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JANUARY 22 2017 WHY THE CHURCH IS NOT ONLY IMPORTANT BUT ESSENTIAL IN THE LIFE OF THE DISCIPLE

Why the Church is Not Only Important But Essential in the Life of the Disciple

 

Our scripture reading this morning is Matthew 16:13-18.

 

A while back Josie and I were grocery shopping. Somewhere along the way, in one of the parking lots where we found ourselves, Josie noticed a bumper sticker that said, “Nature is my church.” What do you think the owner of that car meant by that sticker? He or she could have meant that when they are in the wilderness, in the forest especially, they have a sense of the presence of God. They may find that they can commune with God in a deeper more focused way in nature than in their living room or bedroom. If that is what they meant then I am in full agreement. I have found that to be true for me. There is something about the solitude of the woods and the beauty of God’s creation that enhances communion with him. Not only that but, if you are really deep in the woods, you can shout praises to him or cry out loudly with your heart-felt petitions, showing him by your loud cries how important some request is to you. The Bible has many examples of God’s people raising their voices loudly to him. The woods is a perfect place to do that so you are not self-conscious about what other people might think.

 

But if the person meant this: “All I need is private communion with God. I don’t need to meet with other worshippers. I don’t need ‘organized religion,’” then I must disagree and disagree wholeheartedly. Why? Because Jesus, my Lord, would disagree. Notice, by the way, when people voice this idea they always use a pejorative expression: “organized religion.” It is pejorative because in most peoples’ minds “religion” is a negative term. Then, to add human organization to it implies that if there ever was anything good in religion it is further corrupted by man’s organization of it.

 

The phrase “nature is my church” or another that you may have heard: “I don’t need to go to church to be close to God,” is another way of saying: “I don’t attend church but I am still right with God.” That is what people are really saying: “I don’t attend church but I am still right with God.” Is that true? My intent this morning is to prove, from God’s word, that it is not true. I am going to demonstrate that if one does not regularly meet with other disciples of Christ then they are not right with God. I will allow you to judge whether I have succeeded after the next two hours. (I was just making sure you were awake…after the next 30 minutes.)

 

Before I proceed I would present a preliminary consideration. A preliminary principle: God mediates his gifts to human beings. There are times when God will deal directly with individuals. God can communicate to a person in a dream or in the beauty of a sunset. He does that sometimes. But that is not the primary way that he blesses people.

 

Consider healing. When you have something wrong with your body God designed your body to heal itself. Isn’t that marvelous? Just think if man could do that? When you something went wrong with your car, or your refrigerator, or your computer if it just fixed itself so you wouldn’t have to take your car to a mechanic, your frig to an appliance repairman, your computer to an expert in computers. When we get minor sicknesses or aches and pains, often they are gone after a few days or maybe two weeks. What a marvelous creation we are!

 

But when our maladies are more serious sometimes our bodies cannot handle what we have. How do we most often get healed? We go to a doctor. God has permitted man to gain more knowledge about the human body and the main way that God heals people today, both Christians and not, is through other people: doctors and nurses. God mediates healing to human beings through other human beings.

 

Consider evangelism. How does God primarily send the gospel message out? Through other people. People have to hear the message and they hear it from another person. God mediates the good news through people.

 

Consider the speaking of God. What is the primary way, and the only certain way, that God speaks today? It is through the Scriptures! And who wrote the Scriptures? It was men. These men were inspired by the Holy Spirit but it was still men that took pen to hand and wrote under his inspiration. God mediates his speaking through people.

 

This principle is true to all people, saved or unsaved: God mediates his gifts to people through other people.

 

Understanding this principle we can now proceed to answer the question: Why is the church not only important but essential?

 

First, the presence and participation in a local church is a sign of genuine faith. And the absence of presence and participation in a local church is a sign of a false faith, a dead faith, a faith that does not save.

 

Turn to I John 2:18-20.  Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.

