You may have noticed that we are increasingly becoming a culture that does not tolerate definitions. We are getting increasingly uncomfortable being “pinned down, boxed in, categorized and defined too rigidly.”
Just google sometime – does 2+2 always = 4 and you’ll see how far we’ve come. We’re actually questioning that now.
In Western society this has been brewing for hundreds of years: the deification of the self – the individual is supreme and definitions therefore, belong to the self, to the individual.
And the effect of baking in this philosophy for literally hundreds of years is that even if we agree that we do need some definitions we are such individualists that we think we can reserve the right to control those definitions ourselves.
“Marriage” means what I want it to mean. “Family” means what I want it to mean and “my church” means to me what I want it to mean. I am the Lord of the dictionary. I write the definition. I control the meaning.
Years ago when I lived in Hartford I was just serving my church as a part time pastor and so at my other job I was helping a customer one day and we were making small talk and he asks, “what are you doing this weekend?” I said, “I don’t have any plans other than to go to church.” And he asked, “Oh. Which church?” I said, “Central Valley Community Church is my church.” And he says, “Oh that’s great, that’s my church too.” And this was a surprise to me because I had never seen him in worship. And, as it turns out, I never did see him attend a single service in my 7 years there.
So, you have to wonder…what did he mean, “That’s my church.” Whatever he meant, apparently, had nothing to do with actually being there. You see: if we try to continue to be lord’s of the dictionary – individualists to the hilt, then soon, nothing will mean anything at all. If everything is subjective then nothing has meaning and we are already seeing the hopelessness that this leads to in a people.
The alternative to this individualism is, of course, that we look to God’s word and allow God to shape for us what it means when we say, “This is my church.”
So, two weeks ago, I asked the question, “What is A church?” This week, I’m asking, what should it mean, when I say, “This is my church?” In other words, what does the Bible want us to mean when we say, “This is my church?”
First, when I say “This is My Church” I should mean:
1. There are specific believers I am committed to encouraging on a regular basis
Let me just read a few verses from a couple different passages…just to give you a taste of how this comes up:
Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
So, you can see there – the alternative to neglecting fellowship and worship – is to be together in order to stir up one another to love and good works and encourage one another.
Hebrews 3:13, “12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
So, again, the goal is to be together and not fall away and we do that by “exhorting” one another. If we had time we could look at 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11; 1 Corinthians 14:12; Ephesians 4:29; 1 John 3:18; and John 13:35 to see how consistently this comes up:
And what I would just point out, about all these verses, is that they are virtually impossible to obey unless you settle on a group of believers to obey these verses with. Of course, we should love all the Christians we know about, every where they are…but realistically, to actually experience what it’s like to obey these verses, you’re going to have to settle on a group of people to obey them with and obey them toward – a group of believers that we have committed to build up and encourage.
Second, When I say “This is My Church” I should mean:
2. I’ve decided to entrust my spiritual care to a particular group of pastors/elders
Of course, we’re assuming that these leaders are living under the authority of Christ Himself. There’s loads of teaching about ungodly leaders and how to deal with them – but that’s a subject for another day. But, assuming we’re talking godly leaders we can see that we are called as Christians to seek out and submit to godly shepherds/pastors/elders.
Hebrews 13:17, “17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Titus 1:9, tells us that these elders “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
So, one of the roles that an elder serves in the life of the people under his care is to teach what the Bible says, and correct them when they stray from it. This assumes that a shepherd knows who has asked him to do this. He doesn’t go looking around for people to impose his leadership on. He shepherds those who have called him and asked him to shepherd them.
In 1 Peter 5:2-3, Peter commands church elders/pastors to shepherd the flock of God, exercise oversight, not to be domineering totalitarians but rather to be an example for the Christians under his care to follow.
So, the picture we get of healthy, New Testament, Christian churches is that the people knew who their pastor was – and the pastor knew who his people were – who he was responsible for.
I have to tell you, this is really helpful for me as a pastor. I don’t assume that if you visit here for a few weeks or months or even attend periodically over the course of a couple years – I don’t assume that you want me to be your pastor. I can make some assumptions that you can at least tolerate my preaching and that you like visiting. And if you’re here regularly I’ll definitely have you on my prayer list. And I will want to be your pastor. I will definitely be excited when you are here, but unless we have a conversation where you tell me, I want to be pastored by the pastors and leaders here – I don’t really know where we stand.
And having that conversation – making that decision to say, “I know this is my church, because this is where I’m pastored” that’s really helpful for you too. When I know who I’m responsible to God for praying for, checking on, encouraging, and exhorting – then I am going to be way more intentional toward you than if I don’t know where we stand. And some of you know this – even if you are uncomfortable with “joining” the church or uncomfortable with the requirements for joining the church – you know that if we’ve talked and you want me to spiritually care for you – you get more attention from the pastors and leaders here than if you aren’t having that conversation and making that commitment.
