in eternity past, before anything was created God determined to begin and to finish His redemptive plan. People were chosen. Their names were written down that they might be brought to faith, to godliness, and to glory. God promised this before time began.To whom did God make the promise? This was before time, and therefore before creation. So there weren’t any people or other creatures around. So who did God make this promise?

We find the answer in 2 Timothy 1:9 where we read that:

“God saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

Paul says God’s eternal purpose, the promise that was made before the beginning of time, “was given to us in Christ Jesus.” The eternal promise of our salvation, involved a promise made by the Father to the Son before time began. This is a staggering reality. Jesus refers to it in His high priestly prayer in John 17:24:

“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

Love always seeks to express itself. And in a demonstration of His perfect love for His Son, the Father made a promise to the Son. He promised the Son a redeemed people justified, sanctified, and glorified. He promised to bring the redeemed to ones to glory, that they might dwell in the very place where Father and Son have dwelt since before time began, in the very realm of God. And this collective body of called out ones a people for His name (Acts 15:14) from every tribe and people and tongue and nation (Rev. 13:7) would form a living temple for the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:21-22), becoming the very dwelling-place of God.That is the eternal promise the Father made to the Son. This is an expression of His love. Every individual who has received Jesus into their lives as Lord and savior is a love-gift from the Father to the Son. (John 6:37)

There is an important teaching here. The redeemed are chosen and given to the Son by the Father as a gift. If you are a believer, it is not because you are cleverer than your unbelieving neighbors. You did not come to faith through your own cleverness.

You were drawn to Christ by God the Father (John 6:44, 65). And every individual who comes to faith is drawn by God and given as a love gift from the Father to the Son, as part of a redeemed people—the church—promised to the Son before time began.

The full significance of God’s eternal purpose becomes clear as it is unfolded to us in the book of Revelation. There we get a glimpse into heaven, and what do you suppose the triumphant church is doing there? What occupies the glorified saints throughout eternity? They worship and glorify the Lamb, praising Him and serving Him—and even reigning with Him (Rev. 22:3-5). The collective body is pictured as His bride, pure and spotless and clothed in fine linen (19:7-8). They dwell with him eternally where there is no night, no tears, no sorrow, and no pain (21:4).

And they glorify and serve the Lamb forever. That is the fullness of God’s purpose; that is the reason the church is His gift to His Son.

Now this eternal promise involved a reciprocal promise from the Son to the Father. Redemption was by no means the Father’s work alone. In order to accomplish the divine plan, the Son would have to go into the world as a member of the human race and pay the penalty for sin. And the Son submitted completely to the Father’s will. That is what Jesus meant in John 6:38-39:

“I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

So the Son submitted to the Father’s will, demonstrating His love for the Father. And the building of the church is therefore not only the Father’s expression of love to the Son, but also the Son’s expression of love to the Father. We are Christ’s.

There’s one thing more worth noting about the Father’s eternal plan with regard to the church. He also determined that they would be made like the Son. We’re being transformed to Christ’s image (Gal. 4:19).  And the good news is that this goal will be achieved. The church will emerge from all her trials triumphant, glorious, spotlessly arrayed to meet her Bridegroom.

How can we not rejoice in the prospect of that? How can Christians possibly be apathetic about the church?

When the Son brings the church to glory and the Father gives them to the Son as His eternal love gift, then the Son will turn around and give everything, including Himself, back to the Father.

This is a mind-boggling look at our future. This is God’s plan for the church. We are a people called out for His name, redeemed, conformed to His Son’s image, made to be an immense, incomprehensible, all-surpassing expression of love between the Persons of the Trinity.

The church is the gift that is exchanged. This is God’s eternal plan for the church. We ought to be profoundly grateful, and eager, and thrilled to be a part of it.

Part 3: The House That Jesus Built

blogfinalpink

We could say the church in the New Testament is like an image of the Old Testament Temple. I’m not referring to a church building, but the body of all true believers.

It is a spiritual building (1 Pet. 2:5), the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16), the place where God’s glory is most clearly manifest on earth, and the centre and focal point of spiritual life and worship for the Jesus focused community. God Himself is the architect and builder of this temple. In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul writes,

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the church in the eternal plan of God. The church is His building, (1 Cor. 3:9). He is the unchallengeable, sovereign, omnipotent Lord of heaven. His Word cannot return void but always accomplishes what He says, (Isaiah 55:11). He is always faithful and cannot deny himself, (2 Tim 2:13). His sovereign purposes always come to pass, and His will is always ultimately fulfilled, (Isaiah 46:10). His plan is invincible and unshakable, and He will bring to pass all that He has spoken, (Isaiah 46:11) And he has spoken about building the church in the most triumphant words. For example, in Matthew 16:18 Christ said:

“I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

I understand that the phrase “the gates of Hades” was a Jewish expression for death. Hades is the place of the dead, and the gates of Hades represent the entrance into that place – death itself. Hades is also the sphere of influence of the devil. Hebrews 2:14 refers to Satan as the one “who had the power of death”, and verse 15 says he used that power to keep people in fear and bondage all their lives. But now Christ has broken that power, and liberated His people from Satan’s dominion in essence, he has broken down the gates of Hades. And therefore even the power of death—the strongest weapon Satan wields—cannot prevent the ultimate triumph of the church. He personally guarantees that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church He is building.

The imagery I see here of “the gates of Hades” is very significant. Gates are a walled city’s most vital defensive safeguards. The words of Jesus depict the church radical, storming the gates of hell, victoriously delivering people from the power of death. Christ assures the triumph of the church’s evangelistic mission. He is building the church, and the work will not be let down. Christ’s promise in this passage (Matthew 16:18) should not be misunderstood. Scripture is not suggesting that any particular church or denomination will be infallible. He does not teach that any of the leaders of the church will be perfect.  He does not promise success and prosperity to every congregation. What scripture does pledge is that the church—that worldwide body of believers under the headship of Jesus, the body,—will have a visible testimony in this world as long as the world itself lasts. And all the enemies of truth combined shall never secure the defeat or destruction of the church.

Don’t be mistaken the church is a work in progress. Christ is still building His church. We are still being joined together (Eph. 2:21). The church is still under construction (v. 22). God is not finished yet. The imperfections and blemishes in the visible church are still being refined by the Master Builder.

Thank God for His patience, grace and mercy.

The blueprint for the church was drawn in eternity past.

The good news is that whatever you think of the church God is at work in it – he is not going to give up on it.

I wonder if we see the church how He sees it?

Part 2: Grand Designs

blogfinalblue

We live in a day when there’s more Bible teaching than you could ever consume available through radio, television, and the Internet etc, why should it matter where and how you’re taking in God’s truth? What’s wrong with virtual, web-based congregations for the digital-age church? Why wouldn’t you want your iPod be your worship leader, your IPAD tablet be your pastor, and your Facebook friends your fellowship and accountability?

The answer is simple: that’s not the way God designed it.

I thank God for the technology we have available to us. Yet there is no substitute for interacting with actual people. I appreciate that if your house bound due to illness for example this technology can be a lifeline.

The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the local church. It was the pattern of Paul’s ministry to establish local congregations in the cities where he preached the gospel. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands every believer to be a part of such a local body and reveals why this is necessary:

 ‘Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.’

It is only in the local body to which we are connected that there can be the level of intimacy that is required for inspiring each other ‘to acts of love and good works.’ And it is only in this setting that we can encourage one another, faithfully and biblically.

The New Testament teaches that every believer is to be under the protection and nurture of the leadership of the local church. These godly leaders can shepherd the believer by encouraging, admonishing, and teaching.

Hebrews 13:7 & 17 help us to understand that God has graciously granted accountability to us through godly leadership.

“Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

“Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Furthermore when Paul gave Timothy special instructions about the public meetings, he said, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). Part of the emphasis in public worship includes: hearing the Word, being called to obedience and action through exhortation, and teaching.

It is in the context of the local gathering that these things can most effectively take place.

Acts 2:42 shows us what the early church did when they met together:

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

They learned God’s Word and the implications of it in their lives; they joined together to carry out acts of love and service to one another, they commemorated the Lord’s death and resurrection through the breaking of bread, they prayed.

Of course, we can do these things individually, but God has called us into His Body, the church, which is the local representation of that worldwide Body—and we should gladly minister and be ministered to among God’s people.

 Active involvement in your local church is key to living a fulfilled life.

It is through the ministry of the local church that a believer can receive the kind of teaching, accountability, and encouragement that is necessary for him to stand firm in his convictions.

God has ordained that the church provide the kind of environment where love and security can thrive, and His people can grow.

