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TEXT: I Timothy 3:14-16
SUBJECT: Stop Dating the Church #6
Today, with God's blessing, we will finish Chapter 5 of Joshua Harris' little book, Stop Dating the Church and Fall in Love with the Family of God. As the title suggests, it is about commitment to the local church.
This commitment can be overdone, of course. A few Christians make more of the church than they ought to; they all but turn it into their god. But, if a handful of believers worship the church, shiploads go the other way: they ignore the church or make it number 100 on their list of things to do and care about.
The church ought to mean a lot to us because it means a lot to Christ. He loved it enough to go to the cross for its salvation, and to stay with us, even when we are not good company. If Christ is loyal to His church, we ought follow Him, and be this way ourselves.
Chapter 5 is called, Choosing Your Church: The Ten Things that Matter most. We looked at the first five last week. In finding a church, you ought to ask yourself the following questions:
No church will get a perfect score. But this is not about perfection-or the next thing to it. It's about faithfulness and priorities. A church has got to be faithful to God, His Word and Gospel. If other things are gotten wrong, these have to be right. This means we ought to choose our church carefully, and once done, we have to work and pray our church. It's easy to dump all this on the leadership, but 'the easy thing' is not the right thing. Faithfulness is a community project-and the community is the local church.
The format is the same as before. I'll summarize the chapter in 15 minutes or so, and then we'll talk it over, with everyone free to join the conversation.
What are we looking for in a church? And, what ought we to be and become?
Hearing the Word is not enough! It is not enough to save the sinner or to save the church. While no one and no church obeys the Word as well as they or he ought, we have to make an honest effort. Hebrews 12:14 says-
Pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
The word, 'pursue' or 'follow after' in the KJV means hunt, the way a man would track a deer for miles in the forest, up hill, down hill, across creeks, through mud, in hot weather and cold, and not give up till he gets what he's after. This is not 'bottom fishing' where you cast into the lake, put your finger on the line, and doze off till you get a bite.
The object of our pursuit is practical holiness. It includes 'religious' things like Bible-reading and prayer, but mostly, it's about 'everyday' things, like working hard on the job, spending time with your kids, respecting your husband, and not gossiping on the phone or watching unwholesome things on TV.
Not every member of the church is as mature as every other member. It's not reasonable to expect a seventeen-year-old boy who was converted six months ago to be as wise and gracious as his grandfather who has walked with the Lord for fifty years.
But, allowing for these differences-and for hypocrites who belong to every church, you have to ask yourself: Are people trying to obey God?
If they are, the church is pretty healthy; if not, the church is sick or worse than sick. If God has called you to revive a dying church-Lord bless you and get to it! But if this is not your calling, you would be better off going elsewhere.
Don't be judgmental; be as generous in your opinion as you can be. But don't be a fool-
Be not deceived, evil companions corrupt good morals.
Especially when they're in the church.
The seventh trait we're looking for in a church is a bit more subjective. I'm not sure this would make my top 10 list, but it's worth thinking about-
We've got to be careful on this one. While every Christian (or non-Christian for that matter) ought to find a warm welcome in the church, let's be honest: not everyone is easy to connect with. If you're one of these 'hard to connect with' people, the problem may be more with you than with the church. Proverbs 18:24 says-
To have friends a man must show himself friendly.
People may not run up to you because you have a force field around you. If you do, you need to take it down.
Still Harris is right. A church is more than a church-service; it's also a relationship, the Bible word is fellowship. We have to find ways to promote friendship among our people. Hospitality is one way to do it, occasional parties are good too. Many churches promote small-group ministries-and I highly approve of them. But, for week in and week out opportunities, it's hard to beat our format. Two hours to talk around a meal every Sunday at church.
I encourage you to stay for lunch and for the afternoon service. And not just for the second teaching, but also for the opportunity to get to know people whom God loves as much as He loves you. And to offer the welcome of Christ to everyone who comes.
Be friendly to others and let others be friendly to you. This doesn't come easily to all of us-it sure doesn't for me! But it's a mark of the healthy church. It's what we ought to be, and God help us!
A third thing you ought to be looking for in a church-and we ought to be is--
Perhaps the most glaring weakness in 'our kind of churches' is not allowing people do anything (other than listen to the sermon, and put money in the offering box!).
This is not right. For the goal of teaching is to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). If the saints are not working for Christ and each other, there's something wrong. Maybe 'the wrong' is with the saints. They hear better than they do.
Or, maybe it's with the teaching and the leadership. Maybe pastors-instead of stimulating the saints to serve-are stifling them.
Why would a pastor do this? For one reason, he's afraid the member will 'do something wrong'. To which I say, 'Of course he will'. But, if he'll do some bad things while trying to do good, not trying is the worst thing of all!
We have to allow people to serve the Lord. This means we are quick to encourage them in their ministry, and our criticism of what they're doing (if any) is slow and gentle.
Let's be this kind of church! And not the kind where everybody is paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake.
I think the first eight headings have been rather conventional; I think most Evangelicals would agree with them-even if they're not widely practiced. But Number 9 will not be agreed with by a great many people who say they believe the Bible. But-agree or not-it's true. A good church is.
To many people, 'church discipline' sounds harsh and judgmental. It can be, of course-just as disciplining your children can be hateful and too hard. But it doesn't have to be. When done God's Way-and this includes both the process and the attitude-it is a wholesome thing, and good for everyone involved.
It saves the church from the influence of members who will not confess or forsake known and serious sins. It also saves the stubborn member by exposing him for what he is and offering to welcome him back the minute he turns from his evil ways.
Suppose the stubborn sinner is you. And suppose many people in the church know what you're up to, and never do anything about it-nothing serious, I mean. Is that good for you?
It isn't. I Corinthians 5 says it puts your soul in danger of eternal damnation. The adulterer in that church thought he was a saved man, and had the church done nothing, he might have felt this way the rest of his life. And gone to hell when he died!
But, thankfully, they didn't do nothing. And, while we don't know for sure, it seems putting the man out of the church made him ashamed and brought him to repentance, to church, and to heaven.
God save us from being too strict! And too lenient! We ought to be kind, patient, and humble to all erring Christians (no matter what they do). But we've also got to be obedient to God's Word.
Believe me, every pastor has gone through the check-list, everything from 'Do you have expository preaching?' to 'Do you have drums?' I wonder how often they're asked, 'Do you have church discipline? 'If I'm bad, will you promise to kick me out?'
The last thing to ask when looking for a church is this-
Harry and Susan are getting married next Spring. Harry is amazed that such a beautiful, smart, and charming woman loves him and wants to spend the rest her life with him. He's not alone in his amazement: everyone who knows them feels the same way. 'What does she see in him?' we all wonder.
What she sees in him is raw material. She's going to turn the fat, nerdy cab driver (no offense if you're any of the above!) into a chiseled and charming philosopher. That's the plan.
What do you think of her chances? I think they're close to zero. Marrying a man for the purpose of changing him into what you want him to be is stupid, deceitful, and bound to make for a bad marriage.
If Susan cannot love Harry as he is, she should not marry him. This does not mean she cannot see his faults or would like to help him reach his potential, but marrying him for the purpose of making him someone else is wrong.
So is joining a church you don't like for the purpose of making it into one you do. Harris leaves us with good advice-
Find a church you can be excited about. Of course you'll want your church to grow and improve (as you yourself hopefully will). But if it's the one for you, you should be ready to join it 'as is'-that is join it with faith that God is at work. Leave your gripes and complaints at the door. These attitudes will only detract from your experience, limit your involvement, and weak the church's unity.
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