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Terry Virgo, former leader of Newfrontiers, once asked “Has the church outlived its relevance? Is it outdated and obsolete? Can we expect to see more redundant church buildings close down and yield to the inevitable march of time?”
Even within the Christian world there are those who are less than enthusiastic about the gathered church. They argue that we are church wherever we are, in the workplace, school, university or at home – surely Sunday meetings are irrelevant? Others work exclusively with para-church organisations – inviting churchgoers to attend the events they organise.
If you’ve been around King’s Arms for a while you may have noticed that we are passionate about the church and about church planting. We belong to a movement of churches called Newfrontiers that has the same passion. As a church we have sent out 10’s of people to be involved in starting new churches in the UK and oversees. Are we just sticking out heads in the sand? IS the church just a candle blowing in the wind - soon to be extinguished? What’s the reasoning behind this passion for the local church? Let me give you 4 reasons why I am passionate about the local church.
1. Jesus loves the church
Ephesians (5:25) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
If you love Jesus then you need to know that Jesus loves the church. He is passionate about the church. Some might argue – isn’t that just “the universal church” - meaning all Christians everywhere. Not so. Look in the book of Revelation,
Revelation 1v14 records John’s vision of the risen Lord Jesus “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “
And then Jesus opens his mouth to speak – John is told to write it down. What’s He going to say? Surely this must be significant? What does Jesus talk about? What’s on His heart? You find it in Revelation chapters 2&3. It’s a message to local churches. He is actively concerned and knows what is happening in each one of his local churches. If we claim to love Jesus then we must love what he loves – and he loves the church. Not just the church universal – the local church. He loves it and he gave himself up for it.
2. Jesus has a destiny in store for the church
We might look at the church and see its faults. It’s like the pastor who always started each service with "The Lord be with you." The people would respond, "and also with you.”
But, one Sunday the PA system wasn’t working so the first thing he said was "There’s something wrong with this microphone." The people responded, "and also with you."
As someone once said, if you ever find a perfect church don’t join it – you’ll ruin it.
But you know what – Jesus gave himself up for the church (Ephesians 5 again)
“to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, (5:27) and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless
You might see faults, you might see things that are wrong. But Jesus by faith sees a radiant church – without stain or wrinkle – holy, blameless, spotless. That’s where we’re going. That’s our destiny. That’s what we’re heading for. That’s what we’re working for. The question is this - are you coming?
As Terry Virgo says “God does not seem to be so much searching for isolated piety or saintly individuals, but a holy people that looks as though it represents another kind of culture or citizenship.” God’s plan to bring himself glory is the church.
Jesus made a significant statement about his intent for the church to the apostle Peter. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell itself will not overcome it” matt (16:18)
Paraphrase: I am going to build my church and nothing’s going to stop me.
Success or failure is not dependent on us. Yes we have a part to play, we’ll come on to that. But this awesome King of King’s, Lord of Lords – the one who spoke the world into being - he says “I will build my church – and nothing’s going to stop me.”
That’s why I’m passionate about the church. It’s a bit like backing a dead cert – you would be crazy not to put everything you have into it.
3. The church is God’s new family
eph (3:14) For this reason I kneel before the Father, (3:15) from whom his whole family° in heaven and on earth derives its name
1tim (3:15) God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth
As we look around and see society teetering on the brink of ruin, family destroyed, the social fabric tearing at the seams. Millions are now fatherless. We live in a society where many, perhaps most, have never heard their father say “I love you”. Do you think God is unaware? Absolutely not – he’s busy. He is busy creating a whole new family, his own household. A place filled with sons and daughters who know a new Father, one who will never leave them or forsake them. Ones built in to a new community of care and love. God is making a new family where he can be Father to the fatherless. And that new family is called the church.
Gal 3: 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In the church, we see a breakdown of the barriers that exist between races and cultures and sexes and ages. No-body should be treated any differently because of their colour or age.
So many times I hear people say “the church should do this” or “the church should do that”. As if it was an extension of the social services. We need to begin to think of the church as a family.
A family needs commitment. When a family sees a need, they help. Families are involved with one another’s lives. If you are not involved in a small group of some kind you are missing out on the best that church has to offer. If church to you is Sunday morning or Sunday evening then can I be so bold as to say you need to rethink what church is. Church happens during the week as we live life together. We need to be transformed by changing our thinking.
4. The church is God’s plan for significance
Two of the most basic needs of human beings are security and significance.
Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
The need for security is met in the sense of family that comes from the church. But we see here that in the church is also met our need for significance. Because it’s in the church that we have a place to find and develop our gifting without becoming self absorbed.
The apostle Paul uses the analogy of the church being like a building. But if the church is like a building, many Christians see it as a movie theatre.
I came to the King’s Arms one evening and there was a couple who were obviously visitors who had arrived early. I introduced myself and commented that they were a little early and the guy said, “oh yes we thought we might be, when does the performance start?”
But church was never meant to entertain. It’s not a movie theatre – it’s an army barracks. It’s a place where we gather together to be equipped for our mission together. To bring the good news of the Kingdom of God into our communities, families and work places.
Bill Hybels, pastor of the one of the largest church in the US wrote these words which capture something of our intent for the church;
“There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. It’s beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. It’s potential is unlimited. I believe that the local church is the hope of the world. If they get it and get on with it, churches can become the redemptive centres that Jesus intended them to be. Dynamic teaching, creative worship, deep community, effective evangelism, and joyful service will combine to renew the hearts and minds of seekers and believers alike, strengthen families, transform communities and change the world.”
The church has got its faults. It’s not perfect. But its God’s only plan for family, for significance, for life together. God is passionate about the local church. How about you?