Summary: 17th in a series on Ephesians. When I become a Christian God makes me a part of something bigger than myself.
I ran across this question that was posted on Yahoo! Answers this week:
How do you raise a Christian without going to church? My wife and I are Christian and we have a 10 month old daughter. I want her to have Christian beliefs and thoughts but I hate organized religion. I pray on my own. I thank GOD when good things happen and I pray over difficult things. I got my background from church obviously but I hate going and always have. I have always seen going to church as a waste of my day. I don’t need to sing and all that stuff to believe in Jesus. If it was just the sermon I could deal. Well we take our daughter to church like twice a month. I work 6 days a week and if I go to church the day is shot I can’t work in the yard or just relax on my only day off. So my question is can I give my child a good Christian background from home?
Apparently the person who posted that question isn’t the only one with that opinion of the church. A 2005 survey by the Barna Research Group reported that in the United States about 10 million self-proclaimed, born-again Christians had not been to church in the last six months, apart from Christmas or Easter. (Barna defines "born-again" as those who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important today, and believe they will "go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.") Nearly all these born-again Christians say their spiritual life is very important, but for 10 million of them, spiritual life has nothing to do with church.
Another study completed by the Lifeway Research in late 2006 gives some good insight into why these people are leaving the church. The top four reasons these formerly churched people gave for leaving the church were:
• Changes in life situation (moving, work, divorce ) 59%
• Became disenchanted with the pastor/church – 37%
• Church not fulfilling needs/reasons for regular attendance – 26%
• Change in beliefs/interests/attitudes toward church – 22%
Those studies don’t even address the whole generations of “church shoppers” that frequently move from one church to another in order to find a church that better meets their needs. As part of that same Lifeway study last year, the researchers also surveyed people who had switched from one church to another for reasons other than moving to a new location. The top ten reasons people gave can basically be broken down into three main categories:
• The church wasn’t fulfilling needs
• Disenchantment with the church/pastor
• Too much change
At first glance, all these statistics and numbers may seem to be unrelated, but I think that what Paul writes at the end of Ephesians Chapter 2 shows that all these findings are the consequence of one underlying attitude that has gripped our culture. So let’s read our passage together:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 2:19-22 (NIV)
There’s a tendency on our part to view our relationship with God as something that just impacts me. And there is no doubt that there is an individual aspect to our faith. Much of what Paul wrote in the first chapter and the first part of the second chapter of Ephesians deals with how God has entered into the lives of individuals in order to draw them into a personal relationship with Him. But even there, Paul has hinted that our Christianity is not just for us. Our faith is intended to be experienced within the body of believers that God has created – the church.
And last week we saw how Jesus has created in Himself something completely new – the church – where all of His followers are joined together regardless of their backgrounds. But Paul doesn’t just stop there. As we continue our journey through Ephesians this morning we see that Paul uses three different pictures to emphasize the fact that my Christianity is a matter of…
LIVING BEYOND MYSELF
1. God has made me part of a new kingdom
…you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people…
Paul is primarily writing to Gentile believers in these verses and here he returns to the thought he first raised in verse 12 when he described how these Gentiles were excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise. But the point he is making here is that it doesn’t really matter because they are now citizens of a new kingdom that is far superior to that of the kingdom of Israel.