A Healthy Church Member is a Committed Member (Part1)

June 22, 2014 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

 

We are looking at the marks of a healthy church member and, so far, we have seen five marks:

 
  1. First, a healthy church member is an expositional listener.

  2. Second, he or she is a biblical theologian.

  3. Third, gospel saturated.

  4. Fourth, genuinely converted.

  5. Fifth, a biblical evangelist.

  Today, we are going to look at the sixth mark: a healthy church member is a committed member.   The ideas I will share with you regarding this mark come from the following sources:  
  • Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church
  • Thabiti Anyabwile,What is a Healthy Church Member
  • Wayne Mack & David Swavely,Life in the Father’s House
  A profile of a church-dater Reasons for church-dating God’s view of the church  

I. A Profile of a Church-dater

Today, many professing Christians have this idea that to be a faithful believer in Christ one only has to make sure that he or she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, be faithful in doing his Quiet Time, and, finally,fulfill his calling in the best way he can whether it be in the family, school, government, business or community.   If a Christian neglects the local church or has a half-hearted commitment to it, one does not to be very concerned about it as long as hedoes all the three things I just mentioned.   Joshua Harris, bestselling author of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, calls a Christian who has such a shallow commitment to the body of Christ, achurch-dater.As a former church-dater, he describes his own experience when he was a young Christian.   When I graduated from my church’s high school youth group, I started visiting around. I loved God and had big dreams for how I wanted to serve Him, but I didn't see any reason to get too involved in one church. By then, I thought I knew all there was to know about church, and I wasn't impressed. Most churches struck me as out-of-date and out-of touch. There had to be better, more efficient ways to accomplish great things for God.   I was perfectly happy to keep playing [the dating game] with the church. I liked attending on weekends, and I enjoyed the social benefits of church, but I didn't want the responsibility that came with real commitment. […] I wasn't interested in settling down. So though I gave the appearance of commitment, I mostly just flirted with different churches and kept my options open.   Those words were taken from his book, Stop Dating the Church.   Thabiti Anyabwile commented on this:   It wasn't that [Joshua Harris] didn’t love God or God’s people. He just didn't think that belonging to a particular local church was important, and might even be a hindrance.   Joshua is not alone. Many people think that church—especially church membership, that is, actually signing up and joining—is a spiritual relic destined to hinder spiritual freedom and fruitfulness.   To give us a clearer picture of what dating the church means, let us look at a profile of a church-dater. These insights are still from Joshua Harris. (As we listen to this, it would be good to ask ourselves if we see one or more of these characteristics in our own lives.) So how does a church-dater look like?   First, our attitude toward church tends to be me-centered. We go for what we can get—social interaction, programs, or activities. The driving question is, “What can the church do for me?”   A second sign of a church-dater is being independent. We go to church because that’s what Christians are supposed to do—but we’re careful to avoid getting involved too much, especially with people. We don’t pay much attention to God’s larger purpose for us as a vital part in a specific church family. So we go through the motions without really investing ourselves.   Most essentially, a church-dater tends to be critical. We are short on allegiance and quick to find fault in our church. We treat church with a consumer mentality—looking for the best product for the price of our Sunday morning. As a result, we’re fickle and not invested for the long-term, like a lover with a wandering eye, always on the hunt for something better.   Take my friend Nathan. He attended two churches on Sundays—one because he liked their music, the other because he liked the preaching. And his involvement in both went no deeper. At the first church he’d slip out just before the last song wound down and drive to the other church five minutes away. He even factored in time to stop by McDonald’s for an Egg McMufflin. He timed it so that he’d be walking into the second church just as the pastor started to preach.   If you see yourself in any of those descriptions, you may be saying to yourself that you are only enjoying spiritual freedom, but what you do not realize is that you are on a path that is leading to serious loss for yourself and others. Unless you join a local church and become committed to it as a member, you are going to miss God’s purpose for your life as a Christian and forfeit the profound blessings that come with living a life committed to the church. In short, you are not going to be a healthy Christian.  

