Tag Archives: Church

Four Marks of a Living Church

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2.42-47)

At the conclusion of Acts 2, Luke gives four identifying characteristics of a “living church” – evidence the first Christians were drawn together in relationships.

First, they were related to the apostles. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They sat at their feet and submitted to their authority. A living church is an apostolic church, committed to believing and obeying the teaching of the apostles.

Second, they were related to each other. They devoted themselves to fellowship. They loved each other. They looked after each other, providing for one another’s needs. A living church is a caring church.

Third, they were related to God. They worshipped God in the breaking of bread and prayers, formally and informally, with joy and reverence.

Fourth, they were related to the world. They saturated the community around them with the message of the Gospel and as a result “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” A living church is an evangelizing church.

John Stott relates an experience he had in Latin America. He was introduced to a group of Christian students who had dropped out of church. They called themselves Cristianos Descolgados, “unhooked Christians.” They visited every church in their city and had been unable to find what they were seeking. And what was that? Without knowing Luke’s “four marks,” they were looking for a church in which

  1. the Bible was taught
  2. there was a loving, caring fellowship
  3. there was sincere, humble, and reverent worship
  4. there was a compassionate outreach to the world outside.

Simple characteristics identifying the church of Christ that was established on the Day of Pentecost when the Gospel of Christ was preached for the first time. Let that be our sole model – and pray those four marks of a living church reflect our fellowship at Westside.

 – grace and peace to you all, Bill

[John Stott, Through the Bible – Through the Year, 312]

 

Simple Christianity

“Jesus yes – church no!” is a phrase commonly heard in contemporary religious conversations. People aren’t rejecting Jesus Himself, but they do see a contradiction between the founder of Christianity and the current condition of the church He came to establish.

The person and teaching of Jesus has not lost its appeal. Remember He Himself was an anti-status-quo figure. Much of what He said and taught was considered radical, even revolutionary. Furthermore, both He and His ideals were incorruptible – He couldn’t be bought or swayed by cultural pressure.

Calmness, humility, and compassion characterized His demeanor. He was comfortable in His own skin. He preached love for God and for one another everywhere He went. And, astonishingly, He practiced what He preached.

Look at all the different kinds of churches, their rules, rituals, and regulations. Isn’t there a better way?

Grace to you all and peace, Bill

 

Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore

According to a study by the Hartford Institute of Religion Research and a new book entitled, “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore,” less than 20% of Americans attend worship services every week. They say there are four main reasons why people don’t want to “go to church.” Here they are…

  1. They don’t want to be lectured.
  2. They see the church as judgmental
  3. They see the church as hypocritical.
  4. They see the church as irrelevant.

Certainly, not everyone in this study is a Christian in the New Testament sense, but doesn’t this show you the real reason so many have stopped attending? The real reason is that over the last 2,000 years, the concept of “church” has become so diluted and twisted that people don’t even know what it is anymore. The church is supposed to be the family or body of all Christians.

For a Christian to say, “The church is judgmental, hypocritical, and irrelevant,” is for that Christian to call himself judgmental, hypocritical, and irrelevant because he is the church. When Christians don’t understand they are the church, and when they see the church as an institution which they can either choose to support or not, they lose the entire concept of Christianity. Jesus did not come to redeem individuals, but a people. One simply cannot be a Christian outside of the body of Christ (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12). To be a Christian is to be in the church.

When someone is in need and Christians say things like, “You should call the church and they will help you,” it reveals that these Christians probably see the church as an institution which exists separate from themselves. As a Christian, when you say, “The church should help this person,” what you should be meaning is, “I (or we) should help this person.” The church is not “they,” the church is “us.”

Second, the problem is that people see “church” as a weekly event to attend. Church is not something Christians attend when they get a chance. The church is who Christians are – every day of the week. Someone might say, “Wes, it’s just semantics. You know what I mean when I say I’m going to church.” Sure, I know what you mean and I also know that a few generations of saying, “Going to church,” has contributed the current dilemma.

