Do you hate church? Man, that sounds like a harsh question to ask. But I do think it’s a fair question, given our cultures current sentiment toward church. While people have all sorts of differing opinions on God, it is a reality that going to church has come to be viewed as old fashioned or unnecessary. So maybe you don’t hate church, but do you love it? Is it a fair thing to say that lots of people who believe in God don’t really see a need to meet with other believers on a regular basis in church? A former co-worker of mine once posed a scenario to me that was laced with this sort of sentiment. He asked, “what is better, a man in church thinking about fishing, or a man out fishing who is thinking about God?”
And so we ask, is going to church really all that important? Can’t a person be “religious” all by themselves? Can’t a person seek God on their own? Must a person congregate with other people, when it is God they are truly seeking? After all, people can be judgmental, hypocritical, and so on! Wouldn’t it be better to just walk in our faith alone? And if not, why not?
Well, I’m glad you asked…
“I don’t believe in organized religion!” You might not have heard that statement a lot, but I have; a surprising amount, actually. Anytime someone says to me that they do not believe in organized religion, I jokingly reply, “do you prefer disorganized religion?” I say this partially because I have trouble resisting an opportunity to be sarcastic, but I also say it to hopefully help a person think about what it is they actually disagree with.
Everyone I know appreciates at least a little organization in some area of their life. Even people who tend to lean toward anarchist temperaments generally expect some sort of organization out of others. Imagine someone driving down the road beside you, and they suddenly cut into your car lane. Would you be mad? If you are a sane and honest person, you probably would. Why? Because they cut into your lane! But why is it your lane? In fact, why have we organized roads into lanes at all? Wouldn’t you prefer roads with no lanes? Actually, it’s not just lanes…roads themselves feel a little to restrictive! Will you join me in ending the longtime oppression of roads?! Who needs all of this organization! (click here to sign the petition to end the oppression of roads!)
That’s pretty insane, right? If you clicked on the fake link above, I hope you did so merely out of curiosity.
Whether it is roads, regular meals, laws about breaking and entering, or pretty much anything else that marks civilization, we must admit that a certain amount of organization is required for society to operate. Why should the church be any different? Did you know that God actually wants the church to be organized? In 1st Corinthians 14:33 and 40, Paul says, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” And he follows that up by saying, “let all things be done decently and in order.”
I’m not saying people can’t take structure too far and thus eliminate the work of the Holy Spirit; they can, and sometimes do! But the question is not, “should we have organized religion?” We should! Instead, the question we must ask, and the question we will attempt to answer today is, why does God want me and you as believers to organize ourselves into churches?
The Saved: What is the problem with walking alone?
In Part 1, we discussed that the Great Commission commands believers to make disciples. This means that Christians, and by extension churches, must focus on making disciples. We must evangelize the lost. However, we should realize that evangelism is only one part of the Great Commission.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
The Great Commission is commonly divided into two parts. Our responsibility for the lost (evangelism), and our responsibility for the saved (edification). If that sounds familiar, it might be because we covered it in Part 1. Edification means to build up. In the case of the church, edification means to help grow. And so, Christians are to make disciples, by introducing people to Jesus, and then we are to help those disciples grow into mature believers who observe (follow) the whole counsel of God. How do we do this? I believe the Bible teaches that Christians (including us) grow best when we live out our faith alongside other Christians.
Let’s dissect one of my favorite passages to see if we can support that claim.
Ephesians 4:11-16 begins by providing an incomplete list of spiritual gifts given to Christians by God: “And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,” (4:11). I call this an incomplete list because Romans 12:3-8 and 1st Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-30 have similar, but different lists, and I don’t believe for a second that God is limited to any of these three lists. I believe that God can, and does, gift every believer in many different ways.
The question is, “why?” Why does God give us gifts? He answers that question in the next verse. “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, to build up the body of Christ,” (4:12). So to make the formula in that verse simple: God equips Christians with certain gifts individually, for the purpose of participating in ministry, for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. Or even simpler: We get gifts to use them for ministering to other Christians, to help them and us grow.
Notice something else about that verse, though. In this passage, and the passages in Romans and 1st Corinthians, Christians are specifically called the body of Christ. Now just pause to think of the ramifications of calling us parts of a body. This means that we are not independent agents, but we are individual parts of the greater body of Christ! This means that we need each other for the body as a whole to operate properly. We are interdependent! And to the point, verse twelve above teaches that we are specifically placed within the body of Christ so that we can work using our individual gifts to help the rest of the body grow. What might that look like? Most people think of things like a great preacher, teacher, or worship leader when they think of Spiritual gifts. But let’s not limit who and what God can use. You might be great at encouraging others like Barnabas in the Bible. You might be a great listener. You might be compassionate. I don’t know what your gift is, but I can promise you that if God gave it to you, then there is a place and a use for it in His body!
So how long do we have to do this work? Verse 13 tells us, “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” So we are to keep working until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son. We work until we reach perfect unity and knowledge. When is that going to happen? When Christ returns (yeah, until then). This verse also says that we are to keep working until we grow in maturity until we can be measured against Christ’s stature – so we are to work until we are all perfect like Christ. When is that going to happen? When Christ returns (yep…until then). Here’s the point that you probably already understand: We do not retire from serving God.
