What We Want to Believe (The Doctrine of the Church)

What We Want to Believe (The Doctrine of the Church)

Feb 02, 2009

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Series: What We Want To Believe

Category: Membership

Detail:

Today we come to the doctrine of the church.  And I am telling you, just from a personal Jason Wolin perspective, of all the doctrines we have covered thus far, this was for me the most meaningful to me.  And the reason this was so meaningful for me was because I had lost perspective on what the Bible teaches here.  And this study this week was like a stepping out of a stuffy dorm room filled with sweaty college football players and stepping out into a field covered in grass and daisies and breathing in the fresh air.

A little personal history here.  It seems like everywhere I go, I have been hearing people criticize the church.  Anywhere from an old high school buddy, to some book a guy told me to read, to some guy on the radio, to the guy at the checkout stand to my next door neighbor.  That kind of cynicism began to wear on me.  I have never really known how to properly respond to someone who is cynical in regards to the church.  And the reason I have had a difficult time knowing how to respond, is for the most part I can’t argue with them.  There observations and concerns are valid.  There are lots of pretty good reasons to be frustrated with the church.  And I have personally experienced some of those reasons.  Maybe that is where you find yourself today.

  • You may be saying to yourself, “I am tired of all the religious language that goes on in the church. I don’t speak Christianese and Im sick of only fitting in if I can speak their jargon.”
  • Or perhaps you just get really tired of people getting way amped up over things that don’t really matter.
  • Or perhaps you may be saying to yourself, “I don’t really care for the buckets of hypocrisy.”
  • Or maybe you used to be really committed to the church in some way but then you got burned. Maybe you watched a really ugly church split.
  • Maybe you were part of an embarrassing moral failure of one of the main leaders in the church
  • Maybe you saw unfair backbiting or underhanded greed or power or pride or jealousy ruin a group of relationships. And you thought to yourself, if this goes on at the highest level of church leadership, then I give up. 
  • Maybe you just see the church as irrelevant. Why would I want to give my time and money and resources to this ragtag unimpressive group of people.

Now believe me, I have felt these ways and more in my life.  As a pastor, you get to see wonderful joys in people’s lives but you also get to see a lot of hurting people that have let sin really wreck their lives.  And it is easy to get disillusioned.  Is there really any power in the church?  Is there anything special about this group of people?  Can I do this on my own just as well?  Perhaps this is how you feel, or perhaps you are wondering how to respond to someone who feels this way. 

The goal of today’s message is to tell you what God thinks about the church.  And if you love God, seeing what he thinks about the church will really bless you in your own perspective of the church.

What Does Jesus Think of the Church?

How does God want us to think about the church?  And I hope it is obvious to us all then when we are talking about the church we are not talking about a building.  The building is the location where the church assembles.  So to state it precisely, how does God want us to think about the elect individuals that make up his church? 

Probably the way he does!  We are supposed to think God’s thoughts after him.  So what does God think of the church?

Ephesians 5 is a text we have probably all heard used at weddings to exhort the husband to love his wife.  That is a right and fitting and proper use of it.  But when you read it closely you will notice that it actually tells us more about Christ’s love for the church than a husbands love for his wife.  Let me read it for you and as we read focus on things that describe Christ’s love for the church. 

Ephesians 5:25-33  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26 that he [that is Christ] might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  27 so that he [that is Christ] might present the church to himself [that is Christ] in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  30 because we are members of his body [that is Christ’s body].  31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."  32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Now I think there is something really interesting about the analogy God chooses to use here.  Normally when we want to use an analogy to describe something, we rack our brains tying to find a similarity that will help illuminate the abstract concept we wish to illustrate.  But do you think God does that.  Do you think he said to himself, “How can I represent the relationship between Christ and the church?  And then all of the sudden, the marriage relationship popped into his head so he said, ‘ahah!  That’s a great analogy.  Ill use that.’”  No, that’s how we illustrate things all the time.  But verse 32 of Ephesians 5 suggests that it was exactly opposite.  God, starting with a clean slate, designed the marriage relationship (and specifically the image of a bride) to parallel the relationship Christ had with his church. 

So just think about that for a minute.  Think about the image of your bride on the wedding day.  There you are nervously standing and waiting.  Your face is vibrating with anticipation.  The wedding party is all in place.  There is a pause.  And then the music shatters the silence and all of the sudden the doors fling open and you weaken at the sight of her.  There your bride stands in all her beauty waiting for you, coming for you.  You wish you could pause time and take it all in.  She walks slowly arm in arm with her father glowing in joy.

