(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)
This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
BIG IDEA: The Church Is God’s Ideal
This morning we began our 5th year of Hot Topics. By “hot” we mean issues that lie just beneath the surface and which no one wants to talk about, or issues that no one is addressing because the church has blindly embraced the heresy or the cultural norm and speaking up could be seen as controversial.
This morning’s topic referred to people who have had a negative encounter with the church and now essentially say, “I love Jesus but I hate the church!” These days “spirituality” is hot; organized religion is not. Community is hip, but the church is lame.
Q. Let’s start off with a “fill-in-the-blank” exercise. See if either you or someone you know could fill in the blanks with terms that are negative.
“The institutional church is so…” / “When I go to church I feel completely…” / “The leadership is totally…” /
“The people are…” / “The services are…” / “The music is…” / “The whole congregation is…” / “The whole thing makes me …”
If this doesn’t express where you are at, do you know anyone who could wax eloquent with the blanks?
Our aim is mostly to help believers who are sour, turned off, and disengaged. This is not necessarily a message to new believers or non-believers but for believers, and also to help equip Christ followers as you help others overcome personal pain in this area.
1. HOW DID THE CHURCH GET HERE?
- HURT AND HYPOCRISY
We see the church acting hatefully or neglecting the world at her doorstep and even we believers cringe! Others of us have probably been hurt by the church, through action or inaction, and it feels worse to be hurt by a “brother or sister”, doesn’t it? We expect more from our church community. Others have experienced church as a weapon used to discipline them as children – they may even have grown up thinking that their parents loved the church more than them. Finally, others of us have felt taken advantage of for our skills and talents. We are used up and burned out.
And yet, Paul’s letter to the Galatians describes the purpose of our freedom in Christ: NOT to satisfy our own sinful nature but to serve one another in love. It’s so interesting that Paul seems to suggest that the opposite of our sinful nature is serving one another in love. We often forget this freedom we have in Christ, and when it happens, we tend to look for identity in other places or in other people, and to look for faults in ourselves and in other believers, as a reflection of our own areas of brokenness. When that happens we are unable to serve others in our family of believers.
Q. Can you relate to any of the above? Have you ever been in such a church?
- MEDIA AND RELEVANCE
Movies, television and literature have all had their effect. Some examples given were of a James Bond movie that shows a chapel as a broken-down relic, TV shows that make Christians seem namby-pamby or worse still, attack any kind of values, and literature (for adults and children!) that attack God and the institutional church as “evil”.
Then, it’s even harder to help your friends understand the joy and comfort that can be found in church community when we live in an age where science HAS BECOME God. As was said in “Cosmos”, a popular 1980s documentary series, “[t]he Universe is all there is, all there has ever been and all there will ever be.” There is no God, and no need for God, because science can explain everything. In turn, this has made us very materialistic in our thinking: since all we are, is a cosmic accident, then eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die. Spiritual stuff? It’s all irrelevant nonsense. So who cares what the church has to say?
Add to all that the sad fact some churches HAVE become irrelevant by becoming tied to methods, not vision; by being afraid to “rock the boat” and risk losing a congregation; by daring to stand up for truth in a world which denies that there is any truth at all, and it’s easy to see why people check out.
Q. What examples of this have you noticed in your own excursions through various media? Has relevance ever been a problem in any church you’ve attended?
2. SO WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THE CHURCH?
- Defining terms
- “Kingdom” - It is best defined as the rule of God. The kingdom of God is present wherever God is reigning. It was best seen when Jesus was here in person, when He walked the face of the earth. Doesn’t something rise up within you and hunger and thirst for God’s Kingdom when you read of the life of Christ? Goodness, order, hope and truth colliding with the mess of earthly empires, broken systems, and injustices. AND it can be present now, even imperfectly, both wherever the Lord Jesus Christ is acknowledged as Lord (because we become carriers of the DNA of this Kingdom) and wherever God is working.
- Church - (gr. “ekklesia”, pr. Ek-la-SEE-a), which means ‘those who are called out’, not necessarily called out of the world, but called out of society for some particular function or purpose; they are ‘called together’. It can even refer to any group of people that gather together for any kind of purpose - an “ekklesia” of people who collect stamps, an “ekklesia” of people getting together to study or run together - a group of people.
So what do you think this “ekklesia” of people who are committed to the rule and reign of God does? They are about the business of the kingdom, looking to Jesus who lived out the ethos of this Kingdom with absolute perfection, a group of people who are passionate about God’s kingdom purposes!
Note that the New Testament letters are most often addressed to churches (“ekklesia”), where Christ followers were gathered (see Rom. 16, Cor. and Gal.): in houses, courtyards, Solomon’s Portico, lecture halls, and even in caves.
But note what Paul never says to them: he never said “oh, and by the way also say hi to Bob, Mary, Rebecca, John, Sammy and Kirk, who I know are really into Jesus but hate the church.” That is simply not Kingdom talk.
To say that you were a Christ follower but were not part of a church would have been akin to saying “I am a hockey player”, but when asked what team (“ekklesia” of players) you’re with, you say you don’t actually play on a team (“Well, I played once, but they were all hypocrites.”) Churchless Christians are as counter to the biblical pattern and as “non-sensical” as a “teamless hockey player”.
So the kingdom is the work, rule and reign of God. The church is the coming together of people who love the Kingdom and the King and are working it out in meaningful community. It is God’s ideal, His design.
What should the healthy functioning body of Christ look like? This is an important question because the Church has not always been healthy.