But why do we need to grow? Can’t we just be a bunch of baby Christians? The next verse helps us there:
“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit,” (4:14).
So as we grow, we’ll become mature in our faith and in our understanding of God, and as doctrines, worldviews, temptations, discouragements, and so on, come along, we’ll be able to stand firm. So our work can help other Christians, and us, reach a level of maturity that helps us stand strong in our faith during the trials of life. This not only effects the faith of current believers, but the likelihood of future believers. Meaning, does it seem rational to say, “Give me an army of Christians with weak shaky faith who stumble into sin and are pulled aside by lies. Give me those types of Christians and we’ll change the world for Christ!” Of course not. Of course a strong faith, a better understanding, and steadfastness will make for a better witness. So why do we work? To help produce Christians of unshakable faith to bring the world an unshakable witness. Remember, this type of maturity doesn’t happen unless the members of the body are using their gifts to minister to others. That means you!
The passage continues, “But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ,” (4:15).
Have you ever met someone who was right, but they were a real jerk about it? Contrast that with how Christians are to speak truth: in love. As you live for God, it can perhaps be tempting to preach from a holy mountain looking down at all of those “sinners” and forgetting that we too need the sacrifice of Jesus. That’s not the perspective God wants in our words, our actions, or our heart. As you and I serve, minister, and evangelize, let us do it according to this verse; with truth AND with love.
Perhaps you aren’t yet convinced. Perhaps all of these verses have let you see the benefit of being involved in church, but you still think it will operate fine without you. Well, my friend, take a look at this last verse: “From him [Christ] the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part,” (4:16).
Taking the body analogy to new heights, Paul taught in verse 15 that Christ is the head of the body, and here in verse 16, Paul teaches the manner in which the entire body grows down from the head. It says that the body (that’s you and me) is fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament. So what are the supporting ligaments? Well, who makes up the body of Christ? We do! So since supporting ligaments are part of the body, who are the supporting ligaments? We are!! Catch this, then; the body of Christ is held together by the manner in which God has interwoven you, me, and all Christians in a church. And our co-existence as interwoven believers “promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love.” So God uses you and me (and all believers), to promote the growth of each other and other believers.
But how does it work? Look at the last part of verse 16, “by the proper working of each individual part.”
What an amazing statement! To ensure you get how it applies to you, let’s not think of this in the abstract – i.e. every part has a job. Let’s think of this practically – every person has a job, a role in the ministry of the church. I’ll give you an example. When I was a youth pastor, it was a common occurrence for teenagers to tell me that they felt like they didn’t have any friends and that no one would miss them if they stopped coming to church. Imagine if all of those people who felt friendless and unimportant would connect with and invest in each other (which is what I, of course, tried and hoped to do). They needed each other. They could have been the friend that the other was looking for. They could have provided the community they all so desperately sought!
Christian brother or sister, learn from these youth. Realize that YOU are vitally important to the body! You might be the friend or encouragement that another believer desperately needs just to keep them going. You might have the experience (even a bad experience) that another believer needs to hear about, simply to know they can make it through. I don’t know why God placed you in the body of Christ, but I know that if you believe in Jesus Christ, then you are part of His body, and that means He has a job and a place for you. If you have not found your place, then serve where you are! Seek opportunities to connect and to help others!
If these truths don’t impact you, then you need to read the entire passage again and think deeply on its implications for your value. Christian brother or sister, YOU are important to the body of Christ! YOU are vital! YOU are part of a living organism that needs YOU to grow! Never let anyone let you feel like you don’t belong in the church. Never let anyone make you feel like you have nothing to offer. If every single other Christian in the world thought you were worthless to them, if every single other Christian in the world thought you had nothing to offer the church, then every single other Christian in the world would be WRONG and the Bible would still be RIGHT! How can I say that? Because Ephesians 4:11-16 above tells me that every part of Christ’s body is necessary. Every single part is used to promote growth in the body of Christ. That means you! You are necessary.
“What is better, a man in church thinking about fishing, or a man out fishing who is thinking about God?” Neither is what God is looking for in a Christian. While my co-worker saw his question as deeply profound–and admittedly he was clever to think of it–his question lacked an understanding of why God instituted, organized, and even died for the church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 5:25). God loves the church because the church is intended to help each other grow, so that we can better evangelize the lost, and ultimately bring Him glory. We need each other. We need you. There may be many people out there who need you, but based on Ephesians 4:11-16, I can promise you that there is at least one person in the body of Christ who needs your presence to grow. In the unlikely event that there were only one person in this world you could impact, one soul would be enough. God gave you something to offer them. They are worth your investment. And to be frank, you need them, too. But there is not just one person. There’s an entire church that you are called to impact. God wants you to grow and to help His church grow.
There are two kinds of people in this world. The lost and the saved. Christians have an obligation to both. This is part of our purpose. It’s the reason we were made and why we continue to exist. Let us use every opportunity God gives us to carry out our purpose in this world.
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