January 31, 2017
This idea that we just need to be the church speaks to the culture at large in profound ways. There is a lingering skepticism towards anything that is institutional. Whenever people organize around an ideology of any kind the culture around us becomes skeptical.
So, deinstitutionalizing the church seems like a great idea to many people. Instead of having an inclusive group that meets together and works together, we should just deinstitutionalize and every Christian can live out their Christianity however they think best.
46% of people who identify as Evangelical believe to some degree that worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. ~ State of Theology Survey
Even Christians are skeptical about the institution of the church. And I think that’s amazing because the word church in the Bible actually means assembly. The word church suggests a group of people institutionalizing around a common ideology.
I think this growing skepticism of the institution of the church flows naturally from our societies focus on tolerance and inclusivity. Our society values people as individuals and tends to be tolerant towards people’s personal convictions. But, as soon as there is an institution, the institution has to validate every other worldview and become inclusive of people who have those differing worldviews.
Tolerance and inclusivity are considered virtues in today’s society. It’s almost like the only way to be genuinely wrong in western society is to exclude someone else. And this almost seems like a good thing at times. Our society values some good things–biblical things–like ethnic diversity and gender equality.
But, in the name of equality our society rejects roles and any idea that someone might be able to (or called to) carry out a different role in life than anyone else. In other words, anyone who wants to can be the next astronaut, the next billionaire, the next rock star, the next president…the next pope.
Whatever they want, right?
And in the name of diversity, society rejects the notion that one religion might be ‘more right’ than another. Let’s be clear here. People don’t care that we have a club; they care that we have rules for being in the club.
And that’s hardly realistic. No one joins a book club and then insists that the group include watching movies and playing sports instead of reading books. That would be silly; at best that’s just making friends not joining a club.
So when you become a part of the church, you have to be about something that identifies you. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be a church.
So, what are we about? What are the rules for being the church?
Well, today we will look at 3 reasons the church exists that demand exclusivity. The first is that…
‘Truth’ is an abstract concept. We live in a pluralistic and relativistic society. That means people believe in many gods and many religions. And most people believe that any belief is equally valid or equally true as the next.
This isn’t an overstatement or a broad generalization. I’m not painting a picture of society that doesn’t actually represent the reality.
I imagine that, right here in this room, if we were to take a survey of everyone who is pretty certain they are a Christian, we would find that most–possibly all–would agree that Christianity is true and that other religions are false.
Only 60% of people who identify as a Christian fully agree that Jesus is the only way to get to heaven. ~ State of Theology Survey
Do you realize the implications?
That means that 40% of people who identify as Christian believe that other religions are false religions, yet are still valid ways that God will use to bring people into His Kingdom. In other words, 2 out of 5 Christians believe that a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, etc., might receive mercy from God and enter into heaven, even though they all deny the salvific power of the Gospel.
I hope you see that there is a boundary here. Jesus said,
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 ESV
Not the Hindu, not the Buddhist, not the Muslim, not the Atheist. Only through Jesus Christ. The Bible is crystal clear on that.
So, ‘what is true’ is a huge issue when it comes to foundational teachings like this one.
The Apostle Paul says this about truth and teaching:
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 1 Timothy 4:13 ESV
Paul says that the church needs to be devoted to the reading of the Scripture–that is, the Bible–to the exhortation to believe what the Scripture says, and to teach the ins and outs of the scripture. So, that’s what we do here every Sunday morning. And that’s what we are doing in our life groups. We are reading, teaching, and exhorting people to believe what Bible says.
Because the Bible dictates who we are and what we are about as Christians. The Bible creates boundaries that define our belief system.
And maybe you’re confused because last week I said the most import thing is to love. So, you might ask…
Isn’t it more important how we love? Can’t we come together with people of other beliefs in the name of the mission to love people?
And the answer is a question: … Based on what standard do we love? Do we love the sinner by leaving them in their sin? Do we love the idolater by allowing them to worship false gods?
Of course not. We can’t unify with someone in the name of love when their definition of love is different than ours.
