The Open Church
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
We are the consumer society. We have bumper stickers that say “born to shop” and shopping malls have become our cultural centers. The government has even got into the act: we are no longer called citizens, we are now consumers. We are no longer patients in a hospital, we are now “health care consumers.” This attitude has long crept into the church: we have become consumers of religion, and we even speak of “church shopping.” We come to church to have our spiritual needs met, and if they are not met here, then we will try the next church, consume their religious goods and see if they satisfy. You might think that we have gotten into the act here at Runnymede by handing out a “Needs Assessment Questionnaire” like a company might give out a marketing questionnaire to make sure they were reaching their market well.
But the reality is, the church is not a “God store” dispensing spiritual nourishment for the masses. If you have come hoping that this church will meet your spiritual needs, you are mistaken. The church cannot meet your spiritual needs. We are not a religious institution. What we are is a community of faith who come together to meet God – and he and only he can meet our spiritual needs.
The church is not a religious institution, it is not a service provider, it is not a retail outlet: it is a community of faith. The word for church in the Bible is “ecclesia” from which we get the word “ecclesiastical.” It comes from to other Greek words “ek” for out, and “kleisis” for a calling. When the Blible calls us the ecclesia, it is calling us “The called-out community. That is why verse 9 says “he has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. The “Ecclesia” is not an organization or an institution, it literally means a gathering of the people – a gathering of God’s people! Church is not a place – it is a people.
Peter 2:10 says – we are a community that has been especially created by God – once we were not a people, now we are a people.
Church should be a community that is marked by openness.
A Community Open to God
We are not a community that gathers around a priest who goes and meet with God and the comes back to tell us what it was like. While it is important that our leaders – Myself, the other pastors and leaders – stay close to God and open to him, our openness to God doesn’t allow the others in the community to sit back on their laurels.
As a church it is our attempt to be “theocratic” or led by God. And because we believe that all Christians have the ability and responsibility to hear from God, we are Congregationally led. When we as a church vote on things it is not because we want to be democratic, it is not because we want to know what you want for the church, it is because we want to know what God wants for the church. It would be great if we could be able to say with every decision It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit….
We have not always been good at this. Part of the reason is that we need to find vehicles by which we as a congregation can seek God’s will for the church and then communicate what we have heard to each other. We want to get better. That is why we’ve created this survey as a start – as a way to listen to the community of faith. But it is only a start, and if you feel led to certain ways that we can include the whole community in seeking God’s direction for the church. Please speak to me.
In order to be open to God as a community, we need to be open to him individually. We need to ask ourselves these questions: Am I open to God at work within me, to make Himself known to me, to go on making Himself known more and more to me? Do I look for Him, listen to Him, long to be with Him? Have I come to recognize the uniquely distinctive way He speaks to me and makes known to me His heart, His mind, His will? Am I open to His love, His light, His truth, His word? Have I come to know Him well enough to appreciate that I have hardly begun to know Him at all? Does this awareness create a desire, a determination to press on to know Him better?
Being part of a community of faith that is Open to God has two sides to it. One side is that when we are in crisis or grief and find that we can hardly put tywo thoughts together much less pray or listen to God, we know that there are other around us praying and listening for us. On the other hand if everyong in the community is rellying on everyone else to be open to God for them – no one is actually doing it!
Many of you know that I like to mountain bike. I compete once a season in a relay race that includes riding trails at night with very bright lights on our bikes. The first time my team was practicing riding at night, one of the guys had not purchased a light yet. I’d done a lot of night riding, so I gave him my lights and I tried to stay close to another team member, Fred, so I could see the trail with his lights. It worked okay, except that I could see obstacles like roots and rocks only in front of Fred’s bike, about 10 feet before I hit them in the dark. Also, Fred would periodically get ahead of me, and I’d be left to try to catch up to him in the dark so that I could see with his lights. It was a pretty rough ride.
The moral of the story is GET YOUR OWN LIGHT!
As in mountain Biking, so in the Christian walk – if we are always relying on others to stay close to God, to lead the way and to be in prayer for us, there will be times when we will be left in the dark. As a member of a community that is open to God, you need to individually get your own light.