Part 1: In the Beginning

finalblogbiggertext

I read in a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he says that the word ‘church’:

“To Protestants has the sound of something infinitely commonplace, more or less indifferent and superfluous, that does not make their heart beat faster; something with which a sense of boredom is so often associated.”

 I think there is too much truth in those criticisms to dismiss them lightly.

Many professing Christians are far too prone to indifference about the church. Some of them live on the edge of the church, attending and observing without ever really becoming integrated into an integral part of the body. Many who confess faith in Christ remain totally indifferent about the church. There are folks who “go to church”, and at times it appears that they have forgotten what it is all for. Week by week they attend services in a special building and go through their particular, time-honored routine, but give little thought to the purpose of what they are doing.

 I’m NOT talking about style or traditions here…I’m talking about attitude of heart.

The Bible talks about the “the bride of Christ” but so often the church is like a ragged Cinderella. It needs to reaffirm the non-negotiable essential elements that God designed for it to be committed to. There are even some folks involved as volunteers or employed by evangelical para-church organizations who have no involvement whatsoever with any local church. I really can’t understand that.

As Christ followers we must approach the nature, constitution, and functions of a church from the perspective of Scripture alone. Unfortunately even among many believers, too many of the popular notions about the church are influenced by human traditions – scripture gives us a sound understanding and appreciation of the true role and nature of the church.

I am so thankful to be part of the family of God in all its many expressions and it is my privilege to serve in the church locally and beyond. I have a deep love for the church in my heart.

I’m sometimes asked why I write and talk passionately about issues effecting church and church life. The answer is I love the church so much that I can’t stand by and watch it struggle. I want to help it be all God wants it to be and that means I need to operate in my fatherly, pastoral, capacity. I love the church too much to do anything else. I can’t understand people who don’t have a similar love for the church who aren’t eager for every opportunity to worship together with other like-minded followers of Jesus. I can’t understand people who don’t value and prioritise gathering together in the larger setting on Sundays and in smaller settings during the week. I don’t understand when people don’t want to do life together. Why are they so eager to get away from the church? Where else would they rather be?

There was a time when coming to Christ meant connecting with a local expression of His church. As far back as the New Testament, salvation brought you into union with the visible, gathered Body of Christ as shown in Acts 2:47:

‘All the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.’

 Becoming a Christ follower meant entering into fellowship with the people of God.

 I would suggest that has changed

The contemporary emphasis in evangelical charismatic circles is a believer’s personal relationship to Christ. Individual faith is the dominant theme and rarely is there any discussion of how believers are supposed to fit into the church. When was the last time you read a tract or heard a gospel presentation that ends with a discussion of the believer’s relationship to the church? At best there is a very little on church involvement, and being a part of the family of God in the visible, gathered group of Christ followers, and in the massive effort to make salvation personal, the church has been left behind and overlooked to the detriment of many souls.

I would suggest too many people today have settled for being church consumers. It would appear they’re only interested in what they can get out of their church and some unfortunately travel from congregation to congregation as their whims and interests change. They don’t have any particular commitment or loyalty to a specific church family. Some in fact have little or no attachment to the church at all, and are under no obligation for regular attendance if they make it, they make it, if not, it’s no big deal. For those people their faith is completely anchored in their personal relationships with Christ, there is no corporate commitment or responsibility to the people of God. Their Christianity exists completely outside and apart from the church.

 As I see it the idea of believers living independently of the church is totally foreign to the New Testament.

The Holy Spirit addressed almost every epistle to a local church, and other books like 1&2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon were addressed to key leaders in the church. Even the book of James which was written to believers scattered by persecution assumes those receiving the letter are still meeting together and deals heavily with life in the context of the church.

Throughout the New Testament the assumption is always the same – that the people of God are faithfully gathering together in a local assembly where the Word of God is being taught and lived out. That unified gathering not just the invisible worldwide church, but the local,visible congregation—is at the heart of Christianity.

The church is the only institution the Lord established and promised to bless. Why would anyone who claims to love the Lord want to keep His people at arm’s length?

For a variety of reasons there has been an increasing widespread lack of commitment and confidence in the church and it is demonstrated in many ways; neglect of gathering together, neglect of baptism and breaking bread, the explosion of para-church ministries, and the discarding of the biblical qualifications for church leadership are just a few examples.

Over the next 5 weeks I’m going to outline some biblical reasons why I love the church.