Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Why do people go to church?"

Polls and studies have been done and are being done to figure out how to appeal to people and to get them to come to church.  Questions are asked to see why people go to church and why they don't.  Church growth experts expound about their "findings" and tell those of us involved in ministry what we need to do to "attract" people.  And frankly, I don't care … and neither should you!  The whole idea of "going to church" often reveals a shallow understanding of what the Church is.  Those of us who by God's grace know that the Church is the Body of Christ, made up only of those who have been born again by His Spirit and who gather to worship, to fellowship and to serve in the name of Jesus Christ may say that we are "going to church," but we realize that the Church is people and what we mean is that we are going to where the Church is gathering.

Why do other people go to church?  I won't take the time to rehearse the myriad of reasons that people have for attending church gatherings, but it is clear that for many it's for all the wrong reasons.  The reality is that there is only one reason for gathering as the Church, whether in a small group in a home or in a larger gathering:  to set our minds on  the one true God, the God who is our Creator and who has revealed Himself through creation and His Word and through His Son Jesus Christ, and then to draw near to Him through faith in Jesus and to be instructed by His Spirit through His Word.  That may include singing, praying, giving, testifying, and enjoying the fellowship of other believers, but it is focused on God and His truth.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words to his young friend, Timothy:  "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry" (II Timothy 4:1-5).

Only thirty short years following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the pouring out of His Spirit there were false teachers all over the place IN the church.  How much MORE is that true today.  What Paul predicted when he wrote to Timothy is a reality today.  In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote:  "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.  … Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (I Timothy 4:13,16).  This is how important the preaching and teaching of God's Word is … it means salvation, eternal life to those who hear and believe!

THIS is why people SHOULD go to church:  to hear God's Word preached and taught in its fullness.  Any other reason is secondary.  The songs that are sung and the prayers that are offered should direct people to the truth of who God is, what Jesus has done and why we are thankful to Him.  Our praise and our worship should be a response to the truth that God has revealed in His Word.  The gathering of God's people is not a social club.  Biblical fellowship, "koinonia," community, is not built around common likes or dislikes, or shared interests in the things of this world.  Biblical fellowship is the sharing of one Spirit and one Lord.  "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:3-6).

"Going to church" is gathering with the "saints," those made holy in God's sight through faith in Jesus Christ, those washed by His blood, who gather to worship their Father in heaven and to "feed" on His Word. It is a sacred assembly every time we gather together and every true believer must want to be a part of this true fellowship.  John wrote, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ" (I John 1:1-3).

Why do you "go to church?"  My constant prayer for Lighthouse is that the focus of our attention is always on the God who created us and who redeemed us through the blood of His own Son.  We are HIS and we exist for His glory!  That reminds me of Psalm 100:  "Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.  Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.  Know that the LORD is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.  For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations."  THAT's why we "go to church!"

Much is being written about the church these days by those who don't seem to know what the Church is all about.  Most of it is negative and people inside the church are trying to figure out how to change their image.  I thank God for what He is doing at Lighthouse and I pray and trust that He is doing it elsewhere, too.  God is gathering a remnant … a gathering of people who humbly confess their sin and their need for a Savior and who place their faith, their hope and their trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life.  We have nothing else to offer but the truth of the Gospel, the good news that is offered to all and that is received by faith.

We are not trying to "market" the Gospel.  God needs no help.  He has determined to use the preaching and teaching of His Word to accomplish His purpose to build His kingdom … to gather some from every tribe, people, nation and tongue to know, to love and to serve Jesus Christ.  God spoke through the prophet, Isaiah, and said, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My Word that goes out from My mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).

If you "go to church" for any other reason than to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" through the hearing of His Word being preached and taught, then you need to examine your heart in the light of God's Word and see if you are going to please yourself or to worship the One Who alone is worthy.  And if you are not hearing His Word when you go, you need to examine where you are going and why you are going there.  Not all "churches" are the same.  In today's world you can go on a congregation's website and discover very quickly what they believe and what value is placed on the Word of God.  If you find that you are "going to church" for all the wrong reasons, earnestly ask God to direct your path and do not rest until you find a place where you hear God's Word proclaimed … where the message doesn't just start with reading a verse or two, but where the whole message comes from the living Word of God.  Settle for nothing less.

May those of us who preach and teach be found faithful.  James wrote, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1).  If the preacher or teacher you are listening to does not preach and teach God's Word, RUN!!  Don't worry about hurting feelings or leaving friends, just run.  Read your Bible.  Study God's Word.  Check out everything that is being said and if it is truly God's Word, then don't just listen to it, take it to heart and ask God to help you DO what He says to do.  Your life will change because your heart will change because your mind has changed.  TRUTH sets you free!!

I hope you "go to church" this week and that by the work of God's Spirit, through His Word, you are or will become a member of HIS Church!!

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