Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on June 28, 2015
Open your Bibles to Acts 2:42-47. Today we will be examining the life of the Church. The reason for this message is because of our upcoming membership class that begins next Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. Like I often say, I have no desire to hide the ball in regards to my purpose when I preach. My purpose today is to persuade you, through God’s Word, that Church membership is Biblical and crucial. With that said, let us read our text, pray, and see what God wants to tell us today.
One of the many reasons that I love God and His Word is because there is simplicity in following Christ. God does not operate in shades of gray, but in black and white. For example, when we read the Bible we see comparisons of life and death, heaven and hell, good and evil, light and darkness, truth and lies. God is a God of definitiveness. This is also true when it comes to his people. We see this very clearly in the Old Testament. God had a chosen people, the nation of Israel, and God went to great lengths to distinguish his people from the other nations. For Israel, God ordained their difference through location, circumcision, eating, washings, and sacrifices. God wanted it to be clear who were his people and who were not. God's desire for distinction has not changed. God still want's a clear display of who are his and who are not.
The first time the word Church is used in the Bible is by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 when he says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The second time the word Church is used is also by Jesus and he says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
So what does Church mean? The Greek word for Church is “ekklésia.” This word is a combination of two words, “ek” which means “out from” and “kaleo” which means “to call.” So the word means to call out from. The context that this word would have been used is to describe someone calling people out so as to assemble. For those who are object oriented, picture my kids, Julian, Ezra, and Alexandra out playing in my backyard with the neighborhood kids. I stick my head out the door and says “Parsons kids, it is time to eat. Come inside.” My three children hear my voice, turn their heads, and come inside and my family gathers around the table and we eat. This is the word Church. It is a “called out assembly.”
So the word Church lines up with what we talked about already. God desires there to be a distinction between his people and those who are not his people. He is calling his people out of the world so that they assemble. And we see this word, Church, the called out assembly, used time and time again to describe the people who gather together. In fact, we looked at it last week in 1 Corinthians 1:2.
However, here is the problem, in America there is this belief that you can be a Christian and never commit yourself to other Christians. Christians everywhere claim to be followers of Christ, but they never display being a called out assembly. Instead they look just like the rest of the world and rarely, if ever, connect with other Christians. However, to be fair, this is not a new problem that is specific to America.
However, is being at Church every Sunday the end goal? Is this what Christ meant when he said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail?” Is Jesus just a glorified Principal handing out perfect attendance badges? Of course He is not. However, many of you act that way.
Week in and week out, you come in these doors as if you are attending a dentist appointment. You don't want to be here, but you see it is a necessary evil. You sit, you listen, you leave. Next Sunday, you do the same thing, you sit, you listen, you leave. Is this what Jesus called you into, a waiting room full of casual acquaintances waiting for your number to be called? Once again, of course not. So what should the called out assembly look like? We find the answer in our text for today.
Our text this morning is a picture of the first Church, the first “called out assembly”. These were the followers of Christ right after Pentecost, so there were about 3,000 plus followers of Jesus, and what do we see them doing? Neglecting each other? No. We see them assembling. In fact, we see radical assembling. Verse 4 says, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.” It was just about Sunday's for these 3,000 people, every single day they they committed themselves to being together.
I want you to take a second and think about this. These people are not fictional characters. They are real people, with real lives. They had families, they had jobs, they had responsibilities just like you and I. However, when Christ called them out of the world and into his Church, they re-oriented their life around their new family. They made sacrifices, changed schedules, they did what it took to be a people.
How rare is this? So often, gathering with your spiritual family is the first thing to go. It takes a back seat to sports, vacations, work, and even sleeping in. Any nominal excuse is enough for us to avoid being with the ones we claim to love.
This was not the case for the early Church. They took commitment seriously. And think about how this daily commitment would have effected those watching from the outside. I am sure that people took notice of the day after day togetherness of the early Church. I can almost imagine the comments, “Your going to their house again? Weren't you just there last night? What is so great about them that you have to always be with them?” And you know what? This is exactly what Christ wants. Listen to Jesus' prayer in John 17:20 the night that he is arrested before his crucifixion.
So what does this commitment of being together look like? In our text we do not just see a togetherness, we see a devotion to fellowship. The world fellowship is koinónia (koi-nō-nē'-ä ) which means a partnership, a participation, a communion, and sharing with each other. Which fits perfectly to the actions we see described in out text.
