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TEXT: Hebrews 10:19-25

SUBJECT: Stop Dating the Church #3

Today we come to chapter 3 in our study of Joshua Harris's little book, Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the Family of God. The title is a bit too hip for my taste, but the message is important and urgent.

It's about commitment to the local church, by which Harris means more than putting your name on a roll. He means pouring your life into the life of your church. His message is captured in the hymn, I love thy kingdom, Lord. Speaking of the church, it says-

For her my tears shall fall,

For her my prayers ascend;

To her my toils and cares be given,

Till toils and cares shall end.

This is what the book is about: giving yourself to the church and sticking with it, even when it would be easier and less aggravating not to.

The format will be the same as before. I'll summarize the chapter in 15-20 minutes, open it up for discussion, and finish no later than 3:00. Everyone is welcome to chime in on the topic, but please, stay on topic.

Which is.

Why We Really Need the Local Church

THE KEY WORD

Please mark the word, really. Pretty much everyone agrees there is some need for the church. But how great is the need? Is the church more like the radio in your car-or the transmission? Is it a nice accessory to the Christian life. Or something more?

NOT REALLY

Some Christians have little or no use for the local church. They fall into three categories. Some don't go to church at all. Believing they can worship God as well or better in bed than they do in the pew, they make no pretense of looking for a good church. They're satisfied without the church. Or maybe, 'smug' is the word I'm looking for. Thankfully, not many Christians feel this way.

Others go to church most Sundays, but never settle down at any particular church. They like the Baptist church for a while, but when it starts boring them, they move on to the Bible church. When the pastor says something they don't agree with, it's on to the Presbyterians, until they change music styles, at which time, they try out the Lutherans. On and on it goes. They are to churches what humming birds are to flowers: always hovering, never landing.

Others are just not cut out for wandering. They go to one church-often for many years-but they never quite give themselves to it. They seldom miss the worship service, but that's the full extent of their commitment. They are perpetual visitors.

The three groups differ in many ways, but on one thing, they all agree: the local church is not really important to them.

SIMPLE OBEDIENCE

Joshua Harris finds this deeply disturbing. And he's not alone. Charles Colson, of Watergate infamy, and for more than 30 years a thoughtful and outspoken Christian says-

Of course every believer is part of the universal church. But for any Christian who has a choice in the matter, failure to cleave to a particular church is failure to obey Christ.

Knowing many Christians do not admire this Charles, Harris quotes the other Charles, the one we all love, Charles Spurgeon--

I know there are some who say, 'Well I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church'.

Now why not?

'Because I can be a Christian without it'.

Are you quite sure about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord's commands as by being obedient?

Are they right? Does the Lord command us to give ourselves to the church? Or is giving ourselves to Him enough? I refer you to the verses I read a few minutes ago, Hebrews 10:19-25.

The theme of Hebrews is Christ above all. He is above the angels, above Moses, above Joshua, above Canaan, above the Sabbath, and-getting closer to our verses-above Aaron and the sacrifices he offered to God.

The old sacrifices gave sinners access to the tabernacle on earth-and this was a very great privilege. But the Sacrifice of Christ gives us access to the Tabernacle in Heaven, in other words, into the very Presence of God. Where, for Christ's sake we are welcome! This is our highest privilege. We can come to God boldly and not one time, but every day, many times a day, as often as we want. The word translated, draw near in v.22 is in the present tense, meaning-

Keep on drawing near.

The Lord is keen on our fellowship. Like any good Father, He enjoys the company of His children.

If we have His fellowship, what more could we possibly need? This is where I would end the chapter. But the writer of Hebrews doesn't stop there. He goes on to tell the people who are constantly drawing near to God to draw near to each other too. And not in a mystical way, but in the practical way of going to church-

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves as some have done, but encouraging one another, and so much the more as we see the day approaching.

This is the command of God: Go to church-not as a perennial visitor, a spectator, but as a member sharing in its life, which includes assembling, considering one another, and stirring each other up to good works.

What is commanded here is assumed everywhere in the New Testament. When 3,000 were saved on the Day of Pentecost, they were baptized that day, and starting then, they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers.