If we are going to be a community open to God, and led by him, we need individually, and as a group do Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We have been called into this community to be a people open to God, but the fact that he has called us together tells us that we are to be…
A Community Open to One Another
As we lay our lives open before God, we must also lay our lives open before each other. Later, in Peter’s letter to the churches he writes:
1 Peter 4
7The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
We are to be this tight knit community that is open to each other’s gifts, as well as struggles and failures.
Lessons from a Tavern, Citation: Charles Swindoll, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.]
An old Marine Corps buddy of mine, to my pleasant surprise, came to know Christ after he was discharged.
I say surprise because he cursed loudly, fought hard, chased women, drank heavily, loved war and weapons, and hated chapel services.
A number of months ago, I ran into this fellow, and after we’d talked awhile, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You know, Chuck, the only thing I still miss is that old fellowship I used to have with all the guys down at the tavern. I remember how we used to sit around and let our hair down. I can’t find anything like that for Christians. I no longer have a place to admit my faults and talk about my battles--where somebody won’t preach at me and frown and quote me a verse."
It wasn’t one month later that in my reading I came across this profound paragraph:
"The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church.
It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality--but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship.
It is unshockable.
You can tell people secrets, and they usually don’t tell others or even want to.
The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.
With all my heart," this writer concludes, "I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, a fellowship where people can come in and say, ’I’m sunk, I’m beat, I’ve had it.’ Alcoholics Anonymous has this quality--our churches too often miss it."
It is a sad comment that we miss it when we are the community that is called to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16)
Paul was having difficulties with the church in Corinth – they had rejected his leadership, but he rights to them of the relationship that they were supposed to have in 2 Corinthians 6
“11We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13As a fair exchange--I speak as to my children--open wide your hearts also.”
I believe that the one of the only ways to step into this openness to one another is to be part of a small group that is committed to openness. You cannot be that open with the 100+ people who are siting around you now. You need to practice with a smaller group. That is why we are putting a strong emphasis on small groups this fall and we hope to continue that emphasis. Dawn Comber has committed to Coordinating our small groups and we are working with her to make Small groups accessible in the church and to see more groups start. You will see a small group questionnaire oat the Back of the survey. Please fill it out and hand it in – it will give us valuable info so that we can work at becoming more open to each other.
A Community Open to “Outsiders”
In verse 12 of 1 Peter 2, Peter tells us to “Live such good lives amoung the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
We are to be a community that is not just open to and with one another and God, but open to those who do not know him yet. Are lives as the ones called out of darkness should call others into the light as well.
John writes in 1 John 1:3 “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ”
There is this openness to those outside the community, so that they too will become part of the community.
Some of you may remember the Bridge illustration from our series on evangelism in the spring
1. God wants to have a relationship with us.
2. However, we have rebelled against Him and broken off that relationship.
3. Most of us are aware of this and try to do things to get back to God, but it doesn’t work.
4. Furthermore, the sins we have committed have to be punished, and that punishment is death.
5. But God did for us what we could not do, and that is build a bridge back to Himself.
6. He did that by paying our death penalty when He died on the cross.
7. One last thing. It is not enough just to know this. We must act on it by admitting that we have rebelled and by telling God that we want His forgiveness and leadership.
At the contagious churches conference, Mark Mittelburg explained that the reality is that most North Americans are not even close to the chasm that separates us from God. There are a number of barriers that stand in the way to get people that far.
We need to expand the diagram:
This other chasm is the chasm of culture – most non-Christians don’t relate at all to the culture that they find in a church – just ask Hana about her first church experiences – even language like “fellowship” “the blood of the Lamb” “sanctification” is so forgiegn that you might as well be speaking Klingon.
Mark told us that the church needs to build bridges across that cultural divide to make it so people can get to the edge of the cross. The reality is that we need to do more than build bridges – we need to cross those bridges and bring the people to the cross ourselves.
To be the Community that God has called us to be we must be an OPEN community
Open to God
Open to One Another
Open to “Outsiders”