The Importance of the church part 5: Why should I be faithful to the church?

Previous posts in this little series on the importance of the church have addressed: the fact of its importance- providing several patristic quotations indicating those who are not a part of the church cannot be saved. Then we had three posts on the nature of the church: what it is. It is the body of Christ, the building of God, the “place “the Spirit blesses. The next several posts will transition from foundational to motivational reasons for faithful church membership.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18

God and the forces of hell are engaged in constant warfare. It is not eternal because it has not always existed, and it not always will: so it is persistent, but not eternal. If the Bible is to believed, and I think that is always a good place to start. Satan is actually somewhat successful in his campaign against the Lord of hosts. He is so successful in fact, that the entire world is going to be dissolved in fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10). God wins, but he does so be completely destroying this creation and making it anew.

In college I often heard the only things on earth that are eternal are the souls of men and the word of God. The cliché left out one important thing though: the church. If Jesus is to believed, and, again, I think that is always a very good place to start, the church will never fail. The church will not die. There is no other group, institution, nation, any kind of any collection of any people in all the world that has this promise.

Denominations will fail. If Luther or Wesley walked into one of “their” churches today each would probably leave in fit of rage. Denominations will fail. Jesus did not promise to build a denomination. He promised to build his church.

Schools and seminaries will fail. Did you know that almost every single Ivy League School started as an institution to train men for the ministry? Why are none of them faithful to Scripture any longer? Because Jesus promised to build his church, not a school.

Conferences will whither up and blow away. Whether the Student Volunteer Movement, Promise Keepers, or Together for the Gospel. Jesus did not promise to build a conference. He promised to build a church.

Your radio stations, TV networks, blogs (!), will all end in emptiness. Jesus did not promise to build a media conglomerate. Jesus promised to build a church.

Your bands, actors, movies, comedians, will all perform their last and be remembered no more. Jesus did not promise to build an entertainment empire. HE promised to build a church.

It is rumored that somewhere in the hidden recesses of man’s nobility there is a desire for things that matter, a life that matters, a life that makes a difference with lasting impact. It is the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90:17,  “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” Establish the work of our hands. If this is your prayer, if you want a life that matters, Jesus has already given you the answer. It is a promise. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Do you want a successful life? Do what Jesus is doing. The kingdom of Jesus will last. Yours will not.

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Why is Church Important? Or, The Trinitarian heresy of not going to church

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

We began this series with a post on the importance of the church: a number of quotations from early fathers and apologists proclaiming those outside of the church are not and cannot be saved. Then we began seeking Scriptural support for this idea. We saw that Christians must be involved with the church because the church is the body of Christ. Christians must be involved with the church because the church is the building of God. Today we see that Christians must be involved with the church because of the blessing of the Holy Spirit.

Salvation is impossible without the Trinity. While it is true that God is one and wills and accomplishes everything as one, the Bible does present Trinitarian distinctions in the accomplishment of salvation. It is impossible to adequately summarize this in one sentence, but this sentence comes as close as any: “Salvation is thought by the Father, bought by the Son, and wrought by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit actualizes contemporaneously everything the Father has planned eternally and the Son accomplished historically.

It is the Holy Spirit who immerses believers into the body of Christ and the benefits of his death and resurrection (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom 6:3-6). It is the Holy Spirit who builds believers up into the building of God (Eph. 2:22). But the Bible teaches that this building process is not something that happens apart from the efforts and service of believers themselves.

The church is a building- teaching us that in some sense we are passive and totally under the control of the Builder. But the church is also a body- teaching us in another sense that we must make a personal effort to care, nourish, and provide for it. In 1 Corinthians 12, however, Paul teaches us that even this process of self-care is made possible by God: the Father (12:6); the Son (12:5); and particularly the Spirit (12:4, 7-11). Those abilities we call spiritual gifts must be recognized as Spiritual gifts.

When a person is saved, he is sealed by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30); and he is gifted by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-13). The purpose of these gifts of the Spirit is plain: to serve other Christians.

 1 Cor. 12:7: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
1 Peter 4:10: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…

So when a person is saved he receives the Holy Spirit. When he receives the Holy Spirit he is gifted by the Holy Spirit. When he is gifted by the Holy Spirit he is gifted in order to serve the church. It seems obvious that if he is gifted to serve the church he must be “in the church” to exercise that gift. The Spirit does not gift you for your benefit, but for the benefit of others. If you are not fellowshipping with others, they are not benefitting from your gift. The Bible clearly teaches what the Spirit does (gifts believers) and why he does it (to benefit other believers); so if you are not allowing other believers to benefit from your gift you are not walking in the Spirit.

Taking a step back and considering all these things, the serious nature of not attending church must be recognized for what it is: an attack on the doctrine of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit engrafts believers into the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit builds believers into the building of God. The Holy Spirit gifts believers to serve other believers. For a person to say he is a Christian but to have no interest in faithful, active, church membership is an attack on God himself. Specifically, it is an attack on the Holy Spirit and the unity of the Trinity.

