Summary: God intends for the church to be the instrument of redemption, full-faceted, and intends for us, though we may think we are inadequate, to be its agents. Challenge your imaginations as to what the church might be able to do by letting God do what He is a
If you were to ask the average person, out on the street, what he thinks of the church, what answers might you get? What do people think about churches? I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. But I know some of the things they say:
They say that church is all talk. Ceaseless talk. Noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. Yakety-yakety-yak. Talk, most of it negative, most of it loveless. What is the feel you get when someone says, "Don’t preach to me!"? Preaching is supposed to be heavy-duty negative rap. Church is too much talk, and the language is unfriendly. That’s what some folks think about church.
Of course, I will not mention the fact that some of you, when I get past twenty minutes, begin to think the same thing. I’ll just leave that alone. But if you think an hour and a half of worship is too long now, what are you going to do when you get to heaven and the worship never stops? Well ...
Some think that church is all talk. Others think that the talk is all nonsense. All pious gibberish. Soul-saving, washed in the blood, something better by and by, pie in the sky, when you die. Some folks think that all we do in the church is look toward the great beyond and do nothing about the great here and now.
You look at the way church folks are portrayed in the movies, and you will see what I mean. Christians are pious, prissy prudes who are shocked by everything and who live in an unreal world of Bible-thumping, ignorant country bumpkins. Yassuh, yassuh, Lord helps those who help themselves. Cleanliness is next to godliness, I reckon. They think we are utterly unreal.
Still others think of churches as self-serving. They believe that churches are turned in on themselves, concerned only to maintain the status quo. That church people hide in their buildings, worship their pastors, stuff themselves with fried chicken, shower money on sumptuous frivolities, and shut their doors against anybody who would challenge their thinking or anything that would make them feel uncomfortable. Now this is the crowd that worries me most, because they do have a case. There is too much self-centeredness in churches. There are too many of us who lack vision. There are Christians who have not yet understood what we are about. We are uncomfortable with challenge. There is a large measure of truth in the charges.
But it is precisely because of this that I want to deliver a message on what God expects of the church. It is because of who we are and where we are in our life together that I feel compelled to speak this morning on what God wants to give to our church. My theme is taken from the phrase in the 20th verse of Ephesians 3: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly..." Able to accomplish abundantly. Don’t you like that song, "What a mighty God we serve!" "What a mighty God we serve!" For He is able to accomplish abundantly. I am persuaded that this is the word you and I need in this hour.
Let us establish this first: that God intends for the church to be the channel through which His rich grace is made known. God intends for the church a prominent place in His plan. The church is not an afterthought. It is not a makeshift contrivance. It is not optional at extra cost. It is not just a human convenience. It is not a warm and fuzzy country club. It is not a status symbol. It is not a badge of respectability. The church is the instrument of God’s redemptive love. It is central to the plan of God.
Here’s how Paul says it in Ephesians:
"... through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,"
Through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might be made known. "Rich variety" That means full of life and vitality, with many facets, like a diamond. It means that God has intended His church to be involved in the whole range of redemptive actions. Not just a narrow focus. Not just a little plan. But a grand plan. A vast undertaking.
Several years ago, just after we had spent about seven years trying to rebuild several facets of our church’s life, something was said about our vision as a church. One member said to me, "I don’t think I really know what the vision of our church is. I’m not sure I could tell you what we are really about." And so that sent me to the Scriptures. We did some Bible studies on the life and functions of the church, we listened to one another, and, in the end, we crafted a new vision statement, and based it on this very third chapter of Ephesians. It speaks of how we see the five historic functions of the church in our particular setting: worship, education, evangelism, fellowship, and ministry or missions. You can find this vision statement pasted into our hymnals. It is really something like a church covenant for us.