OPEN: Charles Paul Conn tells of the time when he lived in Atlanta. He noticed in the Yellow Pages, in the listing of restaurants, an entry for a place called Church of God Grill. The peculiar name aroused his curiosity and he dialed the number. A man answered with a cheery, "Hello! Church of God Grill!" He asked how the restaurant had been given such an unusual name, and the man at the other end said: "Well, we had a little mission down here, and we started selling chicken dinners after church on Sunday to help pay the bills. Well, people liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church service. After a while we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving the chicken dinners. We kept the name we started with, and that’s Church of God Grill."
APPLY: Jesus said: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Exactly, what is it we should teach them???
I. Some believe we should teach new converts a set of rules. “Do this,” “do that,” “do these things,” “fulfill this list” - and you’ll please God.
Back in the early 1900’s there was something called the “Holiness movement.” It was well intentioned and grew out of a rising realization that people of that day had grown too casual in their relationship with God. People were out partying late on Saturday nights, engaging in gambling, wearing inappropriate attire to church, and so on.
Several leaders got together and determined that a set of guidelines was required to make Christians more responsible in their behavior. Rules included items like: women were to only wear dresses, no card playing was allowed and no dancing was permitted.
Like I said, they were well intentioned attempts to bring a lax community of believers into line. However, these rules led to a spirit of judgmentalism. Those who broke with these man made regulations were considered unspiritual, ungodly, and were even removed from church rolls. The Holiness movement at times confused manmade rules for God’s word.
That’s what happened to the Pharisees. They were masters at creating rules that modified rules that they had made to improve on other rules.
Commenting on this, Jesus declared: “’They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” (Mark 7:7-8)
When this kind of “rule making” mentality takes hold, people begin to judge and condemn others. James 4:11 warns us: “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.”
That’s why, for years, the Churches of Christ have been suspicious of creeds and books of doctrine. Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t fall into the same trap. It’s just that we know that this practice has destroyed better people than us.
Every church has standards that they try to set intending to respect and honor God. But we should always be aware of the difference between “thus saith the Lord” and “thus saith us.”
II. Other churches believe they should teach new converts morals and social responsibility. That they should be nice people. There’s not a thing wrong with that… except when these teachings become an end in themselves.
There are churches across the US that focus on social programs and social problems. I knew of a church out East that put on a play about the rain forests and how we should save them… as part of the worship service. Rain forests are important, but…
And then there are Churches that (for example) embrace either Republican or Democratic politicians and allow them to preach their agenda from that congregation’s pulpit. Political involvement is important, but…
I’m not about to say that Churches shouldn’t be socially involved. It’s just that these matters should not be our main focus. OUR MAIN FOCUS is found in Matthew 28:18-20 = make disciples, baptize them, and teach that which “Jesus” commanded. During His ministry, Jesus rarely spoke social problems or political conflicts. Instead Jesus focused on the believer’s personal responsibility, and personal obedience to God.
The problem with “socially conscious” churches is that they are often worried more about what THEY consider important – rather than what God does. And there lies the rub.
III. So, what are we to teach new converts??? Scripture would be a good idea.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Bible is breathed by God, infused with His Will and His power. It is specifically designed to teach new and old believers alike. When we fall into sin, the Bible’s role is to rebuke us, but even more, it’s purpose is to correct us when we do sin. Best of all, Scripture trains us in righteousness so that we not only don’t fall to sin as often, but we become trained to do every good work that God intends for us to accomplish.
So, why would some churches give scripture a back seat to "man made laws" and social agendas? Sometimes, it’s because people can have their own agendas.
One church that I served was in a small community that had a struggling hospital in town. Granted it was a “band aid” station, but when you want a band aid, it’s nice to have such a hospital close at hand.
The hospital was experiencing threatening financial difficulties, and in a Church Board Meeting it was seriously suggested that our church give mission money to help the Hospital stay in business. It was a worthy project. It was a good hospital staffed by caring individuals. But I made a few people upset in that meeting by saying “no.” That wasn’t what missions money was meant for. I suggested they could put a box in the foyer to collect donations, and that I would personally go door to door to help raise support – but the main mission of the church was not to keep that hospital open. It was to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to obey….
Another time, a woman I knew was giving part of her tithe check to a “Save the Wildlife” organization. It was a noble project, worthy of support… BUT I explained to her – God’s tithe belongs to God. If she wanted to give to this effort she should feel free to do so, but don’t use God’s money.
THE POINT OF THESE ILLUSTRATIONS is that there are many worthy projects. Many noble causes. And they can take our time, resources, and money. BUT they are not what Jesus commanded us to focus on…
IV. The 2nd reason I believe that some churches put Bible in a secondary position to other agendas is that their leadership have failed to understand the power of raw Scripture.
God has said: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
The writer of Hebrews wrote: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12)
There is power that lies in heart of Scripture. The power to change us just by our reading it.
ILLUS: Last fall, 3 young men broke into our church building. As you may recall, two of them called immediately after being caught to ask forgiveness and we afterward were able to set up Bible Studies with them. One of those two men began talking to the 3rd man, Justin about our Bible studies, and Justin then asked for a Bible.
Justin had never read the Bible before. He was totally unaware of many of its stories but, with the prompting of his cell mate, he pretty much read Matthew. Well, he skipped a few things, but he read through most of it and was excited by what he was discovering. In my most recent visit he remarked that he thought his Bible reading was changing him.
A couple of days before our meeting, he’d been out playing basketball with other prisoners. Justin said “I usually have a terrible temper, but when one of the players knocked me down and accidentally kicked me, instead of getting up and slugging him like I would have otherwise, I just slowly got up – patted him on the back and told him it was OK.” Then it happened again. The same player knocked Justin down and accidentally kicked him. Once again, Justin got up patted the guy on the back and told him it was ok.
As Justin shared his story, you could tell he was amazed at his self restraint. And he credited it all to God’s Word’s influence.
V. So, how do we “disciple” people by teaching scripture? We get them involved in Bible Study at every opportunity. TURN TO Acts 2:42. They devoted themselves to “Apostles Teaching.” In other words, these people not only would they NOT MISS Sunday Morning Worship. They didn’t miss things like, Mid-week Bible Studies, family Bible Study and personal study of Scripture… in a word, anything that would get them into God’s word. BECAUSE they realized that the Bible had power to change them.
CLOSE: A minister friend of mine related how his brother had been a man who would have nothing to with church. He preferred to "enjoy" life, party, drink... and drink... and drink. He was a salesman for "84 Lumber" and not only drank while at meetings, but also had his home well stocked.
One day, as Bryan’s brother was in a fast food restaurant, he was approached by a seedy looking man in a long black trench coat and scraggly hair. He just knew it was a beggar looking for a handout. Instead, it turned out that the stranger asked if he could give him something. Taken back, he said "sure." Out of his trench coat, the stranger took a witness Bible and said "read this."
Quietly, Bryan’s brother took the Bible and later, at home, he began to read it being convicted by what he read as it advised him to turn from one page to another to read the underlined scriptures. The final reference shook him. It was found on page 84 of the Bible - and he himself worked at 84 Lumber. He ended up pouring all of his booze down the drain and never touched another drop.
SERMONS IN THIS SERIES
Learning to Play the Harmonica = Matthew 28:18-28:20
Baptizing Into the Name... = Matthew 28:18-28:20
What Do We Teach? = Matthew 28:18-28:20
The Memorial Day = 1 Corinthians 11:23-11:34