|Posted on 30 April, 2015 at 10:15|
Philip Yancey a well known Christian author wrote a book called “Church, Why Bother?” In this book he asks the difficult questions, ‘Why are there so many more professing Christians than churchgoing Christians? Is it because something is wrong with the church?” Hard but good questions. Sadly this picture may be true of many churches today in India. Just recently I called a plumber to my house for some work, and after realizing I was a pastor he responded with “Praise the Lord”. I was surprised to hear this Christian greeting from this man and asked him what church he belongs to. He was quick to tell me the name of the church, and when I asked if he went last week, he told me “No, I only go for Christmas, Easter, and some other functions.”
Sadly church has lost its meaning for many, and is no longer a necessity for people anymore, as many Christian’s priorities have changed – but God’s priority has not. The Church of Jesus Christ has always been God’s priority. God’s design and plan for the church was to restore a people back to himself who would reflect his Grace, mercy and love to a world lost in the darkness of their sins. God’s purpose for the church was always the same, that his bride would influence the culture for the glory of Christ – not the other way around.
Ephesians 5:25Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”. This sacrificial love is the strongest type of love that can ever be demonstrated, and it is this love that Christ has shown for His Church. It was for His Church, not for an organization, or the family or even the government that Christ died – it was for his Church. God’s plan for Christians can only be experienced and fulfilled when connected with the local church. It is the local church which has been commissioned by God to carry out His purpose in reaching the lost and perfecting the saved. Although there are so many “para”church organizations trying to attempt Gods mission, it is only through the local church that Christians will successfully fulfill His command. Remember what Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)? “ And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (his confession of faith in Christ) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
If the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, why then do so many churches feel like hell itself, and why do so many church goers act like the devil? And why is the church in India, largely so ineffective and weak? In order to answer this question we need to ask another question first – what is a biblical church?
· A Biblical Definition of “Church”
First we need to make some observations about a biblical definition of the church. The word “church” in the NT never refers to a building or a place. It always refers to a people. In the NT the word “church” also is used to refer to the group of believers in a particular city and in a particular house. For example, Acts 11:22Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) refers to the “church in Jerusalem,” 1 Corinthians 1:2Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) refers to the “church of God which is at Corinth,” 1 Thessalonians is addressed (in 1:1) “to the church of the Thessalonians,” and so on. 1 Corinthians 16:19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) says, “The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Priscilla, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.” In Colossians 4:15Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) Paul sends greetings “to Nympha and the church in his house.” And Paul’s letter to Philemon is also addressed to “the church in your house.”
John Piper defines a local church like this: “a local church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly to worship God through Jesus Christ, to be exhorted from the Word of God, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper under the guidance of duly appointed leaders.”
According to his own definition, John Piper lists seven qualifications if a group wants to be a church in the New Testament sense.
1) The people must give evidence that they are believers—that they trust Jesus as Savior and Lord. The NT makes it clear that we are adopted into the family of God through faith (John 1:12Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 13Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Perhaps this is the key to answering the questions above. How does a group of people call themselves a church and they do not even know or belong to Christ? Jesus said in John 4:24Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” So many professing Christians, worship God just like our Hindu friends –“ in substance and lies.” Satan easily deceives us into believing if we go to a church building with beautiful windows and a pretty garden then surely God is there. Our faith must be in Christ alone, not anything else if we are to claim to be a church of Jesus Christ.
2) The people must be baptized. Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) that the way to make disciples was by “baptizing them . . . and teaching them.” This was the uniform practice in the early church.
3) There must be a regular assembling. A group of people who only came together say once a year could not rightly be called a local church because there are essential activities of the church which lose their meaning when not done corporately. Therefore Hebrews 10:25Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) commands us not to neglect to meet together.
4) Among these meetings there must be gatherings for worship. This follows inevitably from the ultimate value placed on Jesus Christ who calls us together and from our relation to God through him. The church is destined to live to the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:6Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 12Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 14Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)); therefore, it would contradict our new nature, not to assemble for worship (Acts 2:47Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); Romans 15:6Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 7Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).
5) Our meetings must include exhortation from the Word of God. We were born anew through the living and abiding Word of God (1 Peter 1:23Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)); and our life in Christ is preserved not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). The shepherds of the church are the provision God has made for feeding his sheep, and are not to neglect the teaching of the Word of God. Acts 2:42Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), tell us the early church continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine. In order to be a biblical church we must never forsake the word of God. A church that neglects the scripture, the gospel, the very teachings of the bible, disqualifies them self from being a New Testament church. (Sadly there are too many like that!)
6) Along with worship and exhortation we must celebrate the Lord’s Supper in order to be the church. We are commanded to “do this in remembrance” of Christ (Luke 22:19Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); 1 Corinthians 11:24Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Neglecting this ordinance might seem inconsequential at first, but I think a church will bleed to death through that amputation.
7) Finally, all of this must take place with the guidance of duly appointed leaders. Paul appointed elders in all the churches (Acts 14:23Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)), he gave instruction about the qualifications of deacons and elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and he said that Christ had given pastor-teachers to the church to equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:1Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 12Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).
This definition is useful to help us determine what groups are and are not churches. For example, Christian student meetings, Social work groups, Prayer Meeting groups, Bible Study Fellowships, Benevolent societies, Christian youth clubs, Mission hospitals etc —are not local churches. They have tremendous value while working alongside and in harmony with the churches, but they can never replace the local church. This is important to distinguish because no Christian should participate in any of these groups (or others like them) while neglecting the regular life of the local church.
· The Ultimate Goal of the Church.
The ultimate goal of the church is to live in such a way that God’s wisdom (and all the other aspects of his glory) will be displayed to the world. Jesus himself says in John 15:8Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) that we glorify God by making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church’s job is to live so that people can see that God is real, and turn to the church in order to find Christ, the world’s only hope.
Jesus said, in Matthew 5:16Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) to his disciples, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Are there any deeds that you and your church have done or planned that should people look at would conclude that God deserves their praise? Or is the life of your church made up only of deeds which point all the praise to themselves? Ephesians 1:6Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) says that we exists “for the praise of God’s glory”.
Churches are dying today because their preaching and preachers are unable to motivate and inspire the congregation to do anything that the lost world could look at and see Jesus Christ. Can your community look at your church and say “There is evidence that God is real and that he is glorious”? Many churches have forgotten why they exist; and when a church forgets that it exists for the glory of God, it becomes in-grown and self-satisfied and can go on year after year like a social club with a religious veneer.
Is your church able to sincerely pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” Let us always remember the head of the church is Christ, we are His possession, we have been saved for His glory – He does not exist for our benefit, like some type of mystical Aladdin’s lamp that we rub when we want something from Him. 1 Peter 2:9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) says “But ye are a elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:”
The Church is God’s priority; it is what Christ shed his precious blood for. If this is so precious to Christ, surely it needs to be precious to us. Let us give her the love and devotion that she deserves. For that will bring all glory to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Christ is victorious, and He has promised victory to His Church. Let us quit living as if the church has already been defeated. Rather, let the true Church of Jesus Christ shine. May she declare the excellencies (gospel) of Jesus Christ to a world lost in the darkness of their sin, and bring glory to His wonderful name.