 

Who was John writing about here? He is writing about people who made a profession of faith and were meeting with them. They were meeting in the church for a time. They believed that Christ came from heaven. They believed he died for the sins of mankind. They even believed he rose from the dead. They were part of the church outwardly. They were either Gnostics or Docetists. It does not matter what they were, but they began to teach people things contrary to apostolic teaching. When they were opposed by the leaders of the church they left. The apostle John says that they were never really of us – meaning real Christians. Oh, there are so many who outwardly believe the facts about Christ but as soon as something does not go according to their liking in a church they are gone. John says that if you do not continue with the church this shows that you were never truly a part. This does not mean that you cannot transfer your membership to another local church if you think the Lord is leading you to attach yourself to another. I am talking about those who do not meet with any other disciples at all. For whatever reason, they just do not meet with God’s people. That is a sign that they do not have the faith that saves.

 

The excuses that people give for not meeting at a local church are not real. They cover something. They cover the unfortunate fact that they do not enjoy hearing the word of God expounded or singing praises to the One who is worthy to receive those praises. You see, they would not use those excuses for something they enjoy. Imagine a Cardinals fan saying this:

 

  • Every time I went, they asked me for money. 

  • The people with whom I had to sit didn't seem very friendly. 

  • The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable. 

  • I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me. 

  • The umpire made a decision with which I could not agree. 

  • I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites -- they came 
to see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game. 

  • Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.

Those things don’t matter when you enjoy baseball. But if one does not enjoy learning what God has spoken, if one does not enjoy praising Who is praiseworthy, it is a sign that a work of grace has not taken place in your soul.

 

Therefore, if you wish to have an assurance that you are saved you need to be an active part of a local church. If you are not an active member of a local fellowship then you should question your own standing before God. Don’t go by your feelings or your supposed experience or experiences with God. Many will say to Christ on the day of judgment, didn’t we do this for you, do that for you, and he will say, “I never knew you.” Many people, many(!), think they are right with God when they are not. That includes church goers, but the truth that I am expounding presently is the one which simply says, one can think they have faith when they do not.

 

The presence and participation in a local church is a sign of genuine faith. And the absence of presence and participation in a local church is a sign of a false faith, a dead faith, a faith that does not save.

 

Second, the church mediates evangelism. Evangelism and the making of disciples is the mandate that the Lord Jesus gave to his church. It is a command. We should all be familiar with the Great Commission. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

This command is both corporate and private. In other words, it is a command meant to be carried out by the church collectively as well as by each individual Christian. We know that to be true because of the way the Great Commission was carried out in the book of Acts. The book of Acts illustrates for us how to carry out the Lord’s will. Unless you have the specific gift of evangelism, it is not that easy to share the gospel. In fact, even if you have the gift you can get distracted from the exercise of your gift. Whether you have the gift or do not have the gift the command, the Great Commission, is to you as an individual. If you disobey this command, you disobey God. It is that simple.

But the church will help you to accomplish your obedience in this area. The church teaches, mediates, and facilitates how to share the good news and make disciples. You only need to plug in. But if you do not plug in your plug will be disconnected and your light will not shine.

[Illus: Tell story of going out the first time with Jed.]

The church mediates evangelism. If you are not an active part of the local church you are likely not fulfilling the Great Commission.

Third, the church mediates divine healing. Sometimes our bodies cannot heal themselves and sometimes a malady resists all medical efforts at correction. But God desires to heal and he can accomplish that supernaturally. This divine healing can happen if someone fasts and prays. We see that in the Bible and I knew a man who was cured of terminal lymphoma that way. But I will frank with you. God does not usually do it that way. He does it through other members of the Body of Christ. He does it in the church.

Divine healing did not end with the apostles as some churches falsely teach. Listen to what Ireneaus wrote in 180 AD in his book, Against Heresies: “For some certainly do drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe and join themselves to the church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the church throughout the world has received from God in the name of Jesus Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles…for as she has received freely from God, freely does she also minister to others.”

But it is not just in 180 AD. [Tell John Wimber experience.]

The church mediates divine healing. If you absent yourself from the church you absent yourself from the place of blessing when it comes to healing.