II. Reasons for Church-dating

Now let’s explore some of the reasons why Christians have this shallow commitment to the local church. Let me to read to you the reasons suggested by Thabiti Anyabwile in his book, What is a Healthy Church Member?   The reasons for this view of church membership are many. Some Christians are just plain indifferent to church membership. They can take it or leave it; they’re neither excited nor negative toward the church. It just doesn't matter to them.   Others are ignorant. They are uninformed. They’ve never considered the Bible’s view of the local church.   Still others are indecisive. They can’t make up their minds about joining. Perhaps they’re the kind of people who never really make decisions; decisions tend to happen to them.   And there are the independent types. They are “Lone Ranger Christians” who don’t want to be saddled with the burdens of church membership. […] They want to come into a church, consume what they need, and leave unattached.   Finally, there are those who are slow to commit to a local church because their affections are inverted. They have strong attachments to a “home church” in the town they grew up in, and yet their bodies are hundreds of miles away. They cant bring themselves to join a church where they live because they’ve never emotionally left a church from their past.   [Let me add one more reason to that list: ill feelings.Joshua Harris says, “For some, I know, just the idea of committing (or recommitting)to a church stirs up unpleasant feelings and memories. You may think you’re doing just fine on your own. Or you may have had a bad experience at church in the past. Perhaps you’ve seen a church torn apart by greed, arrogance, or a lack of moral integrity. Any talk of commitment makes you balk or want to run. You don’t want to give your heart and have it broken again.”]   At root, all of these perspectives on the local church stem from the same problem: a failure to understand or take seriously God’s intent that the local church be central to the life of his people. People don’t become committed church members—and therefore healthy Christians—because they don’t understand that such a commitment is precisely how God intends his people to live out the faith and experience Christian love.   And so, if being a committed member of a local church is vital to spiritual health and Christian maturity, we need to have a right perspective towards the church. So in the rest of our time today, I want us to look at God’s view of the local church. I pray that this will stir us up to seriously consider being member of a church and being passionate in our involvement in it.  

III. God’s View of the Church

[The insights in this section are from Wayne Mack & David Swavely, authors of the book, Life in the Father’s House.]  
  1. The biblical meaning of the word “church.”
  The church is defined in the dictionary in this way: Churchn. 1. A building for public worship 2. Public worship; a religious service 3. A particular sect or denomination of Christians 4. Church government, or its power, as opposed to civil government 5. The profession of the clergy 6.  A group of worshipers. Those definitions of the word church, taken from the Student Edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary (1981) betray the confusion that exists in our day regarding that institution. We reflect the first five definitions when we say things like, “It’s about time to redecorate the church,” “I enjoyed church today,” “My church is the Lutheran church,” and “I believe in the separation of church and state.” But not one of those meanings of the term church can be found in the Bible. Rather, the Greek word translated in that way (ekklesia) is used over a hundred times in the New Testament, and it always refers to “a group of worshipers,” which is the last definition mentioned in Webster’s. The church, according to Scripture, is not a building, a denomination, or an activity—it is a group of people. This is true of both the universal (or invisible) church, which is the group of people throughout the world who truly believe in Jesus Christ (Matt 16:18; Eph 5:25-27), and also the local (or visible church, which is the group of people who profess to know Christ and meet together in a particular location for worship (Matt 18:17; 1 Cor 1:2). The word ekklesia is used in both ways in the New Testament, but the latter meaning is much more prevalent. Technically speaking, those people do not worship “at a church” or participate “in church”—they are the church! And if you are a member of the body of Christ, you do not “go to church” or “sit in church”—you are part of the church who comes together for worship with the rest of the body. This is important to understand because the quality of a church is therefore not measured by the condition of its buildings or the appeal of its services, but by the state of the people themselves. They are the church, so the church is only as good as they are.  
  1. The church is central in the teachings of the NT.
  Even a quick reading of the New Testament makes clear the centrality of the church in the bible.  
  • In Mt 16:18 Jesus proclaimed, “… on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
  • In Mt 18:17-20 our Lord Jesus has given the church the authority to act on his behalf in removing from their assemblies anyone who is unwilling to repent of sin: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
  • In Eph 5:25-27 Paul wrote that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
  • In Eph 3:20-21 Paul talks about the God’s power that is at work in the church and the glorious eternal existence of the church: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
  • Most of the epistles are written to local churches, and three of the others written to individuals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) discuss how the local church should function.
  • Out of the 110 times the Greek word ekklesia is translated “church,” only 17 are clear references to the invisible universal church. 90 undoubtedly denote the local church. Even in those few times when the NT writers are referring to the universal church, the idea of the local church cannot be eliminated from the word because the two are so inextricably linked, the one being the visible manifestation of the other.
 
