Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Laodicean Legacy Part II


In the last article "The Laodicean Legacy Part I" we looked at the problems that are inherent with a belief that our duty as the church is to cater to the norms of the world. In that article, we talked about the difference between the prepositions "out" and "in" as it relates to the church's Gospel mission. I wanted to expand that a bit by looking at yet another news item that showed up this week. Perhaps you have noticed that much of the secular media has picked up on the report that several megachurches will be cancelling their church services on December 25th. It always interests me when the secular media becomes interested in "religion" - it usually happens when there is a controversy, or even a perceived controversy of some sort. This story is revealing in many ways because CNN continued by saying that many main line "churches" will be open on that day - Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist etc. By the time I read that line, I was reminded that our culture does not know what the church of Jesus Christ is. Defining the church is no small matter, for without a right understanding of what the church is, we would have no hope of comprehending what it is supposed to do. Therefore, let me offer the following summary about the church's calling in Christ: Without a doubt the "church" (ekklesia) is the assembly of the "called ones," that is, those who have been called and redeemed by God. The true church is comprised of those who are the spiritual members of His household, as His children (Ephesians 1:19); we are called the "saints" (hagion) because we have been separated out of the domain of this world and have been set apart in Christ. As the true church, we have a clear mission of serving Him in such a manner that we would be the "pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15); and our assembly as the children of God is so important and needful that we are not at liberty to forsake it (Hebrews 10:24-25), if even in the face of persecution (Hebrews 10:32-39). And as the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3), we assemble together under the teaching of the Word of God for, without God's Word we will become spiritually emaciated and weak:


John 21:15-17: 15...Jesus *said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" ... "Tend My lambs." 16 He *said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" ..."Shepherd My sheep." 17 He *said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" ..."Tend My sheep.

Like Peter, all those who are called to shepherd Christ's sheep (His church) are not at liberty to do as they please according to their own whim and pleasure - they are commanded (three times) to shepherd and feed Christ's own possession, which He purchased with His own blood. The simple point is this: the church is the assembly of God's people (His sheep) and it comes together for the equipping and building up of its members for the work of service:


Ephesians 4:11-12: 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

Now, back to our prepositions (out & in). The primary duty of a pastor is to feed, equip and build up those in the church (Christ's sheep) so that they can do the work of service, which includes going out into the world with the Gospel message. None of what has been said here eliminates the fact that unsaved people will attend church services (1 Corinthians 14:24-25); however, the principal objective of the local church is to build up believers through the teaching of sound doctrine, so that they can carry out the ministry of serving the Lord in all contexts. This simple definition of the church has been steam rolled by the modern "seeker sensitivity" movement. Instead of making Christ's sheep the highest priority, the unbeliever is given pre-eminence, as is revealed in a recent CNN article:


Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray, she said.

"If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" she said.

As the expression goes: "that's a big 'if.'" Parkinson's premise reveals a great deal concerning the philosophy of ministry found in the seeker sensitive movement: "If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched..." A philosophy of ministry such as this reveals to us all that it is not the sheep of Christ who are the focus in their services, rather, it is the "unchurched" as they say. And in view of the fact that in '94 they only had a small number who came to pray, this is offered as a good reason to cancel their services this year. Can you imagine if Peter had cancelled the assembly of the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 2) because he felt that their small number could not justify the use of their "staff" and "volunteer resources"? In mentioning these things, I am not trying to legislate what kind of meetings churches should have on December 25th, what I am concerned about is the overall attitude that the contemporary "church" has over what Christ says is His church (Matthew 16:18). To forsake the assembly of the saints because of what "unchurched" people might do on that day is a grievous proposition. On the contrary, our unique devotion to the brethren, and our fellowship with one another, is what Christ says will be used to show others that we are of Christ and not of this world:


John 13:35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Brethren - these things I mention so that we would be on guard in our own hearts, lest we degrade in our own thinking about Christ's church. And let us be careful to employ biblical language so that we can view our world in a right way. Instead of thinking of people as being "churched" or "unchurched" - we must consider whether they are saved or unsaved people (just as Christ distinguished between the sheep and the goats Matt. 25:31-46); by this we can be reminded of the lost's true and urgent need: they need Christ rather than a program. At this time of year, we often have a greater opportunity to reach out to others for the sake of the Gospel of Christ - may the Lord use us as His instruments to show them the glory of the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.