Once again, is this you? Do you hold on to your things, your money, your home tightly or loosely? Perhaps the most stinging text for Churches today is found in Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus is talking about the final judgment.
And if that is not enough, the early Church didn't just have a commitment to be together and they didn't just have fellowship, they were devoted. The Greek word for devoted is proskartereó (pros-kär-te-re'-ō ). This means to be continual, to persevere, to prevail, to endure, to stay in a fixed direction. The first Church to ever exist was intentional about their relationship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. It wasn't something that came and went, they were steadfast in their community of believers. It was not as if they were their today and gone tomorrow, they could be relied and counted on.
Which leads me to Church Membership. Church membership is an intentional, steadfast commitment to a specific group of people. It is a declaration to your spiritual family and to yourself that you are committing your life to your brothers and sisters in Christ. That you are willing to jump in the trenches with others to learn, break bread, pray, and praise God. Church membership is about saying, that you will orient your life around others, changing schedules, giving financially, sharing resources, sacrificing for those whom you love. You ware chosing to participate, partner, commune with the people sitting next to you week in and week out.
However, it is not only about giving. It is also about receiving. Church membership is about a mutual commitment. Not only are you saying you will pour yourself out for others, but you are saying you need people to pour themselves out for you. Church membership is a humbling experience, for you are admitting that you can't do it on your own. You are saying you can't afford to be causal about your walk with Christ. You are admitting that you need your family and you are giving them permission to love you, day in a day out.
In light of what is going on in America right now, there may not be a more important time then now for brothers and sisters in Christ to band together in a deeper level then just showing up at the same time in the same building. Persecution may be right around the corner. The enemy has been emboldened, and it is moments like this that we need a family to be committed to watching our backs as Satan prowls. Therefore, I hope that if you are an attender of Cornerstone, you will consider making the next step to partner with those sitting next to you, to fight this fight of faith together.
And imagine if we actually did it. Imagine if we at Cornerstone Church were all in when it came to following Christ together. Imagine if we partnered side by side in our brothers and sisters lives. What would happen? Perhaps the headlines in America this week would have read a little differently.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 11, 2014
Open you Bibles to Philippians 1:3-11. Last week we began our journey through the book of Philippians, and we focused our attention on how the Church in Philippi began. In doing so we examined Acts 16 where we saw Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke setting sail and landing on the continent of Europe with the express purpose of sharing the Gospel to anyone they could find. This path of obedience led them to a Jewish business woman named Lydia. Upon God opening her heart, Lydia was the first convert in the continent of Europe. And from that point the Church in Philippi began.
Today we are going to continue to examine this relationship. So let us read out text, pray and see what God has to say to our hearts this morning.
This intimate relationship that he has with these people is not a superficial one. It has roots, it has strength, it is authentic and it produces in Paul joy. Verse 3 and 4, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,” Every time he brings to mind, when he remembers these people he experiences joy in his life. No matter where he is, what he is doing, how hard his circumstances are, when he closes his eyes and remembers the people in Philippi his heart rejoices.
Let me ask you, do you have someone in your life like this? Is there someone that no matter how bad of a day you are having, you can close your eyes and picture them in your mind and instantly joy washes over you? For many of you, you might say yes, but I am guessing the ones that bring you joy are your children, maybe your spouse. But what about your Church? Take a moment and look around at the people in this room. Do you yearn to be with them? Do you have an affection of Christ for them. Do you rejoice when you walk in these doors and see their smiling faces?
I don't know about you, but I have been to some Churches that have broken my heart. You walk in, and everyone is mindlessly going through the motions, like robots. No one is conversing, no one is smiling, no one looks like they want to be their. They look like slaves tied the the pews; burdened by the requirement of attending Church. It is a sad, sad picture. For Church is not suppose to be that way. Church is to be alive, vibrant, flourishing, hopefully, exciting, and abounding in love, both towards God and towards each other.
The assembly of God's people in worship should be like a shining city on a hill, whereby outsiders will be either repelled by it like cockroaches or drawn to it like moths to a flame. And the love of God and the love of others should be the fuel to that fire, as I hope we will see today. So with that, let us look at why did Paul love these people so zealously.