Here’s the point:  God made that picture so that you would understand how he feels toward the church.

Now the reason its worth drawing that point out a bit is so that we can trace the connection between how Christ feels about the church and consequently how we should feel toward the church.  We need to love the church (or at least want to love the church) the same way Christ loves the church.   So what does Ephesians 5 teach us in this regard?

  • Christ loves the church so much that he gave himself up for it. (so we should love the church the same way)
  • He lay down his life for it. (and so should we)
  • He is continually at work to purify and cleanse and prepare us for eternity. (so we should be continually at work to purify and cleanse and prepare the church for eternity. )
  • His love is not flighty and fickle. He is tender and patient (and so our love should be tender and patient and longsuffering.)

People who say, “I love Jesus but don’t think I need the church.”  That is like saying, “I love my wife, but I don’t care about anything she cares about.”   Man if you love Jesus you have to love the church.  God cares about the church.  Are you really going to tell me that you don’t care about something God cared about enough to die for?  We are all part of the church we are tempted to complain about!  Praise God that he cares about us.  The reason the church is unlovable is because we are in it.  And yet God cares anyway.  Ask yourself this question, “What would it feel like if God’s attitude mirrored my attitude toward the church?”  The strongest argument I can come up with as to why we should love the church is because Jesus does. 

The Church is the Body of Christ

The church is not only pictured as the bride of Christ, but his very body. 

Ephesians 1:22-23  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. 

The church is so close to the heart of God, so central to his work in the world that he calls us his body.  As we live out our union with Christ we become physical representations and manifestations of Christ on earth.  You cannot say, I love just the head of Jesus but I don’t care about his body.  No, Jesus says the church is his body. 

And the point here is simply, Jesus is using some pretty personal, pretty intimate images to describe the church. 

The Church is God’s Temple

A third picture the Bible give us in regards to the church is the picture of a temple.  We are not just individually a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells, but corporately we make up temple.

1 Peter 2:5  you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

So the picture here is that every believer in all of history, every believer alive today and all believers into the future are stones which are part of this magnificent temple which is designed to worship God.

And one of the most beautiful points of that image is simply this:  You can’t glorify God on your own in the same way that a single stone in a temple can’t make a temple.  A single brick alone is not magnificent.  Its just a brick that you trip over and gets in your way.  It’s only when you take that single brick and engineer its relationship to thousands of other single bricks that you have something remarkable.  Remember the chief end of man that we talked about a few weeks back.  The purpose of mankind is to glorify God.  But it takes all of redeemed humanity to do that.  You can’t do it by yourself.  You’re too small.  So if you are distancing yourself from the church then you are distancing yourself from God’s purpose for you.  Giving God glory is a community project.  You can’t do it by yourself.  You’re just not big enoughYour just one brick.

Spurgeon said,

“I know there are some who say, “Well, I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church.”

Now why not?

“Because I can be a Christian without it.”

Are you quite clear about that?  You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? 

What is a brick made for?  To help build a house.  It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house.  It is a good for nothing brick.

So you rolling stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose.  You are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.

Only by serving and committing yourself to a local church can you avoid “kicking about on the ground like a useless brick.”

Do I Have to Love a Local Church?

I can hear a particularly skilled church fringe attender saying at this point, “I would never deny that Christ loves the church.  But all those pictures he gives are referencing the universal church.  He does not love the forms that go around representing his name today.  So why should I link myself to something Christ does not love?

Why should I link myself to something Christ does not love?  That is a logically valid argument only if you can prove that the local church is something Christ does not love.  Nobody is saying the church is perfect.  Far from it.  Does the church have to be perfect before Christ decides to love it.  We all know the answer to that question.  Christ died for the ungodly.  He died while we were enemies of him.  You can’t make the distinction between the local church and the universal church saying Christ loves the universal church but not the local church.  It just wont stand up against Scripture.  And the main reason you can’t make that argument is because the universal church is the local church.  The local church is not an organization.  The local church is a group of people.  And those people are the church.  Christ loves the people not the structure in which those people function. 

John Stott said, “If the church is central to God’s purpose in both history and the gospel, it must surely also be central to our lives.  How can we take lightly what God takes so seriously?  How dare we push to the circumference what God has placed in the center?

How central did Jesus make the church?