The “stay-at-home” Christian proclaims that the Holy Spirit is in rebellion against the Father and Son. The Father has made complete provision for a holy temple, with all the stones perfectly joined and fit together. But the Holy Spirit is content to leave the rocks in a field. Covered by moss. Surrounded by weeds. The Son has done everything to become the Head of a body fearfully and wonderfully made to accomplish the will of God. The Spirit is content with severed ears and dismembered fingers. The Spirit is a disinterested Dr. Frankenstein with a freakish laboratory with formaldehyde-filled jars of parts. Rather than accomplishing his role of gifting believers to serve, the Spirit has become a stingy Scrooge.

The New Testament presents the actual building up of the church as the work of the Holy Spirit. So if you are able to go to church, but regularly chose not to I can see only two options:

  1. Either you do not have the Holy Spirit. In which case you are not a Christian (Rom. 8:9).
  2. Or, the Holy Spirit has decided to do his own thing. In which case the Trinity is undone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is the Church Important? (part 2)

(Note: This is the third in a series of posts on the importance of the church. See also: Is the Church important?; Why is the church important?)

Scripture expects us to believe truths that seemingly contradict. God is entirely sovereign and has from eternity chosen all those will be saved. Man is entirely responsible and is commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Jesus is God. Jesus is man. No man knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return. Jesus’ return will be preceded by clearly recognizable signs so that his followers will not be surprised. These truths, and others, are like parallel roads stretching on into the horizon; always getting closer but never seeming to meet. We are not told to reconcile these truths (for, indeed, friends do not need reconciling), but to live according to them. Another such set of truths is that God is everywhere, but he is only met in certain places.

God is everywhere: he is omnipresent.

Psalm 139:7-8- Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

Jeremiah 23:23‑24- “Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off?
Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the LORD;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.

Proverbs 15:3- The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
Keeping watch on the evil and the good.

Acts 17:26‑28- And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, “In him we live and move and have our being”…

Since God is everywhere, one would think that God could be worshipped anywhere. If God is in the mountains, we can worship him in the mountains. If God is in the valleys, we can worship him in the plains. It makes sense. It is wrong.

The Bible is very clear that God is only to be worshipped in the place and ways he determines. As the nation of Israel was about to enter the promised land, God made it very clear to them that he was only to be worshipped in the place he determined. The phrase “the place the Lord your God will choose” occurs 22 times in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26; 14:23, 24, 25; 15:20; 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; 17:8, 10; 18:6; 23:16; 26:2; 31:11). That place turned out to be the Tabernacle, and then the Temple.

The people of Israel did not obey this command and built “high places.” They built their own places of worship for God and idols. God hated this practice and vowed to judge the people for it (Jer. 17:1-4; Ezek. 6:1-7). This practice of private worship, or even public worship in the place God had not chosen, was so significant that on multiple occasions it was the criteria by which kings are judged in Kings and Chronicles. Wicked kings set up high places (1 Kings 12:31; 13:33; 2 Kings 17:9); good kings failed in not taking away high places (1 Kings 15:14; 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4, 35); the best kings removed the high places (2 Kings 18:4; 23:19). One of the key criteria by which God evaluated the kings was what the kings did about private worship and their neglect or their building up of Temple worship at “the place the Lord your God chooses.” God is everywhere, but he is worshipped where he chooses.

The blessings of the New Covenant overflow the Old Covenant. No longer must every worshipper of God go to Jerusalem three times a year or whenever else an offering is made. The temple is no more! We are free to worship God everywhere! Right?

Wrong. The truth has not changed, even if the outworking of it has. The church is important because it is the new building of God. God repeatedly claimed that he was only to be worshipped in the place he chose, the place where he caused his name to dwell in. That place is now the church- the true temple of God.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

2 Corinthians 6:16  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Ephesians 2:19-22  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

1 Peter 2:4-5  As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

What is the significance of the temple? The temple is where God dwells (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22). Yes, God is everywhere. But he dwells in his temple. Wherever God dwells is where his people are to meet him. If someone does not go to the meeting of the church, they are not worshipping God in the way or place he has chosen. Peter states as much in 1 Peter 2:5 with a mind-bending metaphor. We are being built up as the temple to offer the spiritual sacrifices of that temple. During the Old Testament, God only accepted sacrifices offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament God accepts sacrifices offered at the temple: the church.

Previously, we saw that a Christian “goes to church” because it is the body of Christ. A member not connected to the body dies. There is no life apart from the body. Now we see that a Christian “goes to church” because it is the building of God. As God’s temple, the church is where God is met and worshipped. Christians are stones in that temple. They are connected with everything else (i.e. everyone else) beneath, beside, and above them. God does not leave his people as stones in a field. God builds his people into the place where he is. That place is the church. If you are not in the church you are not where God is. You are not God’s building.