Partnership in the Gospel
Which brings me to the question, how many of us have unsaved people in our household? I am guessing every single one of you. Perhaps they are not living in your house, but I am sure that everyone has aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws that do not love Christ; relatives that are destined to Hell if God does not open up their heart. What are you doing to save them? Are you praying every day for their salvation? Are you praying that God would open up their heart to receive the gospel? Have you proclaimed the gospel to them? Have you shared your testimony with them? Have you sat down and opened up the Bible and talked about who Jesus is and why they should care? I will be the first to admit that I have failed miserably. In fact, my lack of boldness and courage makes me sick! My lack of love for their souls makes me sick!
When God saved you, he did not mean for you to be a hoarder of His grace. You are meant to be a conduit of his grace. He saved you to be about his work. You are the God ordained means to a God ordained salvation.
What is the next thing we see after everyone in her house was saved? She persuades Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke to make her home their gospel headquarters. She didn't just ask them to come by for an hour to hang out, she asked them to stay. This was going to be the new home base. This was going to be the brick and mortar for the Church, and she did this without hesitation.
Think about this. Lydia appears to be a single, jewish, business women and within a short time meets four random men down by the river and insists that they stay at her house. Who are these guys? Can you trust them? What baggage do they bring to the table? Are they wanted? What will people think? Is her house clean? Does she have enough food? What about her business? What about the mouths she has to feed? None of that seems to cross her mind. Once God opened up her heart and made Jesus preeminent in her life, everything else was trivial. She instantly leveraged what she had to offer for the sake of the expansion of the Kingdom, no matter what the cost.
This radical love of Lydia, however, was not isolated. If you continue reading in Acts 16 we see a second story of conversion. Look at Acts 16:25-34. Paul and Silas found themselves in some hot water and ended up being beaten and thrown in jail.
After the jailer placed his faith in Christ what happened? He took them home, washed their wounds, feed them and introduced him to his household which, once again, led to his family being saved. Just like Lydia, we see instant partnership in the Gospel, right out of the gates. And once again, let's not forget that the jailer did this at a great risk. What do you think his Roman boss was going to think about this jailer taking the prisoners home and giving them a bath, feeding them, and having a big joy filled party?
Don't forget that this was the same guy who almost killed himself because he thought he had let the prisoners escape, talk about pressure at work. That guy that almost committed suicide because he was having a bad day didn't exist anymore, he was now a new creation in Christ. God had taken out his heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh. A heart that instantly loved God and loved his new brothers in Christ. He no longer cared about what people thought, or what consequences he would be facing tomorrow at work, his primary focus was on the good news of Jesus Christ.
Partakers of Grace
So let us ask why. Why do we see such a radical step of faith in the partnering of the Gospel in the lives of the jailer and Lydia? Flip back to Philippians 1 and look at verse 7.
And in light of the love of God that he lavishes upon us, there is only one logical, consistent, fitting, or worthy response, and that is for the love of God to break forth like a river busting through a dam and washing everyone down stream. Who cares about your job, who cares about your business, who cares about what the neighbors are saying, who cares about what your family might think. You want everyone to experience Christ. And this is exactly what happened for Lydia and the Jail. The question is, has it happened to you, or are you just going through the motions?
Paul's Prayer and My Prayer
I do not want Cornerstone Church to go through the motions. I can't do it. I can't survive as your Pastor emotionally if we just play Church. Your partnership with me in the Gospel is a means of grace that flows straight to my heart, and produces in me joy. My prayer today, is Paul's prayer.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on January 4, 2015
Today we begin our journey together through my favorite book in the Bible, Philippians. Before we get started, I want to encourage all of you to resist the tendency to be passive in this journey. I want you to be actively engaged in the soaking of this book. Don’t just sit and kind of listen to me preach for 45 minutes. Bring your Bibles to church, read along with me, use your pen to make notes, memorize some of the passages, figure out ways to be doers of this Word not just hearers. Make a list of action items. Live out the Word of God. You will not regret it. With that said, lets jump in we have a lot of ground to cover. Turn with me to Philippians 1:1-11.
The book of Philippians is known as the letter of joy. In this short, four chapter book the noun joy, “chara” is used five times and the verb rejoice, “charein,” is used nine times. Only the book of Luke uses “charein” more than Philippians. What is interesting about this is that this letter of joy is written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison, most likely in Rome. And not only was he in prison, but his life laid in the balance. His release was not guaranteed. Paul was staring death right in the face. Everything about Paul's life in that moment screamed pity party, not joy, yet what do we find Paul doing while chained to a Roman guard, rejoicing.