Do you remember Jesus’ last words to Peter?  They were spoken in John 21, the last part of the last chapter of the book.  You remember the events leading up to the scene.  3 days earlier Peter had confidently asserted,

John 13:37-38  Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you."  38 Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

But Peters flesh was weak.  Add a little weariness, add a little external pressure, increase the cost, decrease the temperature, take away some food, add some lonliness and there in that courtyard Peter fumed and cursed and ultimately cracked.   And then from across that courtyard, the eye of Jesus caught the eye of Peter and he went out and wept bitterly.

The very next encounter Peter had with Jesus was in John 21.  Peter had gone back to fishing.  They are on the shore and here comes Jesus.  Peter leaps out of the boat, swims to shore and I am sure gives Jesus a sopping wet hug.  Jesus and the disciples sit down and eat breakfast.

John 21:15-17  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs."  16 He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep."  17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.

Why did Jesus risk really hurting Peter’s feelings at this point?  Peter probably felt so awful.  Peter probably felt about 1 inch tall at this point.  Do you think Jesus asked Peter 3 times if he loved him just to rub it in a little?  No, not one bit.  Jesus asked Peter 3 times if he loved him to drill into his memory that Jesus loves the church. 

FEED MY LAMBS. 

Jesus made the point crystal clear that he really, really cares about his church. And so should we.  Even if those lambs stink.

The Church is What?

Let’s face it, when we look at the church we don’t tend to see a beautiful bride, or the body of Christ or a temple.  When we look at the church we see

  • a building with siding falling off or
  • a bickering congregation or
  • TV evangelist scam, or
  • some particularly embarrassing moral failure,
  • or men jockeying for position and power.
  • We see denominations splitting apart from denominations.

And that can tend to have a really negative impact on our desire to get involved.

Another thing that can negatively impact our desire to get involved is that certain things just bug.  We all carry around our list of gripes and reasons why we want to leave a church or reasons why we feel justified not getting involved in a church.

  • The church is not friendly enough. I didn’t feel welcomed
  • The church is too friendly. There is too much social interaction and not enough focus on the Word and preaching.
  • They don’t have good children’s program or youth program
  • They are too focused on programs.
  • Tired of people always nagging me, I’m tired of the botched follow throughs.
  • Its too hot; its too cold.
  • They use a translation of the Bible I don’t like.
  • They use too many translations of the Bible.
  • That church is too large; that church is too small.
  • That church has only one service. That church has two services.
  • Their music is geared for the younger generation/older generation.

And on and on the list goes.

But let me ask you this.  What is the greatest obstacle preventing us from getting involved in church?  Is it our bad church experience in the past?  Is it hypocrisy?  Is it the fact that our preferences are not being listened to?

The greatest obstacle preventing us from being committed to the local church is not problems in the local church.  It’s problems in us.  Let me just give you 3 of the most common problems in people.

 

  • Common Problem #1: Every one of us struggles with having a self-centered attitude when it comes to church.  We believe the lie that the more we clutch our possessions, our time, our money the happier we will be.  We think that letting go of our resources will mean letting go of our happiness.  The reality is the tighter we cling to our things, the less we receive back.  We think the church is here to serve us and not the other way around. 

More frequently than some sort of overt forms of selfishness is the covert forms.  You can even be self centered and appear very nice.  Some of you are those social Monarch butterfly type.  You enjoy the social aspects of church, you enjoy game night, you enjoy fellowship activities, you enjoy home fellowship groups, you like any gathering that has food, you enjoy talking with your friends.  But if you are honest, you enjoy what you get from church.  Take that away, and what’s left?

  • Common Problem #2: Everyone of us struggles with prideful independence.  This manifests itself in two forms.  Form #1 We think we don’t need others; we can do a fine job sanctifying ourselves on our own thank you very much. 

I like to fly solo.  I don’t like commitment.  We go because we know we are supposed to go but we run a very careful algorithm that ensures that we don’t get too involved, especially with people.  When asked if you have made this your church home you say,  “Im here tentatively.. at least for the immediate future… I think.”

Form #2 of prideful independence.  Perhaps we struggle with prideful independence in the sense that we just simply don’t want people to see who we really are.  Deep down we are terrified that if someone knew who I really was, I would be totally and completely rejected. 

Or maybe we struggle with both.  But the fact of the matter is, we need one another for growth.  And when we hear phrase, “We need one another for growth.” We tend to always hear it positively.  In other words we demand, “Where’s the discipler in my life.  I don’t see anyone in this church helping me grow in Christ.”  But that’s usually not what Christ thinks you need.  A lot of times Christ grows us through mules.  We need mule against mule friction.    When our faults rub against one another, they function like mirrors shining into our hearts.  We get in arguments and bicker back and forth.  You know what conflict and arguments in the church usually are?  Usually when we argue we end up doing a great job of confessing one another’s sin!  I confess your sin for you and you confess my sin for me in the form of accusations.  And growth happens when you stop confessing other peoples sin for them and start confessing your own.

