Believe 6 - The Church
October 26, 2014
I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the writer Anne Rice? She has written over 30 books; and is most famous for her series of books called “The Vampire Chronicles.” In 1998, Rice shocked readers and the publishing world when she announced she would never write another vampire book again.
Why? Because she committed her life to Christ. She said, "My life is committed to Christ the Lord. My books will be a reflection of that commitment." Her fans begged her to keep writing about vampires, witches, and ghosts. But Rice said, "Is Christ our Lord not the ultimate supernatural hero, the ultimate outsider, the ultimate immortal of them all?" Instead she wrote 2 novels about Jesus, based on the Gospel of Luke. She considers them two of her best novels, which received high praise.
In 2010 she made another surprising announcement on her Facebook page ~ She wrote "Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
Anne Rice's story represents what more and more people are reporting. They’re drawn to Christ, they want to follow him as Lord … but the church? Institutional Christianity? Like a vampire, it sucks the life out of them.
Dozens of books have been published to figure out this trend over the last 10-20 years, and there is no simple single answer. Christian authors Thom and Joani Schultz wrote two books entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to go to Church Anymore” and “Why Nobody Wants to be Around Christians Anymore.”
Gandhi said of the church, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Ouch!! That hurts, but is he correct?
There is not a single, simple answer. And to complicate the matter, it isn't just young adults who are dropping out of church. It's older folks too. People like Anne Rice, people who have spent decades in the church.
So, how do churches avoid becoming vampire churches . . . and dying a slow death?
To start, when we say church . . . what do we mean? I think we use the word church in 4 different ways ~
First, we use it when referring to a building. "Did you see the new church?"
Second, we use it when referring to a Christian worship event. "Are you going to church on Sunday?"
Third, we use the word church when talking about an institution with officers, employees, programs. "I made a donation to the church." That means I gave money to a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Finally, church can mean a community of women, men, and children who belong to Christ. "You all are part of my church." You are part of the local group of Christians.
When the New Testament speaks about the church, which of these definitions does it refer to? It uses the 4th definition. Here's the problem. While we know church is not a building, and it's not an event. Things get very muddled between definitions 3 and 4. When you say "church" do you mean the organization, leaders, budgets, and programs? Or do you mean your community of Christian brothers and sisters?
It's important to recognize this ambiguity because it plays a big part in understanding why people are leaving the church. When you look at Anne Rice's comments carefully, or comments others make — we discover most of the time they're not rejecting Christ — they’re rejecting being part of a church institution.
In the 1970's, a Gallop Poll found – 68% of Americans had strong or high confidence in the institutional church. Today, it's down to 44%, and lower among younger Americans — the next generation. Commitment to an institutional church isn't important to Americans anymore, but that doesn't mean people aren't committed to Christian community.
It isn't just the institutional church that Americans are losing confidence in. Younger Americans aren't just rejecting the institutional church, but institutions of all kinds.
Things have changed. We're living in the post-Watergate, post-Enron, post-Lehman Brothers, post-NSA world. For younger people big doesn't mean legit, big means corrupt. In 2012, The Atlantic had an article focusing on Muncie, then national, called: How Americans Lost Trust in Our Greatest Institutions. "It's not just Washington. Across the country, our faith in city hall, newspapers, and churches is fading."
So, what are we to do? Well, when all else fails, let’s turn to the Word of God and learn from the scriptures. Paul gives us great help in Ephesians 4. Again, there is so much to break apart, let’s start with verse 1 of Ephesians 4. Paul wrote ~
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
Paul is writing from a Roman prison and he wants these new Christ followers to understand something. And it’s something we need to understand as well. And all that Paul says after this flows from this very first verse.
Paul is moving on from his first 3 more theological chapters to becoming more practical, that’s why he starts with “therefore.” He’s saying, as a result of what I’ve just written, this is what I now want you to do. This is who you need to be.
I Paul am urging, encouraging, imploring, beseeching you! This is just short of a command from Paul. He wants the people to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. He wants the people to live their lives and demonstrate God’s presence and power, He wants the people to live lives above reproach, to conduct yourselves in a manner which is worthy of your calling.
It applies to my children. Wherever they go . . . when they play a sport, when they’re in school, when they’re with friends, when they’re talking to an adult, when they’re in a store . . . wherever they go, they represent me and Debbie. We want them to show the world they are worthy to be called by our name.