If you asked me, “What is family?” and I said, “Oh, that’s something I attend when I come home from work,” you would look at me like I lost my mind. My family is not an event I attend. My family is something I’m a part of – even when I’m somewhere else. If I started saying, “I’m going to ‘family’ now,” when I went home, it might very well change the way I see and interact with my family.

When people see the church as either an institution to support or an event to attend, it’s no wonder they see it as being irrelevant. If we want to see Christians stop checking out, we must start teaching people that we are the church!

 Wes McAdams

RadicallyChristian.com

 

Four Unexpected Benefits of a Small Church

I’m a member of a small church, our numbers close to 70-90. In short, we are not a megachurch in people, resources, or mind-set. Yet over the years I have been so grateful for our small church and many of its unexpected benefits and opportunities are specifically related to its … smallness.

1. Being in a small church has forced me to be in community.

When there are fewer people in a place, it’s much harder to hide. The first Sunday Abby and I attended the church, where we’re members now, we were introduced to the rest of the church. Where once we craved anonymity, and as much as I would sometimes like to slink into it now, it was (and is) good for us to be known.

2. Being in a small church has forced me to serve.

When I was in college and attended the big college-town churches, it was very easy to take in a sermon, get the free college kid care package, and book it back to the dorm with no strings attached. This is much harder to do in a small environment.

When Isaiah has his vision of the Lord, there are lots of angels around, but Isaiah is the only human witness. When the Lord says, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” there aren’t really any other options. I suppose Isaiah could have refused, but doing so would have highlighted his own unwillingness as the excuse—there was no one else to hide behind.

Similarly, in a small-church environment, when something needs to be done, it’s much harder to trust that someone else must be taking care of it. Often my response to a need must be, “Here I am. Send me.” This isn’t always my preference, but it is almost always for my good.

3. Being in a small church has forced me to reckon with diversity.

Someone might look at our little body and say, “What on earth do you have in common?” And that is exactly how the church should be. We come together because we have one important thing in common: our Head, Christ. If I am self-selecting whom to invite for a party, I’m tempted to choose those who are most like me in looks, beliefs, and interests.

K. Chesterton, in his typical contrarian way, talks about how there’s often greater diversity on the street where you grew up than in the city, where it’s easy to find people just like you. He explains, “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor…We have to love our neighbor because he is there.”

This may seem a strange way to describe a church, but when you are committed to the body, you are committed no matter who shows up. And you are committed to stick with the others who are there, even when you disagree.

4. Being in a small church has offered opportunities I might not otherwise have had.

When you have a larger pool to draw from, you get to decide who does what based on already honed skills. Believe me, there is something to be said for this, but in a smaller church that isn’t often the case. G. K. Chesterton has said that “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly,” and there is much more opportunity for doing something badly in a small church. But doing something badly is how you begin to do something well.

Indeed, there are some days when being part of a small church isn’t that great. Like when I’m forced to deal with conflict within the body because these people are family and I can’t abandon family (as much as I want to sometimes). Like when I am compelled to take one more church duty onto my already-full plate. When my family can’t worship together because our toddler won’t sit through service … and the nursery is mostly self-serve.

In these situations, I pine after churches with slick programs and legions of volunteers. But when, while I’m teaching Sunday school, someone offers to hold our newborn so that Abby can attend to our toddler, and I know that when they stood at my children’s dedications, pledging to do what they can to help us raise them, they meant it; when I’m struggling and can approach someone who knows me and who genuinely cares and wants to help; when Sunday school or service is interrupted and redirected because of someone’s pressing need; when I see a small community committed to each other not because they are alike but because they are there, I see a (small) segment of the Kingdom of God.

By Jonathan Schindler
Leadership Journal, August 2014

 

 

 

 

 

“…added to the church.”

Acts 2 – In the Beginning

On the Day of Pentecost following the Lord’s resurrection when the gospel was preached for the first time, the Bible records this response to Peter’s message:

“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2.41).

