Summary: A sermon that begins a series on the community of the church (Material adapted from introduction of Daniel Overdorf's book, Rediscovering Community, from College Press)
It’s popular today to meet with friends at a coffee shop and call it “church.” In some cases it is but most of the time it isn’t. It’s difficult to stand in defense of the church when there are so many examples of dysfunctional churches around us. But sometimes we need to remind people that the church is important. We were designed for community, but also something beyond mere community- we were designed for the church. Many people will object. I get it. Some parts of the North American church are desperately sick, and in many cases the church hinder the spiritual growth of Christians. but before we allow people to have coffee and croissants at Starbucks and call it church, we need to look at the church and community. the bottom line is this: Church is God’s idea, and we ignore this at our own peril. The church is not an afterthought in the mind of God.
For some church evokes negative images and emotions. At an extreme, we hear comments such as those by former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak minded people who need strength in numbers.” Horror writer Stephen King says this, “Organized religion gives me the creeps.”
Less extreme comments are everywhere: “I want Jesus, but not the church”, “I’m a spiritual person, I’m just not into church.” I feel sympathy for these misguided souls. To have Jesus without the church is impossible. What is church? Christians. How can we have Jesus without being member of God’s family? However, the many people who express this desire to be a Christian without the church magnifies the need for the church to authentically admit our mistakes, and to pursue what Jesus truly intends of us.
Churches, church leaders, and church members have made many mistakes over the years. We have embarrased ourselves, damaged our effectiveness, and worst of all we have disappointed God. When someone barks, “The church is full of hypocrites!” we know that this statement is far more true than we want to admit. When someone says, “Preachers are just money hungry and sex crazed”, my head drops and heart sinks because the statement is true in far too many cases. Much of this has been documented and splashed across newspapers and newscasts.
But the church at its worst is still the bride of Christ. He loves us- not just individually but as a church. John Stott said, “The reason that we are committed to the church is that God is so committed. True, we may be dissatisfied, even disillusioned, with some aspects of the church. But still we are committed to Christ and his church.” In exalting the church, we fight an uphill battle. But the battle needs to be fought.
In addition to battling the charges against the church, we also battle against the bias of an individualistic society that has for many years dismissed the need for community. This individiualization of society has crept into the church. Much of modern preaching and teaching focuses on the private aspects of faith. There are portions of our faith that are more personal than others, but making the Christian faith as nothing but private is an unbiblical model. Such a philosophy would have seemed odd to 1st century Christians and in many ways this does not appear in the Bible. This misdirected focus continues unchecked until someone raises the question, “Well then why do we need the church?”
Also the English language does not help us out in this respect. While the original biblical languages distinguish between the singular “you” and the plural “you,” the English language makes no such distinction (unless you are from the South as in y’all but I’ve never seen a southern Bible). As a result, we often read “you” as singular- about me, for me, centered on me- when the Bible intends to make a statement about us, for us, centered on the community. For example- “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6, NIV. Many sermons, lessons, and devotions have personalized this passage and led people to contemplate how God works in them individually. While this is not heresy, this “you” here is plural. This means that God began a work in the Philippian church, and He will continue that work in that church. The teaching here should lead listeners to contemplate not how God works in “me” but how God works in “us.”
Thesis: To get our feet wet, as we begin a series on the church, let’s start by talking about the biblical concept of community and then a definition of “church”
Biblical concept of community