And it should be noted that this joyful disposition was not unique for Paul. This was not an anomaly. Paul's life was one of joy, day in and day out. This was despite his trials and tribulations. Paul had joy in the midst of imprisonments, beatings, lashings, stonings, being shipwrecked, adrift at sea, constant dangers, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure to the elements. Perhaps no one said it better than Paul himself, he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” His joy was not dependent upon his circumstances. His disposition was not a prisoner to happenstance.
So what was the source of his joy? His relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter what took place in Paul's life, it could never separate him from the love of God found in Jesus Christ. The love of Christ was better than wealth, food, comfort, freedom, and life itself. Jesus was the greatest treasure of his life and everything was garbage compared to knowing Him. As we walk through this book I want you to keep this in mind, that despite Paul's circumstances he always had joy. Why? Because he had Jesus.
My guess is that many of you in this room are struggling. The circumstances in your life have become a weight that you are about to break under. Perhaps it is your job, your finances, your marriage, your singleness, your health, or just the monotony of life. Whatever it is your heart craves joy and you have searched the world for something to satisfy its hunger, yet time and time again you come up empty. Why? Because the joy of your heart is not found in this world, it is found in something out of this world. You need to stop focusing on your circumstances and start focusing on Jesus. So if you are tired of a joyless life, lean in and listen the words found in this wonderful book of Philippians, a true letter of joy.
Doulos of Christ
Lets start right at the beginning. Verse 1, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” The word servant in Greek is doulus. In some translations this word is translated to bondservant, however, the best translation is actually slave. “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.” Our English translations have chosen not to use the word slave due to its negative connotations, however, the word actually means slave. This is not the only time Paul began a letter with this description of himself. He also began his letter to the Romans and to Titus the same way, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ. Likewise, he was not the only apostle to refer to himself as a slave. Peter, James, Jude and John all used this description of themselves, slaves.
So what do these disciples mean when they call themselves slaves of Jesus? Perhaps to answer this question we should begin on the road to Damascus, where Paul was chosen by His master. Turn with me to Acts 9.
Why? Because God had shown the light of His glory into Paul's life and caused the the scales to fall from the eyes of his heart and for the first time he beheld the glory of God in the face of Christ. And when he beheld the glory of Jesus the Christ, and the mercies of God as directed to him, the Chief of Sinners, he knew of only one thing left to do, pick up his cross every single day and follow Him.
This call to radically follow Christ is not exclusive to Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John. All disciples of Jesus are called to abandon all things for Jesus. All Christians are called to be a doulos, a slave to Christ.
And this is exactly what Paul did in his life. His life was a drink offering poured out at the feet of Jesus. He was a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. And the fruit of this obedience were, as verse 1 says, “the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi”.
Saints in Philippians
Phillipi was a northeastern city in Greece. It derived its name from Philip II, the Father of Alexander the Great. The town itself was under Roman authority and was patterned after Rome itself. Having said that Phillip was more of a colony as opposed to a thriving commercial epicenter. Prior to Christianity, Phillipi was an eclectic mix of religion. However, many in Philippi worshiped the Greek gods, however identified by their Latin names: Jupiter (Zues), Juno, Mars, Artemis. The question is how did the gospel get to Philipi? For that answer turn to Acts 16:6-10.
It was in the midst of these failed attempts to take the gospel to certain parts of Asia, that God gave Paul a vision. A man from Macedonia urging Paul to help them. Paul's response was doulus like. He immediately started making arrangements to get to Macedonia. Once again, notice what he didn't do. He didn't say, let me pray about it. He immediately started making plans. And what were his intentions when he arrived? Dig wells? No, Paul knew that the help they needed was found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So once again, we see in Paul a gospel default.
When they arrived, they went to the river to look for a place of prayer. Seems odd, does it not? You can pray anywhere, why seek out a special place? The reason is because in towns where there was no synagogue, it was a Jewish custom for Jews to congregate at the nearest river on the Sabbath. Paul, being a Jew, knew this and went to see who he would find. And there he found Lydia.
Upon finding Lydia, what did they do? They shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as God had called them to do. Once again, notice that they didn't hesitate. They didn't first build a relationship with her before talking about Jesus. They engaged and got right to what is of first importance, the gospel.
And what happened? Verse 14, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Folks, I know some of you struggled with our sermon series on the Doctrines of Grace, but you can't argue with what God's inspired word says in verse 14. Absent God opening up Lydia's heart, she does not hear the gospel message. The first domino that falls in conversion is always God. We are passive recipients of God's Grace. This was true for Paul, the twelve disciples, Lydia and it is true for all who are in Christ, including you and including me.