The Bible teaches us how to love. Belief in Jesus is a necessary part of love. I mean, without the Bible, we get the marches that took place last week. We had droves of women and men participating in a march for freedom–which is a good and biblical thing. But they wanted the freedom to persecute their unborn children–which is an evil thing.
Without a belief system, how can you know how best to love in such a situation?
We need the truth of the Bible to discern these things. The Bible tells us that God is about the orphans and the widows, the lowly and the downtrodden.
We need truth and that means that the church must differentiate from untruths. We have to be exclusive because we disagree with the beliefs of other people and those disagreements affect our mission.
The church exists to communicate God’s truth in the Bible in order to transform people’s thinking from the untrue thinking of the world. But, also…
I want to spend a moment defining worship here. Worship is not singing songs. Worship is not praying. Worship is not reading the Bible. Worship is not preaching. Worship is expressing devotion to something. Everything we do is worship because everything we do is a reflection of our hearts ultimate desires. We are always, in everything we do, worshiping someone or something.
Reformation preacher, John Calvin, says that the heart of a person is an idol-making factory. An idol is anything we worship that is not God. So, as humans, we are all quite gifted at finding things to devote ourselves to that are not God Himself.
Sometimes we gather for what we call Sunday Morning Worship or Corporate Worship. And if we sing songs and those songs stir our hearts in affection for God and His mercy, then we are indeed worshipping. But, if we come to worship through song and we are consumed with frustration over style or we are irritated by the song choices or we get caught up with lyrics, song keys, and things of that sort, then we don’t worship God; we worship our own sensibilities and our own preferences.
Or if worshiping through song becomes so mundane that your mind wanders from the lyrics and melodies designed to stir your affections towards Christ, and you begin thinking about your plans later that day, or the game you are recording, or you begin making grocery lists in your mind, or whatever, then you have created an idol to worship.
And if we come to worship in prayer and the reading of the Bible, desiring that the time is short and that the end of service come sooner, then we have created an idol of our time and we have created an idol of our attention, because we have refused to allow the very reality of God to stir our affections for Him.
For many Christians, the only time of genuine worship they have is Sunday morning. And there are many reasons for that, most of them stemming from a lack of knowledge or a defect in our priorities. But, the gathering of the Church, particularly on Sunday morning, is to set a pattern or liturgy for our worship that can be emulated throughout the week.
The Church exists to worship God because nothing else deserves our attention more.
And it’s easy to see how the liturgies or patterns of the world are worship of false gods. You know, you see people toiling day and night, week in and week out, working so hard for fleeting pleasures. They live for vacations and weekend parties and grown up toys like houses, cars, and boats, that never provide any real satisfaction. It’s easy to spot these idols.
But, we sometimes get hung up on other gods, that are far more real, and yet we know far too little about them.
I mean, don’t Mormons basically believe the same thing as Christians? Don’t Jewish people share the same Old Testament and worship the same God? Muslims have a lot of the same stories as we do and a lot of the same moral guidelines. Aren’t they worshiping the same God?
46% of self-identified evangelicals somewhat agree that God accepts the worship of pretty much all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. ~ State of Theology Survey
I mean, it really seems like these religions are super similar and God should be able to work through all three. Well, I’m really liking these WWUTT videos. They come from Pastor Gabe at FSBC in Junction City Kansas. Here’s his answer to this question.
Jesus says that pretty clearly. They are worshipping something, but they are not worshipping the creator, the Father God. They worship their father, the devil.
And I hate that because there are some really good people out there. I used to work with some really great Jewish people. I’ve met some Mormons that seem so Christlike in their love, that it’s confusing. And I really like the idea that Muslims are just worshipping the same God, but just differently, and I want that to be OK sometimes.
But, it’s just frankly not true. Paul says that the indwelling of Christ is central to our worship. He says,
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16 ESV
True worship that glorifies the Father is centered on the reality and truth of Jesus Christ. Our words of wisdom, our songs, hymns, scripture readings, all honor God only when they are centered on the reality of Jesus Christ.
Our previous point was that the church must be exclusive in order to communicate truth. You could say, that the church must be exclusive in order to communicate truth SO THAT our worship glorifies God.
