Our family had an absolutely amazing weekend. The ministry outreach project went very well and we were all so blessed to take part in this event. The turnout was far greater than we had anticipated, which lead to more work being done at each site than was planned, which is a huge Praise the Lord! As soon as we get a hold of the photographs and video taken we will be sharing it here. I believe that this is the sort of good work the church should be engaged in each of their communities. To my knowledge, there were volunteers representing 5 different local churches (Reformed Baptist, Free-Will Baptist, and Pentecostal) coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ to do good work. Today’s post is not in any way related to this event.
Have you seen bumper stickers, t-shirts, or yard signs that bore the “I love my church” slogan pointing to a specific local church? Have you ever wondered, “what’s that about?”. Is it wrong to love your church? No, of course not. But is that what this campaign is about?
Studies show that on average only 20 percent of church attendees regularly contribute and are involved in the ministry and leadership of their church, while the other 80 percent fill seats on Sunday but never experience the blessings of full church engagement. Turn these statistics around in your church with the new “I Love My Church” campaign and small group curriculum.
Through this five-week campaign, your church members will learn WHY God designed the Church and how they can find fulfillment and spiritual growth through loving God and his Church. (reference)
This is a campaign geared for making more of the regular attendees become increase in their involvement their contributions to the local church based on a 5-week sermon series on Why God designed the Church. The tail end of the plug is to suggest that this series will encourage the non-regular contributors (the 80% who don’t tithe regularly) that if they would become more involved then they will find greater fulfillment and spiritual growth. That’s the campaign pitch. It’s a church club-pep rally to boost “team spirit” in some quantifiable way in exchange for a qualitative measure of increased fulfillment and growth.
A 5 Week Series on the Church?
This part of the campaign vexes me. The first question that fires off in my head is, “What is the Church preaching if a special 5-week series on why God designed the Church sounds like a good idea?” Seriously, how does a church make it through a year without addressing that subject as it correlates to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? You can’t have preached through any of Paul’s Epistles, or James, or the book of Hebrews… nope, don’t think you could make it through any portion of the New Testament without addressing the Kingdom of Heaven or the Body of Christ. Sadly, I already know the answer to this question… many popular churches these days preach themselves, their speculations, and so-called life tips from week to week, and never truly preach Law and Gospel, or work through any large portion of Scripture faithfully. Difficult to fit all of that text on 5 slides, and asking the congregation to turn in your Bibles to… has become passé and even draconian to some. If there is a major portion of the congregation that is marginalized or uninvolved in the congregation, there is a shepherding problem that needs to be addressed. A 5-week pep rally won’t solve that problem. The sheep require a shepherd.
Whose Church are we? We are His Church.
17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
We are His Church. Jesus said He will build His church. Please take a moment to think about what we are doing here. I have no doubt that those who get excited about their church are in any way confused about to whom the church belongs, at least not in the academic sense. This isn’t complex, but our hearts/emotions/flesh is sinful. The sin of idolatry works its way into every aspect of our lives because our flesh is inherently idolatrous, born into the sin of Adam. Jesus builds His church. Let’s work out an analogy for a moment.
I enjoy the sport of American football. I am not a fan of any football team, neither college nor professional. When I get invited to a football gathering (like a Superbowl Party), the host of the party is usually a dedicated fan of one of the teams. The excitement in the air, the cheers, even the food will be reflective of the supported team. Both teams are playing football, but we aren’t there for both teams, we are there (generally) for one of the teams so that we can cheer together and moan together as we watch the game play out. Sometimes, though, some of the most decked-out fans (clothing, gadgets, accessories, and even makeup) aren’t particularly fans of the sport or even know the rules of the game, they just like being a part of the team and rely on others to give cues for what is praiseworthy or where there is injustice.
Now, in this analogy, lets replace “the sport of American football” with Christianity. True, Biblical, Christianity, no cults or apostate doctrines in this analogy. Now we have teams, or individual denominations or church bodies. See where this is going? Not every game is “a good game”, meaning sometimes the two sides just aren’t very well matched which leads to a blowout on some topics. But then there are some highly contested match-ups (like reformed Baptist versus free-will Baptists, or Presbyterian versus Baptist, or Reformed versus Lutheran, or Methodist versus Pentecostal). Provided these match-ups remain within the context and confines of Christianity as defined in Scripture, such contests can lead to Iron Sharpening Iron in brotherly love. The players are those working in the ministry, teaching, preaching, and service. The rest are congregational fans. Not all the fans really understand the intricacies of the doctrines, they rest in a general knowledge of Christianity and take their cues from their church, because they are fans of the teams playing not necessarily of the sport.
Discipleship != Fandom
Being a fan of your local church is not equal to being Discipled. In fact, in many ways it runs contrary to the purpose of the local church and the Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul had to address the problem of fandom early in his first letter to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 3 (ESV) | Divisions in the Church
3 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and eachwill receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
If we were to continue this list for today, we might add, “What is Graham? What is Wesley? What is Spurgeon? What is Calvin? What is Luther?”
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
Paul and Peter were Apostles, Apollos was not. Yet, in this rebuke Paul doesn’t maintain any distinction in this fandom. Paul pointed the Corinthians to Christ and the preaching of His Word, not the servant who delivered the teaching. We should do likewise. There are times when using a major category of theology helps speed along a conversation and it’s not really a fandom issue. I find it helpful when someone tells me they are Reformed or Lutheran, because I know how to better communicate by using (to the best of my ability) their understanding of certain words, and I know how to talk about certain passages of scripture. As long as we don’t allow our “brand” to take the place of the Gospel, we’re all good. The problem comes in when we take our brand and insist on it as if it were the Gospel. The congregation you call home, the denomination you serve is not the Church. At best, it is a part of His Church.
Role of the Church
We should love our neighbors, we should love our Church, and we can only do so inasmuch as we’ve understood Christ’s love for us. The Law to love does not produce the love we need; rather, it kills the sinful self-love so that we repent and the Gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to love God and our neighbor. The role of the local church is to preach Law and Gospel so that as we die daily to our flesh and repent of sin that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can wash us clean and give us Life. Let’s look at the first two chapters of Paul’s letter to Titus.
1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
There isn’t a problem with loving your local church and being excited about inviting others to attend, provided you don’t falsely idolize your congregation and judge others by their “team spirit” or lack thereof. I’ve seen people get deeply offended for hearing me recommend a church different from the one I attend, or the one they attend. Don’t let your cheer-leading for your specific church create division in the greater Body of Christ. Don’t limit your “praise the Lord” reports to only that which reflects what God is doing in your church… God works through His church, so give Him Praise where Praise is due. Don’t limit the Truth of Jesus building His church to only what He can do for your congregation’s brand. We will all be very surprised in the Day of the Resurrection to see just how many people outside of our congregations are adopted as heirs and joint-heirs of Christ.
13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.
Amen. In Christ Jesus,