Just as Paul says in Philippians 1:6, our text today, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” It was God who began the work in Lydia's heart. Without God performing a miracle in your life, you will never be a saint. And lets make something abundantly clear, every follower of Jesus is a saint. The Catholic Church has once again created confusion around this term, a saint is not some dead person who once performed a miracle. A saint is someone who has been touched by the hand of God and is himself a walking miracle. God, not man, determines who will be a saint, and if you are in Christ, you have received that honor.
The very next thing that happened was she was baptized. They performed a Christ ordained, celebration of the union of Lydia and Christ, both in his death and in his life. And with that we have our very first convert in the Continent of Europe, a Jewish business woman along side a river one Saturday morning 2000 years ago.
And this is how the Philippians Church began, through the obedience of four men willing to risk everything to unleash the gospel in Europe. Lydia was the first fruit of a partnership that Paul in verse 4 says he remembers with joy and verses 7 and 8 says he holds in his heart and yearns for with the affection of Jesus Christ.
Which makes me wonder, how many joy filled, loving relationships are we missing out of when we chose to not serve God, and instead serve our own passions and desires. How often have we exchanged the sweet fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ for the shallow relationships provided on facebook. As I stated earlier, if you long for joy, Paul has something to teach you.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on August 31, 2014.
Turn with me to Matthew 7:1-6. Today we are going to examine what I believe to be the most misunderstood, misused and abused sections in the Bible. This is a section that the world loves to throw around, especially in the face of Christians.
Now as we read this section we must remind ourselves that these are the words of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is the leader of our Church, he is the Son of the Living God, everything he says is true and everything he says we must obey. So as with all scripture we desire this text to equip us so that we can accomplish the work of God in a way that pleases Him. So with that said, let us read our text, pray that God would guide us to His truth, and study God’s Word.
Now before I get into the Bible, I want to first make a logical argument. When someone who has just been confronted for their sin, throws Matthew 7 back in your face, they are effectively violating their own terms. They have become a hypocrite. For what they are doing is judging your judgment. Do you follow? By their attempts to avoid your accusation, by accusing you of sin by judgment, they have effectively created their own noose. They are now standing in judgment over you. So perhaps you should respond back to them, don’t judge me for judging you.
Now the question before us becomes, is this what Jesus intended? Is this what Jesus was trying to create, a perpetual, never-ending “don’t judge me” argument? Obviously not. So let’s first start by understanding what this section does not say.
When Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged” he does not mean to avoid discussions about sin. Nor does he mean for us not to evaluate people and their sinfulness. This is obvious by Jesus’ own statements in this section.
For those who have been with us since we began this journey, you have heard me say multiple times that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount could also be titled the Sermon on the Heart. For every topic that Jesus addresses is an attempt to address the condition of our sinful hearts and our need for Jesus to perform heart surgery on us, so as to be able to fulfill these radical commands of Christ.
In doing this, throughout the sermon, Jesus continuously stacks his teachings up against the teaching and the behavior of the Scribes and the Pharisees. The Scribes and Pharisees were the religious leaders of that day. He does this in the beginning of the Sermon of the Mount by saying,
So as we begin chapter 7, Jesus is not changing the back drop of his teaching. He is still stacking up his teachings of against the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees. Therefore, when Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged” he is speaking to how the religious leaders wrongly go about addressing sin. So the question is how was their judgment wrong?
It is wrong the same way they were wrong about everything else. They way they addressed sin in people’s lives was based, not on the righteousness of God, but on the righteousness of man. The scribes and the Pharisees were judging self-righteously. In our text, Jesus gives us an illustration to help us understand the wrong form of judgment.
They did everything they could and more to give the appearance that they were holy. They worked hard to follow every rule and every tradition to a “T” and they believed that if they worked hard enough then God would bless them. They focused all their attention on cleaning up their lives on the outside. Listen to what Jesus says about them later in Matthew 23.
The bottom line is that we are saved by grace and we stand in grace. When we recognize that we are not God, and we are saved by grace alone, we are transferred from darkness to light, and we have eyes to see. The log comes out. And only when this happens are we able to help our brothers and sisters with sin in their lives. Until we have confessed our sins and abide in the grace of Jesus Christ, we are utterly useless. If we stand in judgment as God over the sins of others we do more damage then good. But if we humbly walk as sinners saved by grace, healing can begin with our brothers and sisters, for we can given them what helped us, Jesus Christ.