The passage states the baptized believers were added by someone to something. Verse 47 reveals the who and what: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

When a person obeys the gospel of Christ by being baptized for the forgiveness of sins, he is added to the church. He doesn’t join the church nor is he voted into the church by other members; he is added by the Lord to that body of saved believers which is Christ’s church.

 

Ancient Models for Contemporary Church Growth

The Churches of Asia

The churches of Asia addressed in the second and third chapters of Revelation were real churches facing real problems. They are also representations of the Lord’s church and the challenges it faces at any time in any circumstance. The guidance given by the Spirit through the apostle to these churches provides us with divine models for church growth and development. Briefly, here are three case studies:

1. The church in Ephesus was strong.

They worked hard and had endured much without becoming weary. They were doctrinally sound and did not tolerate evil men. Yet they were in serious trouble. They were charged with having “left their first love.” In their fervor to be right they had lost sight of Him from whom their righteousness derived.

As we work together, our first priority must be to love the Lord, allowing Him to remake us all in His image. Let our allegiance be solely to Him, relying on His word to guide us. Let us confidently and compassionately speak the truth in love, that we may grow up in all things into Him who is our head, even Christ (Ephesians 4.15).

2. The church in Philadelphia was about to face severe persecution.

However, the Lord revealed He had placed before them an open door that no one could shut. As those faithful saints responded with selfless resolve to the challenges confronting them, God not only promised to stand by them in their hour of testing, but to also provide opportunities for greater service.

We must learn this lesson well. God protects and provides for those who are ready to serve. Like our brethren in Philadelphia centuries ago, a door stands open before us. We have the wonderful opportunity to practice simple New Testament Christianity before a watching and largely skeptical world.

 3. The church in Laodicea was complacent.

They were wealthy, self-sufficient, and had need of nothing. Apparently they were not doing anything, either – content with themselves.

God will not tolerate complacency and indifference. Our pilgrimage here is brief; there is much to do. Our churches, though small, have been abundantly blessed with a variety of resources. It’s time to dream, to imagine what God can accomplish through us. We cannot afford to be satisfied, content with where we are.

Learning from the Churches in Asia

Studying these lessons from the past will help us grow and mature now. A healthy church is one that is always to learn from the experiences of others. These examples of Ephesus, Philadelphia, and Laodicea demonstrate that:

  • We must be churches whose sole loyalty is to Christ, committed to fulfilling His purpose for us.
  • We must be churches of steadfast service, doing our best to make full use of the opportunities God provides us to help others.
  • We must be churches “on fire,” ever active and vigilant, using to our full potential the resources God has given us.

 Bill

 

Back to Basic Christianity

 

back-to-basicsThe New Testament mentions only one church. Jesus said, “I will build My church…” (Matthew 16.18).

Years later Paul wrote, speaking of Christ, “He is also head of the body, the church…” and “There is one body…” (Colossians 1.18; Ephesians 4.4).

So if there is one body and the body is the church, then there is one church and Jesus is its head. It is His church and over His church He exercises all authority (Matthew 28.18).

Conditions of Membership

Since Jesus has all authority, He has the right to set the conditions of membership for His church. A study of the New Testament reveals the following requirements for membership in the Lord’s church:

  • Faith or Belief (John 8.24) that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God and the sacrifice for our sins. “…without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11.6).
  • Repentance (Luke 13.3) is a change of the will, a determination to walk in the opposite direction. God calls “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17.30).
  • Confession (Matthew 10.32) is the declaration or statement of belief in the deity of Jesus and the saving power of His sacrifice. “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (Romans 10.10).
  • Baptism (Mark 16.16) is an immersion or burial in water. It is a symbolic death, burial, and resurrection. It is essential for salvation. A person cannot be saved without baptism because “…baptism saves you…”  (1 Peter 3.21).

The Significance of Baptism

The New Testament states that baptism is necessary in order to be in Christ (Galatians 3.27).