And lest it seem as though the church were a super exclusive club that only certain people get to be a part of, let me remind you through our final point that…
When you join a gym, you want to know what you get out of the deal. Joining a church is different, though. When you join a church you should want to know what you are called to give, how you are called to serve.
We ask questions like, What’s my calling, my gifting. what does God want me to do in this church? What’s my purpose here?
Those are healthy questions. But, then sometimes we complain about churches. We say things like, “I’m not getting fed here.” And I think it’s because it’s easy to have the wrong idea about the church.
Maybe you thought you were joining a club with benefits and all that like a gym membership. You thought that the gifts of money you give during the collection time in the service should be returned to you through the music, preaching, teaching, program and so on and so forth. And I get it; that’s what every institution in the Western world offers.
So, why shouldn’t the church work the same way?
Well, because the church isn’t like other clubs. Other clubs exists for their members. Churches exists for non-members.
Look what Jesus says about this.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25–28 ESV
When Jesus says, Gentiles here he is referring to the rest of the world–those who do not worship the one true God. He says the same things we are talking about. There’s one way that the world operates. If you live for this world, then you do so by getting whatever power you can get your hands on and using that power to control others to your own benefit. That’s the way it works.
You pay, you work, you get.
But, Jesus says, ‘It shall not be so among you.’ In other words, in the church, Jesus says you are not to use your wealth or your time or anything else as leverage to get your way.
Because you and I…we’re just not that great. We’re just not. But, there is one who is truly great. And that truly great one is Jesus Christ.
And what’s cool is, even though Jesus is great, he wants us to be great with him. So he tells us the secret to greatness in this passage. It’s what makes Jesus so great. And it’s the only thing that can make you and I great.
Do you see what makes us great?
Jesus said we get greatness by becoming less than others, by becoming a servant of others. We get greatness by using our time, wealth, and influence to lift up and to help other people.
And I don’t want you to miss this.
Some of us spend a great deal of time serving people here in the church and out in the community. And some of us are extremely faithful in our giving. You know, the average Christian gives 2.5% of their wealth to charity. To some people that seems like a lot of their monthly paycheck, especially if you make a lot of money, 2.5% might seem really substantial.
But, in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to give a minimum of 10% to the work God was doing in that day. And many people, especially farmers and landowners, gave quite a bit more than that.
And there are people in this church who give quite a bit more than 2.5% and I think that is commendable. I bet there are people who give more than 10%…I don’t really know who you are because I have safeguards that keep me from seeing giving records. I just see totals. But, I know from looking at those totals that some of you are very generous in your giving.
So, here’s a question!
If you are one of those people who gives lots of time or lots of money to the work of the church, does that make you great? Does that make you great?
Well…I know you anticipated me saying emphatically, ‘NO.’ But, the answer is actually…maybe. The answer is maybe. Because Jesus said he came to serve others and not to be served. So it depends on whether you give to be served OR you give in order to serve others.
Why do you give? Why are you generous?
Listen, when you go to a restaurant and give them money, you expect them to serve you a meal. In this case, you are giving to the restaurant in order to be served. And maybe the service was really good and you can go tell everyone how great the service was at the restaurant.
And when you go on a missions trip, you have to pay money, too. But, no one comes back from a missions trip with stories about how well they were served. If you do, then maybe you aren’t going on missions trips. Maybe you are just going on vacations. Because, when we go on a missions trip, our money goes, not so that we can be served, but so that we can go serve others.
And every day in the Christian life is a missions trip. When we give our time and wealth selflessly to build others up and support others, then we are working towards the greatness of God’s Kingdom. We are working towards Christlike greatness.
But, when our service and our giving comes with expectations–“Well, if I’m going to give, then I need to see such and such happen…” Or, “I’ll help with this service project, but only if we do it such and such a way…”–when our service and giving comes with expectations, then we are probably giving for ourselves and not for others. And that doesn’t result in greatness.
So, this is the thing. Because we say the Church has to be exclusive in order to communicate truth. That can make it seem like your service and giving is tied to the things we do internally: preaching styles, message series topics, teaching and discipleship models–like whether we do life groups or Bible studies–and why don’t we have Sunday school classes! It makes it seem like our service and giving is tied to how well we feel fulfilled by the program of the church.
