Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What is the Purpose of the Church?

If I were to ask you, “what is the purpose of the church”, would you be able to give me a sound biblical answer? I wonder how many would have his or her own ideas of the purpose of the church rather than what God has revealed in His Word is the purpose of the church. I wonder how many go to church for the wrong reasons. You see, the reason you go to church is what you believe to be the purpose of the church. Do you go to be entertained? Do you go to have your social needs met by being around other people? Do you go because you believe going to church to be your spiritual duty? Do you go to church because you believe that church is to be all about you and that the church is supposed to meet whatever needs you feel you may have?

None of those reasons, along with a myriad of other reasons that you could come up with, are the Lord’s purpose for His church. We are living in a day of utilitarian religion – where Christ and His Church are utilized for selfish and secondary reasons. We are living in a day when many are trying to define the purpose of the church but they are doing it based on their own understanding and not by relying totally on what God has revealed in His Word.

Robert Schuller has said that the church must be willing to die as a church and be re-born as a mission. Now that sounds real spiritual and might even sound right at first glance, but God has never intended for the church to be a mission. For the church to be a mission would mean that the church would have to become a gathering of the lost rather than a gathering of the saints who have been called out of the world. Schuller put it this way in his book, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation,
For the church to address the unchurched with a theocentric attitude is to
invite failure in mission. The non-churched who have no vital belief in a
relationship with God will spurn, reject, or simply ignore the theologian,
church spokesperson, preacher, or missionary who approaches with Bible in hand,
theology on the brain and the lips, and expects nonreligious persons to suspend
their doubts and swallow the theocentric assertions as fact….It was appropriate
for Calvin and Luther to think theocentrically. After all, “Everyone was in the
church” and the issues were theological not philosophical. For them, the central
issue was, “What is the truth in theology?” The reformers didn’t have to impress
the unchurched so there was no need for them to take the “human needs” approach.
They were a church after all, not a mission. They would “proclaim the Word of
the Lord,” and all had better listen! Time and history have changed all that.
Today the sincere, Christian believer is a minority. So the church must be
willing to die as a church and be born again as a mission. We cannot speak out
with a “Thus saith the Lord” strategy when we are talking to people who couldn’t
care less about the Lord! We cannot start with “What does the text say?” if
we’re talking to persons who aren’t about to affirm respect for or unquestioning
obeisance to “the text.” (pages 12-13).

So for Robert Schuller, the church must stop being a gathering place for the saints and begin being a gathering place for unbelievers. In order for the church to do that it must die as a church, quit preaching God’s Word, and take a “human needs” approach to attract the lost. In other words, Robert Schuller says that the church is to abandon the real purpose that the Lord established her for and needs to learn how to bring in the crowds by learning how to be “Seeker-Sensitive.” In Schuller’s plan the services are geared toward unbelievers and neglects building up the saints in the faith.

Men like Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and many others have taken Schuller’s philosophy and expanded upon it furthering the corruption of the purpose of the church. In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren cleverly shows how to cause your church to die as a church and become a mission without ever setting off too many alarms for those who should know better. Chapter fourteen of Rick Warren’s book is entitled, Designing a Seeker-Sensitive Service. In it he cleverly gives a philosophical reason rather than a theological reason for not preaching the whole counsel of God and for being more concerned with gathering a larger crowd than growing loyal Christians. He said,
“Growing up in a Christian home, I was often frustrated when I brought
nonbelieving friends to church. It seemed inevitable that whenever I’d get one
of my friends to attend a service with me, that would be the Sunday my father
would preach on tithing, some guest missionary would show slides, or we’d have a
communion service – not what my unsaved friends needed to hear or experience”
(page 251).
Warren went on to ask, “What is the most natural way to increase the number of visitors to your church? And he answered by saying, “The answer is quite simple: Create a service that is intentionally designed for your members to bring their friends to. And make the service so attractive, appealing, and relevant to the unchurched that your members are eager to share it wit the lost people they care about” (page 253).

But enough of what men have to say is the purpose of the church; what does God say is the purpose of the church? According to God’s Word is the ministry of the church to evangelize sinners or equip the saints?

First, the church service is the place for the saints to show up (4:11-12a).

The word "church" means, “gathering of the called out ones.” Therefore church services are to be a place of preaching and teaching for the equipping of the saints – and cannot be “Seeker-Sensitive” without departing from the preaching and teaching necessary to equip the saints. Evangelizing the sinner is supposed to take place outside the church services – equipping the saints is what is to take place inside the church services.

Our goal is not to bring people to church first and then to Christ later – our goal is to bring people to Christ first and then they come to church because they are now part of His body and now they love His people. “The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now” (1 John 2:9). “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).

I’m not saying that lost people can’t come to church and shouldn’t be welcome at our services – they can and they are – but we cannot gear our services around them and refuse to do what God has called us to do. We should be so God-focused that sinners are convicted – (1 Cor. 14:23-25). Or as Gary Gilley put it, "Evangelism was the one biblically mandated function in which believers engaged outside of the assembled church. They did not invite friends to the church gatherings to win them to Christ. The church services were not geared for the unbelievers but for the saints" (source).

Second, the church service is the place for the saints to grow up (4:12b-16)

We grow in our ability to serve the Lord and others (12b) - "For the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."

We grow in the faith – the Word of God (13a) - "Until we all attain to the unity of the faith." We grow together in our knowledge of the Word of God and attain unity in that knowledge.

We grow in the knowledge the Son of God (13b) - "And of the knowledge of the Son of God." Growing together in our knowledge of the Word of God (the faith) leads to growing together in our knowledge of the Son of God. This is essential because this is how we are transformed more and more into His image - we become like what or who we worship!

