As believers, church attendance is of high importance. It is a place we can all come together to worship, be encouraged, and learn from God’s words for spiritual growth. I know we all don’t all share the same view of church but I would like to share my thoughts with you, some of you may disagree with me and that is all right. In many ways the church today has become a numbers game, a service industry, involved in social issues and an entertainment venue with a Christian message. What about you? What troubles you and what do you believe the church’s role is in today’s world.
Colossians 3:16 NIV
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Matthew 18:20 NIV
20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Do we? According to scripture it only takes two or three.
Leviticus 19: 1,2
19 The Lord said to Moses, 2 Say to the whole community of the Israelites: You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
We find here the introductory verses of the “Holy Code,” which describes the vocation of God’s people as to “be holy” because God is “holy”. What does that mean for a way of life and being in the world. Mention Leviticus and you can hear moans of despair and even occasionally an under the breath “why Leviticus?”. I am at a loss as to why the Old Testament is shoved to the side so often. The Old Testament speaks to how we came to be, the relationship God sought with his people through the Prophets and Patriarchs and God’s plan for his people.
Exodus 19: 5-6
5 So now, if you faithfully obey me and stay true to my covenant, you will be my most precious possession out of all the peoples, since the whole earth belongs to me. 6 You will be a kingdom of priests for me and a holy nation…..
God has set the standards for the church from the very first. We have been adopted into the family of God through the birth, ministry, crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Some time ago I was in a meeting at work and the subject was Authority, Accountability and Responsibility. For some reason and through all the years I have never forgotten that meeting.
-We were told that Authority was granted.
–Accountability on the other hand was imposed and was one of the burdens of being in a position of authority.
–Responsibility on the other hand was an inherent trait.
If we stretch this a bit for use as an example we might say, that God has granted us through the commandment to go forth with the word, a reasonable sense of Authority, for which we will be held Accountable. Then there is this thing of Responsibility . Most of us accept the Responsibility of living a Christian life as best we can. The Responsibility of family, community and job is something we all take seriously. But wait a minute…..
“What does the Lord require?”
Micah 6: 6-8
6 With what should I approach the Lord and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?
Perhaps in that day and time this would have been a perfectly reasonable question! Now for those who think the Old Testament is outdated or old hat so to speak, hear the words of Micah in verse 8.
8 He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.
I believe that these words written over 2000 years ago can be applied to the world we live in today. Let’s take a moment here……
WHAT WAS THE EARLY CHURCH L I K E?
The three distinguishing marks of the early church were: separation from the world, unconditional love, and childlike obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
S E P A R A T I O N F R O M T H E W O R L D
“No one can serve two masters,” declared Jesus to his disciples (Matt. 6:24). However, Christians have spent the greater portion of the past two millenniums apparently trying to prove Jesus wrong. We have told ourselves that we can indeed have both-the things of God and the things of this world. Many of us live our lives no differently than do conservative non-Christians, except for the fact that we attend church regularly each week. We watch the same entertainment. We share the same concerns about the problems of this world. And we are frequently just as involved in the world’s commercial and materialistic pursuits. Often, our being “not of this world” exists in theory more than in practice. But the church was not originally like that. The first Christians lived under a completely different set of principles and values than the rest of mankind. They rejected the world’s entertainment, honors, and riches. They were already citizens of another kingdom, and they listened to the voice of a different Master. This was as true of the second century church as it was of the first.
WHAT WERE THE EARLY CHRISTIAN PEOPLE LIKE?
The Letter to Diognetus, the work of an unknown author, written in about 130, describes Christians to the Romans as follows:
“They dwell in their own countries simply as sojourners…. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time, they surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men but are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death, but [will be] restored to life. They are poor, yet they make many rich. They possess few things; yet, they abound in all. They are dishonored, but in their very dishonor are glorified…. And those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.” The Letter to Diognetus can be found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers.
And what about:
A L O V E W I T H O U T C O N D I T I O N
At no other time in the history of Christianity did love so characterize the entire church as it did in the first three centuries. And Roman society took note. Tertullian reported that the Romans would exclaim, See how they love one another! Justin Martyr sketched Christian love this way: We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.
Church is much different today. These times we live in now place a heavy burden on the church to be everything to everybody and bear the brunt of societies failures while trying to adapt to the demands of the day. We are constantly being told that we must change and in some instances those things that have in the past been been a part of Christian teachings are now considered to hamper membership and often are blamed for declining membership. There is always something to blame, the music, the preaching, lack of programing that meets the needs of families or seniors, not enough money and the building is old and to small. What church is about becomes a confusing mix of well-meant suggestions and can even result in what I like to call the program of the month. For many of us we wonder where all this uncertainty leaves us. Here is the good news! Why church? Because church is simple. This thing called religion has made it difficult.
Matthew 5: 13-16
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.
God is not ready for you to be thrown away and trampled under the rush to supposed better things. He wants your light to shine. Do you? Are you willing to shine? It’s not hard to do. It is good to be simple people who through their daily lives bring God’s love to his people in simple everyday life.
Matthew 28: 16-20 Commissioning of the disciples
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Disciple- a personal follower of Jesus during his life…… one of a group of 12 men who were sent out to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ…… someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of Christ
But wait, let’s make it even simpler….YOU, have you not accepted the teachings of Jesus Christ? You see God is not done with you, you have responsibilities.
Galatians 6: 2
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
You have been adopted into the Family of God, YOU are part of the body of Christ and one of your responsibilities is to bear one another’s burdens. A few simple things as found in scripture, things that make church easy.
Ephesians 4: 1
To the church at Ephesus Paul writes, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling.”
We fail as a church to be worthy and broaden the path we walk when we value the ways of this world more than those things we as followers of Christ have been taught.
Mark 12: 30,31
30 “and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 31 The second is this, you will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
Here Jesus summarizes the heart of the Law, love of God and love of neighbor. To teach and to live these commandments as a way of life – could that be at the heart of the church’s mission. It should be.
Join me next week here in the pew as we look at the rest of the story concerning the resurrection. jkc