Most of Paul's Epistles are written to local churches-in Galatia, for example, or Ephesus. The ones that aren't were sent to men working in local churches, Titus in Crete, for example, Philemon in Colosse, and so on.

If we're commanded to give ourselves to the local church and if the early Christians (under the direct supervision of the Apostles) gave themselves to the local church, how can we say 'the local church doesn't matter'? Or, 'if it matters, it doesn't' matter much'?

Going back to Spurgeon, how can we say, being a disobedient Christian is the same as obeying our Lord?

We really need the local church because God says we do. Whether we feel our need or not, Father knows best.

THE GIFTS

A second reason we really need the local church is because its gifts serve our needs. Every Christian Church is charismatic-not that we all speak in tongues, of course, or see visions-but we are all gifted by God's grace (this is what charisma really is). The gifts-Peter and Paul tell us-are given to each for the benefit of all.

This means you need what I can do for you and I need what you can do for me. But what can I do for you if you're never here? And what can you do for me if I don't get to know you or let you know me?

Let me give an example. Suppose a man in church is struggling with bitterness. His wife did him wrong and he can't let go of it. He has confessed his sin and prayed for help, but, so far, the Lord hasn't been there for him.

But wait a minute. In the spring of this year, I preached several weeks on bitterness. The first week the man stayed home because he was tired. The second week he was busy. Week three he visited another church and heard an excellent sermon on wives loving their husbands (and wondered why his didn't). The following Sunday he got here late and couldn't follow the sermon. Then he came so sleepy he dozed off during the sermon, and finally, when he came on time and well-rested, he thought my sermon was lop-sided (because it didn't address the matter I talked about the week before-which he slept through!).

The man prayed for help and the Lord gave it to him, if only he had been here to receive it!

Don't mistake me: Preaching is not the only gift our Lord gave the Church. Nor is it the only important gift. They're all important, and they will do you good if only you get involved in church life and let the grace of God come to you through His People.

You need to give yourself to the church because you need what we have-the gifts of God.

CONFIRM OR DENY

The third reason you really need the local church is: To verify or falsify your salvation. If this sounds explosive and open to abuse, it is. But it is also true.

Our Lord told His disciples-

Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,

And whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

The church is not your Savior and not your judge. These roles belong to Christ and to no one else. But the Word of God preached at church and the lives lived in the church often reveal what you are-for better or worse.

Alice is an insecure woman. Brought up by demanding parents who criticized her too often and never praised her, she has always felt inadequate. Five years ago, she heard the Gospel, believed, and, for the first time in her life, felt loved and accepted and worthwhile. But, after the excitement wore off, she forgot to pray some days and skipped Bible reading once-in-a-while. She was more content that she used to be, but was far from rejoicing with a joy unspeakable and full of glory. Alice began to wonder if she was a Christian at all. Can the Lord love a person who still sins, and sins as often as I do? For weeks she stayed home from church brooding over her sins and doubting God's love. But then a friend called her up and said, 'See you in Church tomorrow'. Not wanting to disappoint her friend, Alice sneaked in late, hid in the nursery, and heard the Bible reader read I John 2. The second verse spoke to her-

If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

For weeks all Alice could think about was what a terrible sinner she was. But on Sunday, she heard terrible sinners have an attorney pleading their case in heaven, who is also the Judge's Son. Her salvation was powerfully confirmed.

Patrick has got a serious problem with anger. When you do what he wants you to do, he's the nicest guy in the world. But when you cross him, he goes off like a volcano. And never apologizes. He's been called on it several times, but it only makes him madder. Finally, after months of working with him, the church finds him as angry as ever, and not the least bit sorry for his sin.

He's confronted privately, then in a small group, and finally before the whole church. Unwilling to listen, he is put out. The church has not passed final judgment on the man, but it has said, this kind of conduct is not consistent with being a Christian, and unless you repent, Patrick, you will perish. Because he knows his Bible and is a pretty good man in some ways, Patrick thinks he is a Christian. But he's wrong, for the word of God says revilers or railers have no place in the church and are subject to God's judgment (cf. I Corinthians 5).

At work, in the neighborhood or even in the family there is no one to confirm Alice's salvation or to deny Patrick's. That's why they-and we-really need the church.

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