We grow in Christ-likeness (13c) - "To a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to Christ." As we grow in our knowledge of the Word of God we grow in our knowledge of the Son of God and are transformed by the Spirit of God as we behold the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).

We grow in discernment (14) - "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." The growing saint will begin to be able to know the difference between theology and philosophy; between sound doctrine and strange doctrine; between true teachers and false teachers; and between truth and error.

We grow in truth (15) - "But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ." Jesus is truth and as we grow in all aspects into Him we grow in truth.

We grow in love (16) - "From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body, for the building up of itself in love." We learn how interdependent God has made us of each other and we learn to love each other and build up the church in love.

Third, the church service is the place for the saints to clean up (4:17-24)

It is in the church service that we learn to take off our grave clothes and put on our resurrection clothes. This is the business of the Christian and the church. We are to help people who have been called out of death into life to take off their grave clothes. After Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, He told the people standing around to “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44) – “And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

We should no longer look like, talk like, or smell like the lost and dead world. We should put on our resurrection clothes and dress up to the high and holy calling that we have as children of God. We should engage in helping others to get out of the tomb and out of their grave clothes. After all, this is what we have been commissioned to do by our living Lord and Savior. This is the purpose of the church and we cannot do this if we are always attempting to “evangelize the sinner” rather than equipping the saints.

I’m reminded of a poster that pictured some middle-eastern men out in front of their village with a Jeep with its hood up and these men were looking under the hood at the engine. And the caption below this picture said, “Who cares whether we know how it’s supposed to work? We’re going to take a crack at fixing it.” (See it here). That is exactly what is going on with the doctrine of the Church today with all these arising apostate movements. They are trying to tell us how to do Church when they don’t know how it’s supposed to work. Let’s do Church God’s way and let the saints show up, grow up and clean up for the glory of God and His kingdom.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How to Keep from Stumbling...Behold the Lord

Apostates are a major cause of stumbling for the people of God as they enter in among us and soil and stain the bride of Christ with their sensuality, carnality, and rebellion all disguised as spirituality.

God in His love, mercy, and grace has told us in His word how to keep from stumbling in these days of apostasy. In Jude 17-25, Jude gave four instructions to follow if we would stand firm, not stumble, and resist the apostates: (1) Believe God’s Word (17-19), (2) Build our Christian life (20-21), (3) Battle for backsliders (22-23), and (4) Behold the Lord (24-25).

If we want to keep our feet on the ground spiritually, walk straight, and not stumble, not only must we believe God’s Word, build our Christian lives, and battle for backsliders, we must also yield ourselves fully to the Lord. This well-known benediction contains a wealth of spiritual truth for the believer to receive. It shows the majesty and glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and places our focus, worship, and hope on Him who alone is able to keep us from stumbling and make us stand in the presence of His glory blameless and with great joy.

The Lord Jesus Christ is going to present His bride the church, those redeemed by His blood, blameless, in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, before the throne of His Father. The Father has covenanted with the Son that all of His people will one day see and share His glory. The purpose of salvation is not simply to rescue sinners from hell but for the grand purpose that God may be glorified for all eternity. Our salvation is to result in the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

Today there are spots and blemishes in the church, but on that day God’s people shall be blameless. There will have been a full and complete separation between the true and the false and Satan will find nothing to accuse. The bride will be arrayed in the righteousness of Christ to the glory of God.

Knowing this the believer has a strong motive for living for Christ and obeying His Word. We want to live for Him because He gave Himself up for us and we want to be pleasing to Him and bring glory to His name. As we behold the Lord and focus on His glory and His return we will live pure and holy lives – “Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

When we behold the Lord, what is it about Him that we see?

First we see that the only wise God is our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. In His perfect and wise plan of redemption, God the Father has provided the only way that He can save sinners without violating His own perfect nature and character. While it is true that Jesus Christ is our Savior, it is also true that God the Father is our Savior because without His perfect plan of salvation and without His willingness to sacrifice His Son for us because He loves us, there would be no Savior. In the Father’s perfect plan of salvation, sinners are transformed into worshipers of God through love and obedience to Jesus Christ and great gratitude to the Father Himself for His willingness to sacrifice His only Son, His Son whom He loves. God is our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. Jude had this in mind when he wrote, “To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ” (1).

Next we see the glory of the Lord. Glory is the sum total of all that God is and all that God does. Everything about Him is glorious! His glory is so great that no man can look directly into His glory and live. Glory has the idea of substance or significance. As we get glimpses of His glory, of His significance, we are transformed into the same image from glory to glory. By beholding the Lord’s glory we understand that He is all significant and that everything is about Him and nothing about anyone or anything else. We are to live for His glory and seek glory for His name and in everything we do, whether we eat or drink, we are to do all to the glory of God.

Then we see the majesty of the Lord. Majesty means greatness or magnificence. Only God is great. When we praise God we praise the most magnificent Person in the universe. Not only does the Lord have all significance, He also has all magnificence. He is not simply King but He is King of kings. He is not simply Lord but He is Lord of lords.

Then we see the dominion of the Lord. Dominion has to do with God’s sovereignty or rule over everything. The Greek word means strength or might but it carries the idea of complete control over everything. He alone has the right to rule and reign because He is glorious and majestic and worthy of dominion. God is in control even in the middle of apostasy. Even when wicked men were nailing His Son to the cross, God was in control and what men intended for evil, God intended for good. And not only that, He is causing all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

And finally we see the authority of the Lord. Authority is the right to use power. All authority belongs to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. As we yield to Him, we share His authority and accomplish His will so that it is from Him and through Him so that the glory goes to Him.

Truly our God is an awesome God. He is wise and loving, He is glorious, He is majestic, He is sovereign, and He is powerful, before all time and now and forever, Amen.