Third: When I say “This is My Church” I should mean:
3. There are specific believers that I expect to correct and confront me
This one, we get from Jesus Himself. Of course we get all the other verses from the Holy Spirit and so they are just as special but there’s something about the words that Jesus thought were important enough to speak during his time on earth that ought to really make us sit up and pay attention.
He says in Matthew 18:15-20, “15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 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. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Now, there’s a lot we could say about this passage…in fact you could go back into the sermon archives of 2020 and find a whole sermon on this portion of Matthew. We could note for example, that even though this process of confrontation that Jesus outlines here might seem rough to the highly sensitive ears of modern audiences, it is actually designed to create resolution and reconciliation between believers. It’s not a mechanism for getting rid of people in the church. It’s a mechanism for rightly exhorting one another to turn away from sin and run back to fellowship with Jesus and other believers.
But, again, the main point here, is that if this is completely foreign to your Christian experience, you’re not experiencing the fulness of church life. When your church is really your church you will experience times when the believers in your church confront and challenge you in ways that draw you back when you are drifting. You cannot experience this if this isn’t what you mean when you say, “this is my church. This is where this happens.”
Fourth, When I say “This is My Church” I should mean:
4. There are specific believers that I am committed to spread the gospel with
Philippians 1:27, “27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…”
So, we talked about this last week right? A local church is a group of people, saved by God through Christ for ministry – ministry to God, to one another and to the world. So, we are a people with a shared mission. And when we say, “this is my church” what we should mean is that, these are the people I’ve teamed up with to spread the gospel.
Now, I know that, maybe, our minds tend toward evangelism and outreach on this point and that’s ok – that’s good – it should. But I would say, just back that up a little bit and just think about the kind of witness it is to the world when the world is aware simply of the fact that you have formally committed yourself to a specific church with a specific statement of faith. So, Discovery church has a very specific statement of faith. We are very out-going about the fact that we believe in the Trinity – we believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Alone for the Glory of God alone.
We are very out there when it comes to differences between men and women and how men are called to be leaders in their homes and churches. We are very public with what we believe and when you say, of Discovery church, that’s my church that’s another way of being a public witness.
Think about what a witness that is. In a culture whose convictions tend to run as deep as what fits in a Facebook status update or Instagram post. In a culture that refuses to define things. In a culture that runs from commitments even to their own biological gender – to still have people openly and happily saying, “Yeah, these people over here are my people and we’re on this mission together and this is what we believe and this is what we’re up to.” It’s a tremendous witness to a risk averse, commitment averse, shallow culture.
If you’re into being a rebel, being counter-cultural – being radical – then you should do the truly counter-cultural thing and join a church that you can spread the gospel with.
When I say “This is My Church” I should mean:
5. This is the church that has gladly accepted me and affirmed my faith
Now, if you’re paying attention you’ll notice that this is the one point that will most offend your individualism. As Christians we often think – “Yeah…those individualist, secularist, moderns out there…sure glad I’m not like them…” And then you come to a point like this. And you say, “wait a minute. The church doesn’t tell me about my faith. The church doesn’t tell me if I’m a Christian.”
Well..here’s the thing. It kinda does. If the church is doing it’s job under the authority of Christ and His word it will say something to you about your faith. Consider the example of the brother in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Listen to this situation. Pay attention to the kind of situation that this one brother and his church were in.
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Now, of course, there are details here that raise questions and deserve explanation but the over all point, the over all picture is really clear. When Paul hears about someone claiming to be a Christian and yet, living a life and having a doctrine that was inconsistent with Christianity – Paul didn’t say, “You know it’s really not your place to say anything about that. That’s between him and the Lord.” Quite the opposite. He said, “Church this is obviously your job to say something. It’s your job to tell this man that he is not playing for team Jesus on this one. He’s not bowing to the Lord Jesus. And you need to assemble and remove him. You can no longer affirm that he is a brother following the Lord.”
In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul even says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.”
Our children understand this. I asked a group of children from our church a couple summers ago if they thought I could drive down to Kauffman stadium in KC, put on my Royals T-shirt, walk on to the field and play with the team. They were unconvinced that I could do this.
I asked them, “But, why not? I have a shirt. It’s got the logo on it and everything.” They said “No.” You see, they understood. The Royals have a role in affirming whether or not I can play.
Now, I understand – being a part of a church is NOT very much like earning your place on a baseball team…this is an analogy that breaks down very, very quickly. I’m just pointing out that it shouldn’t be controversial to say that the church has at least some role in speaking into whether or not your faith is consistent with the picture that the New Testament paints. You can’t just show up, say, “this is my church” and not have the church involved in that decision.