And then we say that the Church has to be exclusive in order to worship God properly. And the same issue arises. That can make it seem like our service and giving is tied to other internal things: music styles, song choice, prayer models, liturgies, service times, service lengths, and things of that sort. It makes it seem like our service and giving is tied to how well we feel fulfilled by the worship program of the church.
And it’s crazy to feel that way, because, as we said in the last point, true worship that glorifies the Father is centered on the reality and truth of Jesus Christ. Our words of wisdom, our songs, hymns, scripture readings, all honor God only when they are centered on the reality of Jesus Christ. And when we are stirred in our affections for Jesus, the natural outpouring of that is to serve other people … because that what Jesus did!
If you ever come to a worship service and walk away feeling really close to Jesus, but having no affection for those outside the church, then you came to serve yourself and not others. I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just saying what’s true, because if you really feel Jesus’ affection for lost, broken, and needy people, you are certainly going to realize how much you need that as well.
And you are going to realize likewise how much friends, family, neighbors, coworkers and other people in your life also are in great need of experiencing Jesus’ love. True worship of the true God always results in a reorientation of your focus from yourself to other people.
So, I think we will wrap up here. I just have one final thought about why the church is exclusive, why only followers of the Jesus Christ as taught in the Bible, are part of the church. And it’s this.
Being a part of the church means that we are a part of God’s Kingdom. And not just God’s Kingdom now, but God’s Kingdom for eternity. This is what we mean when we talk about salvation. We mean that we don’t want to perish with this world, but we want to be saved from death and enter into God’s eternal Kingdom.
I’ve mentioned this before, that Christianity is the only fair religion. Because only with Christianity do we find a God who gives everyone exactly what they want, exactly what their hearts desire.
Some people hate God and they want nothing to do with Him. To them, God grants eternal separation from Himself. The Bible isn’t clear on what that’s going to be like, but it’s clear that people who reject God will never have to experience God in their eternal place. They get what they want.
And some people love God. So, to them, God grants eternal communion with Himself. They get exactly what they want.
Many of the Jews hated Jesus. They spit on him, beat him, and ultimately killed him. God won’t grant these people salvation because they don’t want it. They don’t want to spend eternity with Jesus.
Islam rejects Jesus as being God. They believe that in the end, Jesus will return similar to the way the Bible prophets proclaim. But, in the Muslim’s book, the Quran, Jesus submits to Muhammed and judges the world according to the Quran’s law, under the authority of Muhammed.
If Muhammed was so offended by Christianity that he manufactured this myth, that Jesus–the all-powerful and all-authoritative God–would ultimately submit to himself, then I can’t imagine any Muslim wanting to spend eternity in Jesus’s Kingdom. It makes no sense. So, God gives them what they desire–separation from Himself.
And the logic follows to every other religious group.
Mormon’s don’t want to be with God, they want to be God themselves. So, God sends them away where they don’t have to be with Him.
Atheists choose to live as if there is no god, and so eternally, they will continue to experience a reality without God.
Only in Christianity does everyone get what they are looking for.
So, I’ll ask you. What are you looking for? Do you want to spend eternity separated from God and everything good He has created? Or would you rather spend eternity separated from God?
The choice is yours. The church is exclusive, but our doors are open. Everyone who wants to come, may come. Everyone who wants to spend eternity with God can come. And you can come today.
I’m going to pray for you and then we are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. If you are here and you want to know more about being a part of Jesus’ church, or if you want to know what it means to spend eternity with God, or if you have questions, I would just encourage you, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper, don’t receive the bread and the cup, but from your seat, pray to God.
And there are no magic words. Just in your own way and with your own words, tell God that you want to be a part of His Kingdom. And then mark the box on your Next Step card that says, ‘Commit to follow Christ for the first time’ and put it in the collection plate at the end of service.
Or talk to one of the people you’ve seen up on stage today, myself or anyone else. And tell them you want to be part of God’s Kingdom and we would be overjoyed to talk to you about that.