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TEXT: I Timothy 3:14-16
SUBJECT: Stop Dating the Church #5
After taking a couple of weeks off, we now return to our study of the little book, Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the Family of God. The author is Joshua Harris, a thirty-something pastor in Maryland. Coming to faith early in life, he became a well-known author and conference speaker, and assumed a leadership role among young believers.
All the while having little or no use for the local church. He wasn't against the church, it just wasn't his thing. Until he heard a series of sermons preached by CJ Mahaney, from which he learned the church ought to be his thing because it is Christ's thing. This is what the book is about: Being committed to the church because our Lord is committed to the church.
Our format is the same as before. I will summarize the chapter as quickly as I can and then we'll talk about it. Everyone is invited to join the discussion and we'll quit no later than 3:00.
Today we come to chapter 5, which is titled, Choosing Your Church: The Ten Things that Matter Most. When I started preparing my talk, I planned to cover the whole chapter, but it's got too much in it to do that, so, we'll look at the first five today and numbers six to ten next Sunday afternoon, the Lord willing.
When it comes to settling down in a church, we must beware of perfectionism. Some believers are too picky about the church. Unless an assembly does everything right and nothing wrong, they'll have no part of it. Or, in less extreme cases, they will come on Sunday mornings, but they will always have one foot out the door.
You mustn't be this way! Because your Savior is not this way. Read Revelation chapters 2-3, and you'll see He walked among the churches and held them in His right hand, even when they were far from what they ought to have been.
What is a Christian? Martin Luther said he is one who is both righteous and sinning at the same time. What's true of the Christian is also true of the Christian Church. No church is perfect, nor is any church near perfection. We have to accept this, and give our imperfect selves to an imperfect church. At least we have something in common!
To say no church is perfect-or nearly perfect-however, is not to say all churches are the same. Or that you ought to join a church no matter what it teaches or stay in a church no matter how it lives.
THE THINGS THAT MATTER MOST
What should we be looking for in a church? Or, working for? We all have our preferences, but this chapter is not about personal likes or dislikes. It's not about song leaders vs. worship teams; it's not about The King James Version vs. The NIV. It's about the things that matter most, the things that honor God and promote holiness in His people.
THE WORD OF GOD IS FAITHFULLY TAUGHT
At the top of the list is the faithful teaching of God's Word. Note the word, 'faithful'. All preachers are not created equal. Some are more gifted than others. But whether the man is brilliant and learned and polished or not, he has to teach the Bible.
This means more than reading a text or peppering his sermon with Bible verses. It means he tells you what the Scripture says.
Why is the faithful preaching of God's Word so important? For the same reason 'eating' is so important. Take away most of your food and you'll become sick. Take it all away and you will die. What food is to the body, the Word of God-read and preached-is to the soul. A poor diet of God's Word will make you spiritually sick, and with no Word, your soul will die. Many verses could be cited to this effect, the one I know best is Matthew 4:4, which is a quote of Deuteronomy 8:3-
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
SOUND DOCTRINE MATTERS
A second thing you ought to be looking for is this: in a good church, sound doctrine matters. Not only is the Word of God taught, it is understood and believed.
If not all preachers are created equal, then neither are all hearers. Some will sit under the clearest and most Biblical sermons, only to keep their screwy beliefs-and often, without knowing it! If a few people do this, there's nothing to worry about, it's a good church.
But if most everyone is this way, you've got a problem! Because, however sincere the preacher is, the church doesn't care what he says, or to be exact: they don't care what God says.
This is not what you want in a church. Because hearing the Word is not enough. The Word has got to matter! It was our Savior who said-
Take heed what you hear, and Let these sayings sink down into you.
This commitment to sound doctrine does not mean a church will get everything right, nor can we expect it to. It has to get the basics right or it is no church. But, while secondary doctrines are not necessary, an interest in the truth is. Because without it, no doctrine is safe-not even the ones we can't live without.
If you study the history of American Protestantism in the 1920's-30's, you'll see all the Churches were rocked by heresy, and some ruined by it. But, what's interesting about the story is how few believed these false doctrines at the time. Only a small minority of pastors denied the Deity of Christ or the authority of the Bible. Yet they were able to lead big churches into damnable doctrines.
Why? Not because all (or most) of the people believed the heresy they heard on Sundays, but because they didn't care. If the pastor was 'nice' that was good enough for them.
Every pastor ought to be nice, but nice is not enough. Pastors have to get and keep their doctrine right, and the best way to make them do it is for the churches to care about doctrine.
THE GOSPEL IS CHERISHED AND CLEARLY PROCLAIMED
The third quality of a good church is the place it affords the Gospel. In many churches, the Gospel is for the lost, and the Law is for the saved. This means, evangelistic sermons are preached on Christmas, Easter, and other special occasions, but for most of the year, the members get a list of dos and don'ts.
The dos and don'ts may come straight out of the Bible, but this kind of teaching is not Biblical and it cannot be lived on for long. It is not Biblical because the Gospel is at the center of God's Word. And, it cannot be lived on for long because Rules don't forgive us and they don't make us forgiving.
Beware of churches, therefore, that specialize in anything but the Gospel! For the Gospel-and it alone-remains-
The power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
Including people who are already saved.
COMMITMENT TO REACHING NON-CHRISTIANS WITH THE GOSPEL
A fourth characteristic of a good church is its commitment to evangelism, by which I mean reaching the lost with the Gospel. Evangelism is not an option for the church and does not depend on a special calling or gift. Just before ascending to heaven, our Lord told the disciples-and through them, He told the church-to-
Preach the Gospel to every creature.
To not preach the Gospel, therefore, is to disobey the Lord, even if-like me-you're shy and don't know what to say. This can be taken too far, of course. You've heard the people yelling at passersby at the Antique Faire or you've seen the vans with the big words, Repent or Else printed on the sides. While I admire the courage of people who reach out in these ways, I do not admire their wisdom or think they do much good.
But this is not our temptation, is it? If Hyper-Evangelism is the folly of the few, little or no evangelism is the fault of the many. Without running amok, good churches care about their neighbors and try to win them to Christ.
When we don't care about the lost, something happens to the church. We grieve the Holy Spirit-for He cares about the lost, and we become ingrown and self-satisfied. These are not the marks of a healthy church and, when not repented of, they will demoralize every member.
When it comes to evangelism, my example and leadership leave much to be desired. Forgive me for this wrong and pray for me, that I would live up to what I truly believe. I sincerely believe the Gospel is worthy of all acceptance, but I still find myself silent when I should be speaking.
Thankfully, not everyone is this way. We ought to mark these dear brothers and sisters, and follow them.
HONEST AND HUMBLE LEADERSHIP
Finally, in looking for a good church, look for honest and humble leaders. If you read the sign out front, you'll see I'm the pastor of Grace Baptist Church. This, however, is not technically correct. I'm an under-pastor. The Senior Pastor is Jesus Christ, who showed the kind of man He was by washing the disciples' feet.
Many bad things can be overlooked in pastors, and should be. But, allowing for weakness and inconsistency, they've got to be men of integrity and humility.
Integrity means they're not crooks; they're not phonies; they don't excuse in themselves what they condemn in others.
Humility means, if nothing else, they can be corrected, and they can laugh at themselves.
These are the first five marks of a healthy church. It's what you ought to look for when you're looking for a church, and it's what we ought to be or at least want to be.
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