Engage the Local Church as a Priority

I’m working on a sermon this morning for “Graduate Sunday” when we will honor our graduating seniors who will be graduating from high school in a few weeks.

One of my points to our graduates is “Engage the Local Church as a Priority” when they graduate and go off to college.

I was reflecting on my experience as a college student in this town a very long time ago, and the mistakes we made practically with the church and the mistakes that are still being made by our population now.

I was also reflecting on a very recent challenge, an ongoing challenge and not a new challenge to the church in the west epitomized so well here in our town. That challenge?  Treating of the local church like a prostitute.

Dr. Tony Evans once said when Jennifer and I were at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship a long time ago, “If you pay staff to do ministry so you don’t have to, it’s spiritual rape and pimping the kingdom of God.” That’s true and painful to hear.

I’d also add to that, if we use the church to meet our spiritual needs we are prostituting the bride of Christ.

It’s not that the church does not meet our needs, but that when we do what Jesus said we get needs met as we are meeting other’s needs. That’s why covenant community in the local church is vital. We seek to give, and as we do that we are getting. But if I’m just looking to get I’m not giving and others are being left out by my self-seeking.

The bible teaches us not to seek our own interests but to empty ourselves for each other, as the example set by Jesus for us to imitate. So to take and take and use is to misuse and abuse.

I value the local church. All Christians should, and we must begin to make sense of the bible’s teaching on the church beyond attending a Sunday morning event or a Wednesday night event.

This post is not intended to be a reflection on worldviews and their implications, but this little diversion is important, so bear with me a moment. Naturalism has led to the symptom in us, though we are typically not propagating naturalism now because as a worldview it’s dying due to its clear inadequacies, of naked pragmatism.

There is holy pragmatism…Godward things that are wise because they simply work for doing God’s things in God’s way. Then there is naked pragmatism (my terminology).

Naked pragmatism is simply doing what works for me regardless of any spiritual implication or moral implication or ethical implication. Everything else be set aside. As long as I can justify it for my purposes, what right do you have to challenge it? Right?

We often come at the church with naked pragmatism. She exists to meet my needs, and if she doesn’t I’ll get from her what she does best and I’ll get my other “needs” met at any other church that does that trick better than the one I’m currently at.

This prostituting of the church is often hard to confront because it’s dressed up as “pursuing the Lord” or “discipleship” or “spiritual growth” or “meeting my current needs”. That kind of language is the “ace in the hole” that can’t be argued with like “God told me.” Once you play that card no one can push back without looking like the godless pagan who does not want you to grow spiritually.

Hogwash!

What would happen if a man went to his wife and told her that he loves her, but there were things she didn’t have that he needed and that he was getting those needs met with another woman across town? Or another couple of women?

This would not go over very well.  Understatement of the year.

Why would this not be ok? It’s abusive. It’s breaking his vows. It’s lack of love. Lack of anything meaningful. Sin.

We would not do that to our wives, right men? So, why would we do it to Jesus’ wife of which we are a part?

This awful illustration actually speaks prophetically to how the church sometimes gets treated today.

Some Scripture to consider:

Ephesians 5:22-33 tells us that the church’s identity is that of “bride of Christ”.

The church, Jesus own bride, has strategically and necessarily met as one universal church in multiple and visible locations since her full establishment recorded in the New Testament. By the way, it’s not evil to have many local fellowships that have multiple distinctives and meet separately doing one mission. See below:

Romans 16:5 (ESV) Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.

1 Corinthians 16:19 (ESV) The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.

Colossians 4:15 (ESV) Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.

Philemon 1:1-2 (ESV) Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Churches were meeting all over these cities, in one house geographically and according to capacity, and dealing with each other in covenant in that one home church. So should we!

You can argue whether this is descriptive or prescriptive, but I’d argue from the link below (Church Covenant Membership is Biblical and Require Practically) it’s prescriptive.

Therefore, each local church that is preaching the gospel, engaged in taking the gospel to the nations, administering the Lord’s supper, baptizing, discipling it’s people to the nations, in covenant with each other and accountable to each other by covenant ( Church Covenant Membership is Biblical and Required Practically ), is the bride of Christ.

Ephesians 3:10-11 (ESV) “…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,”. This unseen proclamation to Satan and his hoards seems to be important to Jesus. Is it that important to us?

These local churches are engaged in some deep stuff whether we see it or not. These local churches are engaged in some deep stuff whether we are benefiting from it or not. I’d argue my benefitting from it is last on the list of important things.

Therefore, the church deserves my commitment. Not for what I get out of her, but because she is Jesus’ bride, the community of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus might defend his wife against my use or abuse of her (see Acts 9).

Find one local church. Commit to one local church. It does not have to be TRC. We are one among other really good churches in Rome. Don’t prostitute her. Love her as Jesus does, because you are her. To love the church well honors Jesus and is a healthy and appropriate self love.

No one hates his own body, but nourishes it and cherishes it…sounds like something I’ve read in the bible somewhere (hint: Ephesians 5:22-33).

With prophetic love.

 

 

 

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