I believe the Apostle Paul is a fantastic picture of this right judgment. For those who don’t know Paul was a Pharisee. He called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, he was speaking of Paul. Eventually Paul was captured by the grace of God. Listen to how Paul addresses the most sinful Church in the Bible, the Church in Corinth.
When you confront someone about sin in their life, the driving force behind it must be loving, not Lording. This does not mean that we avoid the sin discussion. If you love them, you will confront them. It means that when we see something in their eye that is bringing them to tears, we should come up along side them and weep, and mourn for them, not as their god, but as their brother and sister.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on May 25, 2014
For several weeks now I have been promoting our upcoming four week church membership class that will begin next Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m. Because of this upcoming class, I have decided to take another break from preaching on the Sermon on the Mount to talk about the Biblical foundation of Church Membership. At this point, I would guess that there are some of you who are inwardly groaning and you are thinking to yourself, why didn’t we skip today, and this is exactly why a sermon on Church Membership is necessary.
As I was pondering this topic, I decided that there are at least three groups of people in our Church when it comes to membership.
The first group of people are the ones who do not like the idea of membership. It rubs you the wrong way. In fact, today you may leave and discuss whether Cornerstone is the place for you. For you prefer the loose connection, autonomy, independence. You would rather be a lifelong attender, but never a member. Perhaps you see membership as old school, that we have moved beyond membership, and to something better in this day and age. Or perhaps you believe that Christ is worth following, but you could take of leave the Church.
The second group of people are those who believe that Church membership should be automatic, that anyone and everyone should be on the roles. Or that if your parents were members, then you are a member. That membership is free for everyone, almost like a rotary. If you pay your dues, you should be welcomed.
The third group of people are the ones who don’t care. If I were to guess, this would include the majority of you. These are people who haven't really thought about Church membership. It is something that you could take or leave it. Church membership is not something you have thought much about. You are not for it or against it. You have a “whatever” mentality. Maybe you will be a member, maybe you won't You will just wait and see how you feel next Sunday night.
If you were to ask me, I would say that over my life I have found myself in all three groups at one time of the other, but I want everyone to know that all three of those groups are wrong. Church membership matters, and it plays a significant role in the New Testament.
With that said, I want to spend a Sunday talking about the Biblical design of Church membership for Christians, and to argue that it is not optional for born again believers. That's right, I said not optional. In my reading of God's Word, I do not see where one can make an argument that Church membership is voluntary. I believe the evidence of the necessity of Church membership is overwhelming, and as I say over and over again, here at Cornerstone we want to be Bible people. We want to submit to all that God says, and we want to do it not because we have to, but because we love God and want to obey Him, for His Glory and for our good.
The text I will use to launch our discussion is Matthew 16:15-19, however, like always, I will be all over the New Testament. Therefore, let us read our text, pray that God would soften our hearts to His will, and see what Christ has to say about this topic.
So how is it built? Jesus tells us.
The “this” is Peter’s answer to the question of who do you say Jesus is. This is the main point of the entire passage. Jesus is explaining this new thing called Church and telling them that the Cornerstone of this structure is the understanding of who Jesus is.
So right away, we see that being a Church member is not automatic. It is not something you can sign up for like you sign up for a card club. Being in the Church is determined by God revealing to you who Jesus is. If you deny Jesus is the Son of God, then you are not in the Church. If you do not believe Jesus is the Christ who came to take away the sin of the world, you are in the Church. If you believe Jesus is one of many ways to God, then you are not in the Church. A church member is not determined by walking in these doors, it is determined by Christ himself. Remember, it is he who builds His church. Jesus is not talking about building, he is talking about people.
Having said all this, here is the tricky part. Who has God chosen to reveal His Son to? When God turns the light on in someone’s heart and they place their trust in Christ alone for their salvation and submit to Him as their Lord, there is not a halo that all the sudden, appears above their head. Jesus does not hand out jerseys that say, “The Church” that we can wear around town. How do we know who is in and who is out? The same way Jesus did. You ask.
The best analogy that I have seen for this is by a guy named Jonathan Leeman in his book Church Membership. He compares the local church to an embassy.
If I am in India and I lose my passport, I have to go to the American Embassy. The embassy is an outpost of America. It is in the midst of foreign soil, but inside the gates is US territory. For me, the purpose of the American Embassy is not to make me a citizen, but to vouch for my citizenship. They testify to the reality that I am a US Citizen.