  • Baptism stands between the sinner and salvation (Mark 16.16; 1 Peter 3.21).
  • Baptism stands between the sinner and the remission of his sins (Acts 2.38).
  • Baptism stands between the sinner and his being clothed in Christ (Galatians 3.27).
  • Baptism stands between the sinner and having his sins washed away (Acts 22.16.)
  • Baptism stands between the sinner and his being united with Christ in the likeness of His death (Romans 6.3).

We need to remember it’s Christ’s church. If we want the blessings and salvation He has promised to all who are a part of His body, then we need to do what He said – not what men have taught. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14.15).

– Bill

A Spirit-Filled Church

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1.11-14).

Reconciliation through the Spirit

Notice how the Spirit in this passage accomplished reconciliation, turning the we (in verses 11 and 12) and the you (verse 13) into our (verse 14). Though the Jews were the first to hope in Christ, by having given them the Holy Spirit of promise, the same promised to Israel, God sealed the Gentiles, too, as His own possession.

  • Ÿ The Spirit is God’s seal, His mark of ownership, His stamp of authentication. By giving them His Holy Spirit God stamped the Gentile believers as His own possession, marking them to be recipients of His final inheritance.
  • Ÿ The Spirit is given as a pledge of our inheritance. Pledge means an earnest or down payment. It is the first installment of a total amount due. The Spirit Himself is God’s down payment in our lives that guarantees our certain future. Hope is confident expectation because of the Spirit’s seal, the mark of ownership and the Spirit’s pledge, the down payment guarantee of a certain future.

Access through the Spirit

For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2.18). This statement parallels what Paul just stated in verse 16: and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. The intent of this parallel seems to be that both Jew and Gentile are in one body because they are both in one Spirit. Jews and non-Jews alike are reconciled to God in one body, and both have access to Him as Father in one Spirit. To be a part of the one body is to be in Christ from whom all spiritual blessings flow.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophet, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2.19-22).

Dwelling Together through the Spirit

This statement affirms:

  • First, the new identity and equality of the Gentiles. Before God, in Christ, there is no longer any distinction. The Gentiles are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens and kinsmen, relatives, brothers and sisters in God’s household.
  • Second, that the redeemed and reconciled saints are now being fitted together into a growing, living, holy temple, a dwelling of God in the Spirit. The true temple of God is organic; it lives and grows. It is not built of stone nor made with hands. Rather, it is composed of all God’s redeemed and reconciled and righteous new people.

The church, the body, is God’s new temple, the place of His habitation on earth. It is the location of His presence – He is with His people, in the midst of His people, in the lives of His people, not in the marvelous temple of Diana, nor the magnificent temple of Herod, but in His people! They (we) are built into a habitation of God by the Spirit. God by His Spirit abides with His people. Here, in the church, the one body, is God’s presence begun but lost in the Garden, typified in the tabernacle and the temple, restored in Christ and His church in whom we all are being fitted together into the holy temple of God by His Spirit.

Therefore…walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. One body and one Spirit, just as also you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

– Bill

 

Sermons to focus on cultural, moral, and social issues

Sermons in May and June at the Westside and Holyoke churches will focus on cultural, moral, and social issues.

“The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel. Yet nevertheless, the church on earth has, and until the second advent must be, the church militant, the church armed, the church warring, the church conquering. And how is this? It is in the very order of things that so it must be. Truth could not be truth in this world if it were not a warring thing, and we should at once suspect that it were not true if error were friends with it. The spotless purity of truth must always be at war with the blackness of heresy and lies.”

– Charles Spurgeon, “The Vanguard and Rereward* of the Church,”
a sermon delivered at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, London
on Sunday morning December 26, 1858.
[*rereward – the rear-guard of an army]

“The very word ‘sin,’ which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word. It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word. It described a central point in every civilized human being’s life plan and life style. But the word went away. It has almost disappeared – the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?

– Dr. Karl Menninger, M.D., Whatever Became of Sin, p.14

“There is a ‘thinkable’ and an ‘unthinkable’ in every era. One era is quite certain intellectually and emotionally about what is acceptable. Yet another era decides that these ‘certainties’ are unacceptable and puts another set of values into practice. On a humanistic base, people drift along from generation to generation, the morally unthinkable becomes the thinkable as the years move on.”