- Acts 2 … What God the Holy Spirit made the Church to be!
The end of the second chapter of book of Acts gives us a beautiful illustration of what the church, the bride of Christ, is to be. It was a four-fold place, summed up in verse 42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
This church was simply:
- A place of continual doctrinal purity and learning (“the apostles’ teaching”)
- A place of fellowship (gr. “koinonia”, pr. coy-no-NEE-a). We are not meant to be alone, and the Early Church understood this right away.
- A place of breaking of bread (both through communion, as per Jesus’ commandment, and through meals and time together (v.46))
- A place of prayer (that’s one of the reasons we’d love you to come out and “Move” with us during the Lenten season!)
The other thing to note is that all of this took place at first, in part, in the temple in Jerusalem (v.46). Secret meetings in houses only came with persecution (NOTE: but they DID keep meeting! See Heb. 10:25).
And then it spilled out from the temple into peoples’ homes and daily lives: they had “all things together”, possessions and property being readily shared as needed, in a spirit of joy (because Christ was the focus, not themselves!) such that they could praise God and have “favour with all people” (this would have included non-Christians).
Do you see what the Holy Spirit did here in this early community? “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common…” As well, Paul preached on it over and over again in his letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:17), the Galatians (5:13) the Philippians (1:27), and the Ephesians (4:1-5).
One word: UNITY. These believers were together, and they were as one. And because of it, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
In sum: Christ died for them, God called them, the Holy Spirit transformed them and everyone else just wanted to be with them and be one of them. No seeker-sensitive programs necessary here!
These 4 simple principles turned the entire Roman Empire upside down within a couple of hundred years!
- Christ, the Cornerstone
We are a building (1 Cor. 3:10-11) with a foundation in Christ. We are carefully joined together in him. It’s not too hard to imagine what happens to a building with a poor foundation. In Eph. 2:20-21 we see that together we are His house, built on the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone, a pretty important construction piece since all the other stones are set in reference to it. The truer your foundation, the better the building will be. See also Eph. 4:14-16.
Read 1 Cor. 12: 12-13. What was done to us? We were baptized. By Who? The Holy Spirit. Into what? Into one body; Whose? Christ’s. What does this imply? Responsibility - we are part of something that has incredible diversity.
This is one of the reasons why we celebrate diversity in the body – Bethel is not a university church, a young couples’ church or an old person’s church – we are a city church, meaning we embrace all the diversity that that word implies.
So with such beautiful diversity there may still be conflict. However Ephesians spells out to us that the cornerstone has broken the hostility that exists between us (Eph. 2:14-16) and we can be members of one family (Eph. 2:19-22), and we are to make allowances for one another’s faults (Eph. 4:3).
We canʼt be this body or structure on our own. Living in isolation, without our family of believers, is not what God intended. Paul urges believers to live in UNITY, allowing our roots to grow deeply into Christ, our lives to be built on his foundation (Col 2:6-7). We are to work together with one mind and purpose, selfless, humble and putting others first (Phil. 2).
There certainly are Christ followers who are roadkill. They could easily fill in the blanks with valid reasons - hurt, hypocrisy, media, and relevance. Yet Christ’s ideal is still the Church – the expression of the Kingdom of God on earth - there actually is an ideal we strive towards and a Cornerstone we build on. So what should we do?
- Individually – Repent, not for being roadkill, but for turning it into your new identity. Certainly we are not saying that what was done is inconsequential or unimportant, but to allow that situation to shape us is wrong and grieves the very God who lives in us by His Holy Spirit. And it hurts the Body - either because we pull away or because we leak out toxic, jaded attitudes and comments (Heb. 12:5). Deal with it, and let us help you deal with it.
- Leaders – need, at times, to repent of what has been allowed to go on - harming the bride
- Christ followers – we may need to repent of an unforgiving heart
• Recalibrate: what would Kingston and the world see in the body of believers if we lived in the freedom that Christ offers us and if we saw the beauty he sees when he looks at his Bride…? What if we lived in the freedom to put off satisfying ourselves and choosing instead to serve one another in love?
God has put huge potential in all of us. If we are unified, rooted in Christ, with a common purpose, valuing and celebrating our diversity, what could happen?
Mark Kotchapaw – firstname.lastname@example.org
Carmen Gauvin-O’Donnell – email@example.com
Meredith MacKenzie – firstname.lastname@example.org
If interested in joining or starting a small group contact email@example.com
FOR FURTHER READING
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. 1954: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc. 128 pp. ISBN 978-0060608521. Pastor Bonhoeffer's experience of Christian community in an underground seminary during the Nazi years reads like one of Paul's letters. It gives practical advice on how life together in Christ can be sustained in families and groups.
DeYoung, Kevin with Ted Kluck. Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. 2009: Moody Publishing, 224 pp. ISBN 978-0802458377. A great book written in response to the spate of “Get-out-of-the-Institutional-Church” books written a few years ago.
DeYoung, Kevin, Editor. Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day. 2011: Crossway Books, 256 pp. ISBN 978-1433521690. This book introduces young, new, and under-discipled Christians to the most essential and basic issues of faith in general and of evangelicalism in particular.
Kimball, Dan. They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. 2007: Zondervan Carr Books, 208 pp. ISBN 978-0310245902. An interesting look at reasons offered by both believers and non-believers alike for disliking the Church and how to deal with the issue.
Ortberg, John. Who is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. 2012: Zondervan Books, 208 pp. ISBN 978-0310275954. Ortberg reveals how Jesus has impacted civilization and individual human hearts.