And it goes beyond that – when we think about being a child of God, remember last week we looked at our identity in God. We’re adopted into God’s family because He has this amazing and super powerful love for us. That’s so great. So, as we demonstrate our love to God, we live lives worthy of our calling as children of the Most High God. You are Jesus with skin on.
For Paul, there is no question who called them. It’s Christ who called the Ephesians. They’re to live their lives in a very particular manner. Paul now gets into the specifics. Live your lives ~ 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Now, with all you hear me saying today, don’t think I’m talking about our church, yet I am talking about our church. We can all be guilty of taking a wrong step and falling into sin. Paul wants the people to have a humble opinion of themselves, comparing themselves to Christ, not to one another. Because when we compare ourselves to Christ, we’ll never be first, so we must humble ourselves. We are to be gentle with one another, yet knowing we have amazing strength through the power of the Holy Spirit, so we harness our strength, which is called meekness.
Then we must be patient, which means we are long suffering or as another definition puts it, we are slow to avenge the wrongs committed against us. And we endure one another, we hang in there with one another doing it in the strong love of Christ.
We add to that the fact that we are eager, we are diligent, constantly striving to make certain we have unity based on our oneness through the Holy Spirit.
That’s where Paul is going with this. We’ve been called by Jesus, now Paul reminds us we are one body, saying ~ 4 There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call —
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
You see, that one body is the church, and we are unified through Christ, it’s you and I. And the gift of the Holy Spirit acts as the glue which keeps us together. Paul tells us our commonality - – — we have one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. That’s what unifies us.
It should, shouldn’t it? I don’t care what denomination you were part of, if we can agree to these uncompromising truths, we are one unified body. I don’t care if you believe in infant baptism or believer’s baptism. Do you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Do we have that one faith, one calling from God? Or do you have multiple gods? Then we’re not unified. It’s not rocket science, but we make it worse than that. There are certain non-negotiables! Jesus must always be the head!
But, we do it to one another. Even within the church, even within our church, we complain about the church and post it on facebook. That’s sin! Even if you’re 100% correct, you should not post it. If you have an issue talk to me, talk to Doug or Jeremy. Call a deacon. Don’t rip the church because you have freedom of speech, which you really don’t have anyways! What?!
Nope, you gave that up when you embraced a relationship with Jesus Christ, and call Him Lord and Savior. You have freedom of speech according to the US Constitution, but you don’t have freedom of speech according to the Word of God. And in the end I will stand before Jesus, not whoever the president is. Your speech must be in a very particular manner. For example, Paul wrote about this later in the chapter ~
29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Do you see what Paul is saying? It’s important for us to know as the church, because let me tell you the rest of the world is watching and when they see the church being hyper-critical of the church, when they see us beating one another up because your sin is worse than mine, when we can’t agree on the color of the carpet or landscaping or what our dress code should be. When we go into the world and we bash the world because they don’t live like we do, how do you expect them to react. Gee, I want to be part of that organization, they ripped into my life.
The talk which is supposed to come out of our mouths is supposed to be the kind which is good for building up, that our words may give grace to those who hear it. The hope is the people will hear the good news of Jesus in our words, since we speak them in love. Paul reminds us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. We need to put away 6 things which seem to easily flow out of our mouths. Get rid of all, not some, but all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice be put away.
Instead of that, how should we act? The next verse finishes it off for us. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
The end result is that we are to demonstrate God’s grace and power through the way we treat one another. Be kind, be compassionate, forgive one another, as God has forgiven you. That’s a biggie, isn’t it?
We are called to go into the world and show the world who God is. Yet, we come into this building and sometimes we think, well, I come to church on Sundays, I’m good. I love what evangelist Billy Sunday once said ~ Going to church on Sunday does not make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you an automobile! Don’t you love that one?!
Church — how do you define it? We are the church! It’s more than just coming to this building, giving your money, feeling good about what you did.
It’s about being part of this group of sinners, being part of these other Christ followers, as you journey together, struggle together, celebrate together . . . and show the world who Jesus is by the way we live our lives. It’s not always easy. There are times I want to say things and do things which the rest of the world can do, but Debbie and I talk about it . . . we represent not only First Baptist Church, we represent Jesus Christ! He calls us to be the church, and He told Peter in Matthew 16:18 ~ 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I believe when we are the church — nothing will ever be able to stop us, nothing! When we live for Christ, not for ourselves, we will change the world more than we can imagine. The church will be a force, a powerhouse which cannot be stopped. And it won’t be by force, it will be by our love that they’ll know we are Christ followers!