Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 1/14/2001
Since its beginning, Trinity Fellowhip has been a church that has intentionally focused itself on the essentials: the Gospel, teaching the whole counsel of God, the sacraments, worship, fellowship. It should therefore be of particular interest to us to have Paul define the essence of the Church in a verse which is the thesis statement for the whole epistle. The Church is in its essence:
Being a member of the Church is not like joining a club but like belonging to a family. There are a number of biblical pictures which fit the family idea. We are sons and daughters of God (Jn. 1:12) and therefore siblings of one another. And the Church is also the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-31). The implications of this truth include the fact that being a Christian is not just a vertical relationship. Taking Christ as Savior and Lord involves a family relationship with His people. This is not optional. And these new relationships refocus every part of our lives, just as forming a new family did when we were married.
There are also implications for understanding God's love. He loves us not in the abstract but as a father ought to love his children, as a husband ought to love his wife. And he loves your fellow believer--the one you refuse to forgive--in the same way he loves you.
The word translated church is ekklesia, which means a group or assembly called together. When a group has been called together, the leader may say, "I guess you're wondering why I called this meeting." When you hear the word "church" from now on I want you to think of that question. Why has Christ called us together? To be a temple to the eternal glory of the Son (Eph. 2:19f), to glorify Christ by living and proclaiming his Gospel, so that through the Church God's wisdom and power might be made known to the whole cosmos (Eph. 3:8-12).
We are the Church of the Living God. This means that "the dead in Christ shall rise" was not intended as a prophecy of the congregation being asked to stand for the benediction. Dead orthodoxy is not only an abomination to God, it is a contradiction of the very essence of the Church's identity.
The Church is to be a people organized around and characterized by their relationship to the Truth. They know and love and serve One who is the way, the Truth, and the life; they worship Him in spirit and in Truth; they do the Truth and therefore come to the light; they experience the fact that the Truth sets them free; they bear witness to the truth; they hold forth the world of Truth; they speak the Truth in love. While other groups (parachurch organizations, for example) may (quite properly) act as a pillar and support of the Truth, it is only the Church which IS the pillar and support of the Truth. This has three implications:
An organization which tolerates departures from the fundamental doctrines of the faith among its clergy and teachers and does not discipline them, a pluralistic denomination in which one can believe anything, even the Gospel, and still be accepted, is not by any stretch of the imagination the Pillar and Support of the Truth. It is simply inconsistent with the basic nature of what the Church is for God's people to continue to support such churches.
Whether it is expounded publicly and formally in the sermon or applied individually and informally to people's lives in counseling, whether it is explicitly taught or implicitly lived out in ministries of compassion, all ministry must flow from and point back to the Word.
There is no excuse for an emphasis on orthodoxy which does not lead to orthopraxy (right living) or vice versa.
If the Church is the Household of God, the Assembly of the living God, the Pillar and Support of the Truth, then it is of supreme importance in the Christian life. But most modern Evangelicals remind me of my approach to cutting the grass. When we were first able to rent a house as opposed to an apartment, I believed in cutting the grass, and I intended to do it, and I did do it. But it was not at the top of my list of priorities. Unfortunately, we had one of those intolerable neighbors who cut her grass every week whether it needed it or not. Mine would have looked fine if it had not been next to her yard! For her it was a priority.
Now, in fact I think my priorities were the right ones when it came to yard work, and I remain stubbornly unrepentant for only cutting mine every two or three weeks. But my approach to grass illustrates the average Christian's approach to the Church. We believe in it, we think it's a good thing, and we are going to do it. But it is not our first priority. But what is the Church to God? It is the people on whom he has poured out his love and called together as his family and the army of the Truth. He wants nothing more than to see her prosper spiritually, to grow, to simply be the Church.He gave the life of his Son for that. May we come to see her as He does.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams