KINGDOM VALUE 3: THE CHURCH BELONGS TO GOD
These are my notes for my teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, July 7, 2019.
THE GREATEST THREAT TO BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA
Last week, we celebrated our nation's 243rd birthday. July 4 was originally a religious holiday, a day to thank God for the miracle of independence (for more on this, see the video by David Barton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvEabY0uKNQ).
The United States was conceived by Christians as a way to advance the Kingdom of God on earth. John Hancock was a Founding Father and the governor of Massachusetts. He used his office to issue 22 proclamations asking the people in the commonwealth to pray. In one proclamation, he called for a day of public fasting, humiliation and prayer:
"Pray that the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be established in peace and righteousness among all the nations of the earth."
"Pray that all nations may bow to the scepter of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the that the whole earth may be filled with his glory."
Today, many leaders and influencers in our nation would like to deny our history and restrict the public practice of the Christian faith:
"In a speech not long before she launched her 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton made a stunning declaration of war on religious Americans. Speaking to the 2015 Women in the World Summit, Clinton declared that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”" (https://www.denverpost.com/2016/10/13/hillary-clinton-is-a-threat-to-religious-liberty/
So-called progressives would like to roll back the freedoms we have enjoyed for 243 years. They envision a secular state with laws and values and behaviors divorced from historic biblical foundations. In the secular state, tolerance is god, except tolerance for the biblical God and the practice of the historic Christian faith. This intolerant secularism, governed by sociology not theology, has been growing for generations and, in our day, the dream of a completely godless society is gathering momentum.
I'm not worried, but I am troubled. I'm not worried because Jesus will build his church and no secularist will stop him. I am troubled, however, because the greatest threat to the church in America doesn't come from Washington DC or Lansing or a political party. No, it comes from within, from Christians bowing to cultural compromise. Our nation may have moved from its godly foundations, but the church must not.
HOW TO STAND AGAINST THE THREAT
OF CULTURAL COMPROMISE IN THE CHURCH
How can we stand against the threat of cultural compromise inside the church? One step we can all take is to understand what the church is. We must live in light of God's design for the church: Who is the church? How was the church created? What is the church for? Getting a grip on God's design for the church will lead to faithfulness and will push back against the tide of cultural compromise. In today's teaching, I'll show you how that works. I've called today's teaching, Kingdom Value #3: The Church Belongs to God. We've skipped ahead in Ephesians so that today's teaching can happen on our July 4 weekend. Let's read Ephesians 2:11-22.
GOD'S DESIGN FOR THE CHURCH
A. WHO IS THE CHURCH? - verses 11-14.
The backdrop of this entire passage is alienation. Horizontally, Jews and Gentiles were alienated from each other. Vertically, Gentiles were separated from God.
I don't want us to get lost in the forest of details and miss the point, which is: without Christ, people are divided from each other and separated from God. The language is vivid: "excluded, separated, far away."
But that all changed when Jesus died on the cross. There, his atoning blood built two bridges - a horizontal bridge connecting Jews and Gentiles and a vertical bridge connecting them all to God.
Christ is the great reconciler. That's the main point in these verses - Christ replaces alienation with reconciliation. And the church is the living illustration of reconciliation. The church is God's restored people, full of diversity, united in Jesus Christ.
How does this understanding of the church help us push back against cultural compromise? We want nothing to do with division and hatred in our community. God's people should build bridges not walls. That's the way of Jesus; he was "gentle and humble in heart" (Matthew 11:29). The apostle Paul taught us to imitate Jesus:
(Colossians 3:12) As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
How can we build bridges and work for reconciliation? Here are some ideas:
Watch what you post on social media. Don't bully. Don't call names. Bless, love, care.
Put people ahead of politics. Don't support haters. Build up, don't tear down.
Stand against "isms." Jesus eliminated divisions caused by isms. For example, there's no excuse for race-ism in the church. We embrace diversity and we should earn a reputation as a safe place.
Serve in the community to make life better for everyone. Remember, we love our Blue Water region.
Share the good news about Jesus with love and without looking down on people.
B. HOW WAS THE CHURCH CREATED? - verses 15-20.
The church was created by Jesus Christ. The state did not create the church. You and I didn't create the church. It's a God thing. Jesus did two things to make it happen:
Jesus demolished the old humanity. The old humanity was characterized by division. Ethnicity, culture, religion divided the Jews from everyone else. Israel followed the laws and regulations of the old Mosaic Covenant and no one else did. Result: religious, cultural, and ethnic hatred. So, Jesus demolished all that.
Jesus built one new humanity that is characterized by unity. At the cross, Jesus destroyed our hostility and created peace between diverse peoples, not by making us all the same, but by making us all one in himself. The new humanity has access to God by one Spirit. The church is one new family, built on one foundation of truth - the message of the apostles and prophets.
How was the church created? The church was created by Jesus Christ.
How does this understanding of the church help us push back against cultural compromise? We should trust Jesus to build his church. He has taken good care of it for 2,000 years. Compromise happens when we think Jesus needs our help.
There are two ways we might be tempted to commit cultural compromise.
The first way is to let the government tell us what to believe and how to practice our beliefs. Whose church is it? We don't exist by permission of the politicians. Our beliefs and behaviors come by revelation, not legislation. We're built on the foundation of Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets. In the first century, the apostles Peter and John were arrested by the government and told to stop preaching "in the name of Jesus." The apostles' response was blunt and we should use it as our model:
(Acts 4:19-20) But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.
I'm not saying that we should be bad citizens. No, we should follow the laws and be great members of our community, but we should never compromise the faith.
The second way we may be tempted to compromise is to change our beliefs to fit in with cultural trends. But you see, the church was created by Jesus and our foundation is theology, not sociology. We must never rewrite the teachings of Jesus. Yes, we are IN the world, but we are not OF the world. We are of God.
(Galatians 1:11-12) I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Won't our unchanging beliefs take us out of step with our culture? Yes, sometimes. But a church that compromises its beliefs might as well close its doors; it neither speaks for God nor reflects Jesus, so it's of no use to anyone. This was the case in the first century church of Pergamum. They tolerated doctrinal and moral compromise and Jesus rebuked them:
(Revelation 2:14-16) Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore!
We don't need to go into details, it's enough to say that we should stand firm against our culture's pressure to compromise our biblical beliefs and behaviors, and we should trust Jesus to build his church. He doesn't need any lessons from us about relevance and changing with the times:
(Matthew 16:18) "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
In spite of persecution by Herod Agrippa I, (Acts 12:24) ... the word of God continued to spread and flourish."
C. WHAT IS THE CHURCH FOR? - verses 21-22.
We are the dwelling place of God on earth. In biblical history, the temple was a sacred space where God and his people met. His glorious presence manifested in the temple space. From this history, we can deduce the meaning of verses 21-22: God's design for the church is to be a people who host the Presence of God. We are the space where God makes himself known to the world. That is a privilege that we cannot afford to compromise.
How does this understanding of the church help us push back against cultural compromise? We should focus relentlessly on our unique role in the world. There are so many ways we can benefit the world, but we must devote the majority of our time, resources, energy, prayers and plans to hosting the Presence of God for the world to see and experience.
Cultural compromise creeps into the church when we forget or reject our identity. No, the world may not value our claim to host God's presence. We may be accused of being so heavenly minded that we're of no earthly use. We may feel embarrassed or sort of useless. It's tempting to dive into all kinds of activities because the world wants us to do something that matters to them. No! That's a huge mistake.
Stand firm without apology. You have a unique and essential role in God's purposes on earth. We are the church and we host the Presence of God.
There are two ways this unique role plays out in our lives:
First, we host the Presence whenever we meet together in the name of Jesus, in big and small groups, and in our Sunday gatherings. This is the central element of every meeting. It's what draws us together. We expect to witness the Presence in the singing, in the prayers, in the teaching, in the connections with each other, and in the quiet. We'll never compromise that. We aren't here for entertainment or inspiration or even information. We're here to meet God.
(Psalms 36:7-9) How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
(Psalms 42:1-2) As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
(Philippians 3:8) I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord ...
Graham Kendrick wrote a song based on that Philippians 3 passage. It's called Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear). He wrote it in 1993, but it's still one of my favorite worship songs. The chorus is, "Knowing you, Jesus. Knowing you. There is no greater thing. You're my all, you're the best. You're my joy, my righteousness. And I love you, Lord."
We host the presence when we gather together. That's why we can never just go through the motions. This is the real deal.
Secondly, this is too good to keep inside the four walls here. So, we want to be focused on carrying the Presence everywhere we go - home and work and in the neighborhood. I talked last week about loving the Blue Water region, so let's carry the Presence through loving service in our community. We can also make the Presence known by offering prayer and touching lives with his love. We can speak a word from God.
This is what I want us to be known for - we host the Presence of God. I have a vision for the Cornerstone to be well-known as a place for prayer, where people come to experience healing and deliverance and hope and a touch from God. This is our unique role in the world and we should never compromise it, never give up on it, but keep pursuing it, crying out for it, waiting on the Lord for it.
(1 Corinthians 14:24-25) But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
WAKE UP AND WALK IN FAITH
At the risk of sounding like a prophet of doom, let me speak a word of warning to you. Here it is: the privileged place that Christians and churches have enjoyed in American culture for 243 years is coming to an end. Secularism is rising and it will not tolerate the church because we will not conform to its beliefs and behaviors. You and I are going to feel pressure to commit cultural compromise. Maybe we'll be ignored as out of touch; maybe we'll be prosecuted and persecuted for living faithful to Jesus.
That's the warning, how should we respond? Paul reminded Timothy:
(2 Timothy 1:7) The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
Live in faith, without fearing anyone. Live in power that comes from God's Presence. Live in love to all so that we earn a positive reputation. Live in self-discipline by teaching the truth in love and following the way of Jesus: We will not bully the bullies. We will not hate the haters. We'll be known as kind, generous, and compassionate people because that's how Jesus lived. .And remember: The church is forever because we have what the world needs most: we host the Presence of God.