– Francis Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, p. 2

These sermons have been (and are) difficult to prepare – they will be difficult to preach, but the times demand that they be preached and you need to hear them.

–Bill

 

Church Terminology

I am a Christian, a member of the Lord’s church. I express my relationship to God in those terms much more frequently than I say, “I am a member of the church of Christ.” I never say, “I’m Church of Christ.” Some maintain using terminology like “Christian” and “Lord’s church” to describe ourselves as narrow and sectarian.

If by “the Lord’s church” or “church of Christ,” we mean only those currently worshiping in a building with “Church of Christ” on its sign, the terms are too narrow. However, if those using them include people not “born of water and Spirit” (John 3.5), who have not been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk a new life (Romans 6.3-4), they are too broad.

Biblically, the church is the saved. On the Day of Pentecost following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the people who believed what Peter preached and obeyed what he told them to do were saved and “added to them.” When the antecedent of “them” is traced forward and backward, the Bible is saying they were “added to the church.” The same Lord does the saving and the adding; so no one is added to the church who is not saved and no one is saved who is not added.

So What Should We Say?

So in a conversation, when one says “I’m a Baptist” and another says “I’m a Presbyterian,” what should we say? If we say, “I’m Church of Christ” as many do, or even “I’m a member of the Church of Christ,” they will understand “Church of Christ” to be a denomination just like “Baptist” or “Presbyterian.” But if we respond, “I’m a Christian,” we open up an immediate opportunity for a Bible study.

When trying to speak as the Bible speaks, which we ought to do, what should we call those who consider themselves Christians but fall short of Scripture’s definition? “Christian” is used broadly for any not a Muslim, Jew, or atheist. Most problematically, as we consider what to call them, there are many dedicated people who strongly believe the Bible to be God’s word, but who also strongly believe in salvation “by faith alone.”

I cringe when a brother or sister blithely uses “Christian” for the whole spectrum of un-immersed people who consider themselves Christian. On the other hand, I do not want to insult them and close off any opportunity to teach them. Those who believe the Bible is the word of God but preach salvation by “faith alone” (the Bible says salvation is “not by faith alone,” James 2.24) call themselves “Evangelicals.” That is a good term.

King Agrippa asked Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” He obviously knew what Paul wanted him to do. He declined. A penitent, fasting believer, Saul, now Paul, did not decline when a divinely sent messenger told him, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22.16). Those who decline are not Christians by New Testament definition. It is better if we do not call them Christians.

Nondenominational

Surveys indicate people today do not have “brand loyalty” as most used to have. That affects both their church affiliation as well as their grocery buying. More and more “nondenominational” churches are springing up. Many of them are pre-millennial and almost all of them use instrumental music in their assemblies and preach salvation by “faith alone.” They are correct, however, in their desire to be nondenominational  That is a point of contact we could take advantage of, if we could learn not to speak and think so denominationally ourselves.

There is no one proper name for Christ’s church. “Church of Christ” is an apt descriptive phrase, not a denominational name. While we recognize that and occasionally say so, many seem to forget it when someone uses a different biblical designation.

If a group uses women as speakers in their assemblies, adds instrumental music to their worship, and un-immersed believers to their church rolls, they are rightly to be challenged. But if a congregation simply designates itself “the church at 7th and Vine (compare “the church of the Thessalonians,” 1 Thessalonians 1.1), there is no biblical basis for disparaging that.

Some writers argue that “Church of Christ” is the only appropriate designation. It is appropriate, but so is “church of God” (1 Corinthians 1.2), “church of the firstborn ones” (Hebrews 12.23), “churches of Galatia” (or any other geographical location, 1 Corinthians 16.1), or any other designation used by the apostles. The phrase “churches of Christ” (Romans 16.16) denotes a relationship – “churches which belong to Christ” – not a name of a religious organization.

Cecil May, Jr., Faulkner University