Fourth, the church mediates God’s speaking. God speaks primarily through the Scriptures. The Bible is the founding document of our faith and our practice as a people of God. It is what the Constitution is with respect to the United States. The Constitution is the founding document of the USA, but you can give it some very bad interpretations, as has been the case lately. For example, people seeing all kinds of rights to practice perversion in the Constitution that are not there. “Rights” that were the furthest thing from the minds of the framers of the Constitution. Imagine if we could have judges at the Supreme Court who were guided by the Holy Spirit! Oh, that would be glorious! But that is what you have in a faithful local church that has leaders who seek the face of God and are filled with the Holy Spirit.

I Thess. 2:13!! This is not just Paul, but also Silvanus and Timothy (1:1).

[Tell about experience in Hayward, CA]

You receive illumination that you would otherwise not have. The church is a place where God’s speaking is happening at more than one level. The church mediates God’s speaking. If you absent yourself from the church you absent yourself from the fullness of God’s speaking.

Fifth, the church mediates sanctification. What is sanctification? Sanctification is the process whereby the Lord is transforming you from the fallen state of sin and rebellion into conformation to the moral goodness of Christ. We put to death the sins which still plague us and we take on the virtues of Christ, the perfect man.

All of these things can happen to a small degree without other lovers of Jesus at our side. We can lead others to Christ by ourselves. We can be healed by ourselves. We can read the Bible and understand it by ourselves. And we can be sanctified to some small degree by ourselves.

But you cannot make progress in the Lord in any significant way alone. You need others to teach you, to gently inform you, to experience change. Just by interacting with the saints our eyes are opened to our own weaknesses and the Spirit tells us where we need to change. This is tied in with seeing more in the Scriptures than we would see on our own.

Being taught in the word is to be taught what the Lord desires and how we can conform ourselves to his desires.

2 Tim. 2:22. “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

I must warn you saints as the author of Hebrews warned you: Without holiness no one will see the Lord. (12:14) That is not written to unbelievers but to believers! We must be made holy to see the Lord! The church mediates being made holy! Therefore, the church will help you to see the Lord!

Christ is building His church. Are you part of it? Or, are you just a stone laying off to the side somewhere. If you are not part of the builded church then the gates of hell may prevail against you. You see, the church is not only important but it is essential for the disciple of Christ.

  • It is through the church that it is revealed who is really Christ’s and who it was that had a profession only without the reality.
  • It is through the church that evangelism is mediated.
  • It is through the church that divine healing takes place.
  • It is through the church that God’s speaking is mediated.
  • It is through the church that sanctification is mediated.

Finally, the church is a place of safety. Oh, brothers and sisters, there are so many dangers out there spiritually speaking. Spiritual dangers are more serious than physical dangers. The worst physical danger may cause your body to die. But a spiritual fall can have consequences that reach out into the next age.

There are dangers from cults, dangers from false doctrine, dangers from sin which can tempt in very devious ways – ways that are hard to discern. And sin can take you away from the Lord.

Acts 20:17, 28-32. Note: “careful attention,” “care for,” “be alert.” Also, Proverbs 11:14. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, 
But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” These are not counselors of the world, or your two friends, Joe and Bubby, down the street. These are men or women who are saturated with the word of God. These are counselors in the church.

We are like a ship that is traveling on the sea where billows roll and the wind is blowing. The rain is falling. Our ship is reeling and could be smashed against the rocks.

There is a song that likens the church to a safe harbor where all is calm. The song is entitled Safety Harbor and these are the words:

Sweet Vision! Bless my eyes! Land upon the western skies! Constant stars, I bid you rise over Safety Harbor.

Home, home! At last be calmed! Far behind us screams the storm. Tattered canvas waves like arms over Safety Harbor. From the windows of the tower where the beacon burns, faithful friends at every hour watch for my return.

Yours the calm and peace I claim when I face the waves and rain, when the sea-road calls my name out from Safety Harbor. Through the fearsome, foaming gale when no spirit fills my sail, I shall see, though sight may fail, lights of Safety Harbor.

From the windows of the tower where the beacon burns, faithful friends at every hour watch for my return.

Have you been in Safety Harbor? Or have you been out in the gale? The beacon is burning in the church. And faithful friends are waiting for your return.