  1. The NT metaphors for the church show that that Christians should be joined not only to God but to His church as well.
  The church is defined in Scripture as:  
  • a holy and royal priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices to God
  • a chosen race belonging to God
  • a separate nation whose King is the eternal God
  • a temple indwelt by the Spirit of God
  • a set of branches connected to Jesus Christ as the Vine
  • a flock led by the Good Shepherd
  • a household or family sharing the common life of the eternal Father
  • a body of which the Lord Jesus is Head
  All these metaphors feature the common characteristics of unity and shared life and fellowship.Believers compose one priesthood, one nation, one race, one temple, one plant, one flock, one family, and one body. We are commanded not to forsake “our own assembling together,” so that we can “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24-25).  
  1. Paul’s description of the church in 1 Tim 3:15.
  No single verse proclaims the importance of the local church more powerfully than 1 Tim 3:15. There Paul says to Timothy, “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”   Paul wanted Timothy to understand the gravity and significance of his instructions, and so he referred to the local assembly of believers by four descriptive terms designed to emphasize its importance to God. An understanding of them should help us to share Paul’s love and respect for the church.  
  1. The household of God.
  The word “household” comes from the Greek oikos, which can mean either a dwelling place (“house”) or an immediate family (“household”). Both meanings are applied to the church in Scripture, and both provide profound testimony to its divine origin and significance.   If Paul used the word in the sense of a dwelling place, then it testifies to the fact that God Himself lives in and among His church. The church itself is the house of God (not the building but the people). The term is an allusion to the OT tabernacle and temple. Yes, God is present everywhere but in a special way, He manifests Himself in certain places. In the OT, God dwelt in the temple in a special way. This is the reason why when the Israelites prayed, they faced the temple. They did not just offer their sacrifices anywhere but in the temple. Throughout history, God has chosen to work with groups of people and to manifest His presence in a [special] way when they assemble together.   If we want to be where God is, we need to be in His church, for that is where He dwells. And the way we relate to Him is largely dependent upon the way we relate to His church.   The more likely meaning of the word “household” in 1 Tim 3:15 is that of a family, because Paul used it that way in 3:5: “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?”   The idea of being a part of God’s family is not new to most Christians—we speak often speak of being “born again” into it, refer to God as our heavenly Father, and praise Him for adopting us as sons and making us His heirs ((Rom 8:15-17).   No doubt Paul used this phrase in order to convince Timothy of the importance of right conduct in the church. If elders and deacons are required to have their households in order (vv. 4,5, and 12), how much more does God’s own household need to be in order!  
  1. The church of the living God
  The emphasis in this second description of the church falls on the words “of the living God.”  
  • of… Godit emphasizes the fact that God is the Originator and Owner of the church.
 