And, speaking from experience, if you do involve the church in that decision, it’s really encouraging to have a whole body of people happily say of you, “Yes, this is a soldier for King Jesus. We see you following Jesus. We are with and for you in King Jesus.” And it’s really encouraging to know there’s a whole bunch of people who would also turn to the world and say, “Have you seen “so and so”. That is someone living for Jesus. That is someone who we trust to help you follow Jesus. Pay attention to them if you want to know what it’s like to follow, and know and love Jesus.”
In fact, there are going to be times in your life where you might especially need that from your church. When ministry had really kicked me while I was down the most helpful thing for getting through that was to find myself in a church that was willing to say, “Hey, we know you. We know you love Jesus like we do. We know you’re serving the Lord. We know you’re a child of God.” Brothers and sisters, get yourself a piece of encouragement for your faith like that.
If you’ve been paying attention what you’re probably seeing at this point is that I’ve just given you a biblical definition for what is commonly called “church membership.” I’ve heard lots of people say, “You know I don’t see church membership in the Bible…how is it biblical?” And I understand that. In many churches it’s not biblical. It’s just cold and pointless formality.
But I would just ask, is any of what I just described cold and pointless formality? Is any of what I just described unbiblical? (1) Committing yourself to encourage a body of fellow believers? Deciding on the believers that you are going to regularly rely on? (2) Asking godly shepherds to intentionally help you follow Jesus and care for your soul? (3) Expecting a group of believers to challenge and confront you so that you don’t stray? (4) Committing yourself to spreading the gospel with other believers? (5) Asking a church to test, challenge and affirm my faith?
Is any of that really unbiblical? Because to me, it seems like it’s exactly what the NT describes as normal Christianity – and the exact kind of Christianity that stands as a witness against the selfish, individualistic, relativistic, secular culture we are living in.
One objection might be:
1. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here.
School might take me away, a job might take me away, family concerns might require me to move. And I don’t want to get so connected that a departure is harder. And I can understand this. There might be any number of reasons about a particular time in a particular area where it just doesn’t make sense for you to form an attachment you have to worry about breaking after a few months or a couple of years.
And if that’s where you’re at – you probably won’t get much pushback from me. BUT, I would just say that maybe you shouldn’t worry about that so much, and instead make your current church situation practice for the next one. Make this your church now in a way that gives you practice for being a healthy church member in the next place you’ll be. Plus…you never know what God is actually planning. You could be here longer than you think.
Another objection might be that you have a problem or two with the church.
2. I have “this” problem with the church:
Some examples of this could be:
Not liking particular decisions of the church or the leaders. Some may disapprove of the way other people dress. Not liking all the songs that are chosen. Being irritated by the length of sermons or prayers or the service in general. And things like these…you could probably think of dozens or maybe even a hundred more nit-picky things.
Also: I’d ask you to realize that it’s not just your church that can be a problem – you can be a pill too. It’s not for nothing that the Scriptures say: We are meant to [bear] with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).
Brothers and sister these commands would not be necessary if you were never a pill. These commands exist because we are going to test one another’s patience. And that shouldn’t be a shock to us, right, but follow me: those commands exist to be followed by people who call themselves Christians.
Another objection that might arise is that
3. I’m uncomfortable with the requirements for membership
Examples: Getting baptized as a believer. Agreeing to a church covenant. Or just the the terminology of membership at all.
Hopefully, this is what you’ve found here if you are uncomfortable with something about “membership”: That we are going to be excited that you’re here no matter what. If you talk to me or the leaders about where you’re at – even if you’re not ready to join – you’re going to get pastoral care…you’re going to be loved, prayed for and sometimes even pointed to opportunities you have to serve and minister to others.
And, hopefully, this is a pretty safe place for those discomforts, to be worked out.
But, at the end of the day, I would just say this: Sometimes, going to the uncomfortable place is just practice for what it’s like to follow Christ. Committing yourself formally to a church is just a little taste of the kind of sacrifices, and service that Jesus Himself walked in for our sake.
Jesus didn’t have to take on flesh. He didn’t have to leave heaven. He had every right not to do any of the things he did on this earth but that’s kinda the beauty of it. Rather than defend His rights – he left them all at His Father’s side to come, to be joined to humanity – you want a controversy, you want to talk about something offensive there it is. It is not offensive for a church to ask its people to follow some kind of process for making their commitment official. It’s not offensive to ask people to share their doctrinal convictions. To join. To be with. Compared to God joining humanity, biblical church membership is not controversial. Jesus left all his rights in heaven to share in our weaknesses, to love us, serve us, and ultimately die to bring us to Himself.
So here’s my closing exhortation: Make a joyful and formal commitment to your church because it reflects Christ’s own joyful commitment to you. Join your church joyfully and with certainty because, making a joyful commitment to a church like that is just a taste of what Christ-likeness looks and feels like.