  • Common Problem #3: Critical eye.  Criticism manifest itself in being short on allegiance, quick on fault finding.  This attitude reminds me of the boyfriend nobody can tolerate because he always has a wandering eye always on the look for something betterSome of us need to realize that logging faults in people actually doesn’t accomplish anything.  And let me be careful to define what we are talking about when we talk about a critical heart.  Criticism is not noticing faults.  We need to notice our own faults; noticing our own faults is good and healthy and necessary.  Noticing other people’s faults is also sometimes necessary.  So what is wrong with criticism?  Criticism is noticing faults and not caring.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  It is possible to notice faults and care.  And that is called concern.  Christ calls us to compassionate concern. 

Let me just say, criticizing and running away is the easy route.  The path of least resistance is seldom the path of growth. 

  • Humbling yourself and admitting you need other Christians,
  • involving yourself in a church and counting other people as more important than yourself.
  • Stopping the complaining streak and starting to become part of the solution is the fastest road to true growth. That’s what God intends.  Believe me, this will make you grow.

So it really isn’t accurate to say that the reason I can’t love the church is because there are problems in the church.  To say that the churches blemishes are the reason for abandoning the church is like I mom asking for a refund after childbirth because her kids are difficult.  The church is the bride of Christ more precious than anything else he created.  You don’t abandon what Christ died for. 

What Does Passion Look Like?

So if Christ is passionate about the church, we should be as well.  What does that look like?  Ultimately we don’t have to really even describe it.  We know passion instinctively when we see it.   When a girl is passionate about scrapbooking,

  • she reads scrapbooking blogs,
  • she subscribes to scrapbooking magazines,
  • she hangs out on scrapbooking forums
  • she buys the scrapbooking punchers and stampers and painters and tweakers,
  • she spends her free time scrapbooking,
  • her husband joins support groups on how to cope with a wife addicted to scrap.

Guys who are passionate about sports go to insane measures to carry out their passions. 

Here’s a great photo of a Green Bay Packers fan enduring sub zero conditions to have a tailgate party to prepare for the big game.

Compare your passion with your favorite pastime with your passion for church? 

We all have our passions.  We all have our clubs.  It could be a preoccupation with technology, news, identification with a political party, relationships, hunting, skiing, sports, projects.

Love for the church will manifest itself a thousand different ways through the spectrum of the personality God gave which represents the church!

Let me just describe some of the ways in which this will manifest itself in general. 

  1. Serve – You wont just show up on Sunday and leave an effective parasite. You will use the gifts God has given you to help others.
  2. Give – You will give.
  3. You will take Heb 13.17 and through your example, you will give your leaders joy.
  4. Connect with People … one anothers.
  5. Factor the church into your decisions. Factor it into moves.   S News and World report.  Local church is not on there.

The Sunday Gathering

Let’s get even more specific.  How ill this manifest itself on Sunday morning? 

Prepare for Sunday morning

We prepare for tests, sports, etc..

Start Sat..  bed, no movie,

“It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch – and then wonder why their spiritual lives are weak and their worship experience is shallow with no intensity.  If you really want to hear the Word of God the way He means it to be heard in truth and joy and power, turn off the television on Saturday night and read something true and great and beautiful and pure and honorable and excellent wand worthy of praise (Phil 4:8).  Then watch you heart un-shrivel and being to hunger for the Word of God.”

Arrive on time!

Bret Butler as example?

Me as an example?

Matt B as an example?

During the meeting

Not here to be entertained.

The sermon is the most important part of Sunday morning, and I hesitate saying that because how can I be objective if I’m the one delivering the message.  The importance of the message has nothing to do with the person and everything to do with the authority of the Word of God.  The Sermon is not just information about God, but God speaking to you.

Luke 8:18  Take care then how you hear,

After the message.

The rest of the week.

James 1:22-24  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

Monday, go to the coffee shop with notes on how to apply that weeks message.

Today all around the world, in mud huts, underground homes, multimillion dollar facilities, rented theaters, schools.  No matter.  What matters is the One we have come to worship.

Prayer

The church is earth’s single best place – God’s designed place – to start over, to grow and to change for the glory of God.