The local Church acts in the same way. Cornerstone Church does not grant people citizenship in Heaven; this is not the local Church’s role. The local church’s role is to be an outpost for God’s People in the midst of foreign soil. The local Church is to vouched for Heaven’s citizens. When God saves a person, and they are wondering around in the world, the begin to look for fellow citizens. One day they arrive out our front doors and they realize that there is some commonality, so they want to join our Church. The Church then asks them, who do you say Jesus is? If they answer like Peter, then we vouch for them. We declare to the world that this person is one of us, that they speak like us, they think like us; they love like us; they are part of our family. We testify that they are a citizen in Heaven.
The way we achieve this conversation, is through Church membership. For everyone who wants to be a member, you will have to proclaim who you say Jesus is. Just like Jesus, we are not taking it for granted. Peter had to speak it, and you will have to speak it. If this is enough to scare you off, then that may be evidence of your lack of citizenship in Heaven.
Having said this, the local Church's acceptance of your citizenship in Heaven is only one side of the coin. Not only does Church membership give an opportunity for the local Church to proclaim something, but it also give the individual something to proclaim also. Turn with me to Acts 2:42-47. This is the first picture we are given of the early Church.
Right away what do we see in this text? Devotion. The Greek word for this is proskartereō. In addition to meaning devoted it can also mean adherent, steadfastly attentive, to be constantly ready. The early church was not casual, or nonchalant, about Church life, they were serious. It was important to them in their life. So what were they devoted to?
First of all they were devoted to the apostles' teaching. The people in the early Church committed themselves to be Bible people. By joining the Church they were enrolling in God's University. That meant they were submitting to authority in their life. They were agreeing to be students under a teacher.
When you become a member of a Church you are committing to the same. You are enrolling in the class that meets regularly in this building, taught by Elders of this Church. You are saying teach me, guide me, help me know more about the immeasurable riches of Jesus Christ. This is a hard thing for many people to do, because it requires humility. For you are saying that when I am wrong, you need to correct me, you need to admonish and rebuke.
The word we use in Church lingo is accountability. Unfortunately, in many Churches accountability has gone out the window, with the rest of the Bible. But this is one major aspect of Church, teaching people to think and live in a way that is consistent to who you are in Christ. I think it is interesting that the only other time Jesus talks about the Church, he talks about Church discipline. He does this in Matthew 18. He says that if a person is sinning and they won't repent after one person confronts them, and they won't repent after a small group confronts them, the the matter must go before the Church and if they still won't repent, then the Church is required to kick them out. Once again, when you become a Church member, you are telling a local body of believes to help be Christ-like, even to the extent of Church discipline.
Second, we see them devoted to fellowship. The early Church was together. Verse 46 says they were together every single day. The shared not only a common interest in Christ, but they shared themselves. They literally sold their stuff, so they could give to to others in the Church. This was a group of people who deeply cared for each other. Doesn't it sound awesome? Unfortunately, for many Churches, this is not the picture. Churches are regularly plagued with apathy. People show up late and rush out early. Some people go weeks, and sometimes months without coming to Church. Very few people every socialize with others in your Church, perhaps you will invite you neighbors over, or your co-workers, but someone at Church? No thanks.
Third, we see prayers. How many of you are praying for this Church? Why not? Because you are not committed to a people, you are instead committed to a schedule. Church is about Sunday morning, it is not about the faces you see. When we look around this room you should not see acquaintances, you should see your brothers and sisters. This is your family. Pray for them. This is another thing we see in the life of Christ. He prayed for his flock; early in the morning and late at night. Praying for their protection. We must do the same. Once again, when you commit yourself to a local Church you are saying that I will pray for you. I care for you. I want the best for you. I love you.
Becoming a Church member is so much more than than a title. It is so much more than a certificate. It is so much more than a line on a resume. It is devotion to pursing an awesome God with those you love.
Acts 2 as it relates to membership is just the tip of the iceberg. Becoming a Church member is about using your gifts that were given to you by God to build up and encourage the body of Christ. Being a member is about crying and rejoicing. Being a Church member is about rebuking and admonishing. Being a Church member is about being a family. A Christ-exulting, Bible believing, devoted family. Doesn't that sound good? I hope it does, and I hope all of you see that Church membership is not about committing to an institution, but to a people.