  • living GodThis is to show the contrast between the living God and dead pagan idols. At all times, God is personally and actively involved in the church’s operation and enterprises.
  Throughout the NT, God makes it clear to us that the church is His dearest creation and possession. In fact, each member of the Holy Trinity is repeatedly portrayed as treasuring it above all other earthly institutions.   God the Father
  • The Father has revealed His love for the church by His sovereign election of it before the foundation of the world. (Eph 1:4-5)
  • The Father paid the ultimate price for the church by sending His beloved Son to die (John 3:16 cf. Acts 20:28)
  • The Father participates continually in the fellowship of the church (1 John 1:3)
  • The church functions primarily for the purpose of bringing glory to the Father (Eph 3:21).
  The Son of God
  • Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25; Acts 20:28).
  • Christ is called the head of the church (Col 1:18)
  • Christ gave gifts to the church so that it may be built up and be mature to the whole measure of His fulness (Eph 4:7-16).
  • Jesus has promised to be personally present when the church meets to enact His process of loving discipline (Mt 18:20).
  • Paul said that the Lord Jesus will return to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:27)
  The Holy Spirit
  • The H.S. initiated the NT church at Pentecost through marvelous signs and wonders (Acts 2:1-4)
  • The H.S. brings each member into the body of Christ through spiritual baptism and regeneration (John 3:3,5; Titus 3:5)
  • The H.S. works to promote unity and peace in the body (Eph 4:3).
  • He also provides the various spiritual gifts that enable it to function properly (1 Cor 12:7-11).
  • He guarantees the church’s eventual glorification (Eph 1:13,14).
  If the blessed Trinity is deeply and intimately involved in the origin, operation, sanctification and future glory of the church, we who are “called sons of the living God” (Rom 9:26) must be involved in His church.  
  1. a pillar of truth
  Paul’s next description for the church is “a pillar.” The church is a support that actually holds up the truth. If the pillar of a building is removed, as Samson proved in his last act in the Philistine temple (Judg 16:29-30), the building will topple and the people inside will be injured or killed. The implication of Paul’s words is that the truth would fall into disaster if the church did not exist. Of course that fearful event will never occur, because God has promised that His church will always endure (Mt 16:18). But as Paul’s words were designed to help Timothy grasp the gravity of right conduct in the church so they are meant to convince us of the indispensable role that the church plays in our individual lives. Our own relationship to God and His truth is in mortal danger if the church does not occupy its intended place in our lives. So when we consider those who abandon the church as a means of spiritual growth, it is highly unlikely that they are truly holding to the truth or cultivating a meaningful relationship with God by themselves. In the light of 1 Tim 3:15, it is much more likely that their faith has crumbled— because they have torn away the pillar that holds up the truth.  
  1. a buttress of the truth
  The Greek word for “buttress” (meaning support) can also be translated “foundation.”   “Foundation” speaks of stability and permanence. Paul wanted Timothy to know that the church is the one institution God has promised to preserve throughout all time. It will always endure, and even succeed, regardless of the many assaults that threaten it. Jesus affirmed this fact in the most definite terms when He said, “I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).   The truth that the church will always be built and blessed by God Himself provides a tremendous source of hope and confidence to us as Christians. It also presents a convincing argument for the idea that we should direct our energies and efforts primarily toward the edification and growth of the local church rather than organizations and institutions outside of it. God has promised to preserve and bless the church, but endeavors of Christians in those other arenas will not necessarily bear lasting fruit. […] Because the church acts as a permanent foundation for the truth of God, it will always remain an exciting and fulfilling place in which to serve Him.   What more could be said about the importance of the church than what Paul communicated in these four vivid descriptions? The church is  
  • the dwelling place and family of God
  • the assembly that is greatly loved by each member of the Trinity
  • the indispensable pillar and
  • incomparably stable, timeless foundation holding up the truth of the Scriptures,
  No wonder the ancient Christians had a very high regard for the church.  
  • The believers of the past did not only believe in the blessed Trinity but they also believed in the church. For them, being part of the body of Christ was part of believing in Christ as Lord and Savior. This is what is implied in the portion in the Apostles’ Creed “I believe… the holy catholic (universal) church.” They did not just believe in the universal church but also in the importance of the local church.
  • Augustine in the 4th said, “He cannot have God for his father who does not have the church for his mother.”
  • Martin Luther wrote, “Apart from the church, salvation is impossible.”
  • And John Calvin wrote, “The Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true ministry of Word and sacraments.
  It only remains to ask ourselves whether the church is as important to us as it is to the Lord, and to those early believers. If we really believe what the God says about the church, then the only appropriate response would be to join a true church and be passionate in our commitment to it.   Reflection:  
  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your commitment to membership in your local church? If your rating is not a 10, why?
  2. Do you see yourself as a church-dater?
  3. What should you do to make this study practical in your life?