Summary: This sermon as part of the series on the covenant relationship of God and His people, explains the form and function of the church as the people, not the steeple.
INTRODUCTION: C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, writing, of course, as an elder devil to a younger devil,
"One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with a rather oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. . . . Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords."
1. The Blueprint of the Church
Signs read, Worship at the Church of Your Choice this Sunday - They should read, Worship at the Church of His Choice! We are under obligations to Follow the Blueprint of the Church in building it - It is His. He is the architect. Listen to the key assertions about the church from Scripture:
- The church is powerfully sustained by Christ. “the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Mat 16:18).
- The church is preciously redeemed by Christ. It is “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
- The church is principally related to Christ.“as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23). Christ “nourishes and cherishes” the church (Eph 5:29).
- The church is primordially based in the eternal purpose of Christ. This great purpose is “made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). The church is “predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11).
- The church is the pillar of truth of Christ. “The household of God, which is the church of the living God,” is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1Ti 3:15).
2. The Form of the Church
a. The Universal or “Catholic” Church
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant . . . (Heb 11:22-24).
b. The Local Church
The Bible speaks of “the church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1), “the church that is in their [Prisca and Aquila’s] house” (Rom 16:5), “church of God which is at Corinth” (1Co 1:2), “the church that is in her [Nympha] house” (Col 4:15), “the church of the Laodiceans” (Col 4:16), “the church of the Thessalonians” (1Th 1:1), “the church in your [Archippus] house” (Phm 1:2), “the church in Ephesus” (Rev 2:1), etc.
We are to be connected to the "local" church. An important passage tells us that:
"And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. . . .(Heb 10:24-26)
We are to have a Relational Connection to the Local Church
The New Testament speaks again and again to our relational responsibilities. We are told to “love one another” (Rom 13:8, 1Pe 1:22, 1Jo 3:11), to “encourage one another” (1Th 5:11 Heb 3:13, 10:25), to “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom 14:19), to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24), to “serve one another” (Gal 5:13), to “admonish one another” (Rom 15:14), to “be devoted to one another” and to “give preference to one another in honor” (Rom 12:10), to “regard one another as more important than himself” (Phi 3:3), to “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1Pe 5:5), to “be of the same mind with one another” (Rom 15:5, 12:16), to show “forbearance to one another in love” (Eph 4:2), and to “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21).