[Originally posted in 2007, this seems to fit in with the open discussion about "Deep Church". Enjoy.]
We have this funny word in our Christian vocabulary that appears in our Bibles – namely "church". Webster's dictionary says this about where we get that word:
Middle English chirche, from Old English cirice, ultimately from Late Greek kyriakon, from Greek, neuter of kyriakos of the lord, from kyrios lord, masterWhich, you know, is interesting because we use "church" in the translations of the Bible in English to represent the word "ecclesia", not the word "kyriakon" – that is, it is possible that we mean the same thing by saying "church" when the NT says "ecclesia", but the word "church" doesn't come from the word "ecclesia".
Now, here's what I'm not equipped to do here: I'm not equipped to criticize guys (and women) who have spent their lives studying Greek who all agree that "church" is a fine word in English for the Greek word "ecclesia". I accept that this is the word we are going to use and, frankly, ought to use.
What I'm thinking about today is what we mean by using this word.
I realize, btw, that I am on something of a year-long rant about the church, off and on. But listen: Dan's experience last week (which he posted
yesterdayhere) is not just sort of disappointing: it's down-right appalling. It's like getting a coleco hand-held football game when you thought you bought tickets to see [insert your football team here to protect the meta from frivolous sports talk] – not only did you get cheated out of what would have been worth coming to, you also have to do all the work yourself now after investing all that time and cash.
The over-arching theme of this series, btw, is that the believer needs the church. You need it. Part of that, of course, is that it needs you, and I have beaten that almost to death. But I was reminded of this theme this weekend as I listened to Dr. MacArthur preach broadly and enthusiastically at DGM's national conference on the theme "Stand", meaning a call to the perseverance of the saints.
Part of "Standing" in the faith is, as the Spurgeon piece sketched out for us this week, not acting like the church is a Baskin Robbins of possibilities – that is, it's not about flavors or "style", and if you get hung up on "style" or flavor (even if it's to go back to some allegedly-ancient style which came into being and went out of being years before your grandparents where born), you're really not about what the church is for.
Let me context this for you – with Scripture, so those of you who don't recognize it will be able to follow me when I resort to God's word. At the end of his life, from a prison cell, probably through some kind of amanuensis, Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy a letter which we receive in Scripture as 2 Timothy. So this letter, whatever else we want to make of it, is Paul's last word to a young man he loved dearly and had discipled in the faith apparently from the start of the young man's faith.
Paul knew Timothy's family – his mother and grandmother, who were themselves Jewish women who had accepted Christ. And if we read Timothy at all, Paul has the highest confidence and love for Timothy – like Titus, Timothy is called Paul's "true son" in the faith.
And in that, Paul's last words to Timothy are important to us as we have to believe that he wrote these things as a farewell.
But as Paul writes, we find some very troubling things in his words. All of Asia, he says, has forsaken him for false teachers; Demas has decided that the world looks pretty good and the Gospel not so much. So in that environment, you'd think Paul would give Timothy the advice any wise man would give: run away from the bad guys and go find someplace else to start a new church – because we have to run away from false teachers, and a church with false teachers is a church where it is necessary to leave.
Instead, Paul says this – if the ESV can be considered Scripture:
do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.And again he says this:
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."And again this:
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.Even as he is ready to be "poured out as a drink offering", as he says himself, Paul calls Timothy to stand firm in the truth and preach and teach what is right in spite of fads and the tastes of men.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and [they] will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
See: Paul didn't tell Timothy, "dude, my method landed me in jail, so you have to try something different. Check with Demas as he has found a nice job in the world -- obviously he knows something I don't." He told Timothy to not change and not adapt and not go his own way, but instead to "endure suffering" and "continue in what you have learned" and "depart from iniquity" and so on -- but not to leave the church.
This goes back to my Coleco vs. NFL analogy -- Paul isn't telling Timothy, "Son, just work on your passing game on that little hand-held, because that's what real football looks like. Nobody has to get hurt, right?" Paul is telling Timothy, "Son, I have taken real hits on the field of play, and you are going to take real hits on the field of play. But you are called out not to be a fan or even a mascot: you are called out to play in the majors. And when you play in the majors, you play until the game is over."
Here's why I bring it up: it's because we are not called out of the church to preach the Gospel – we are called out of the world and into the "ecclesia" to preach the Gospel. Standing firm for the truth is standing where? Whatever "ecclesia" means, and whatever "church" is supposed to mean in its place in English, it is something we are called into in order that we may demonstrate who God is and what He has done.
And this is where the football analogy really gets some legs. We're certainly not called out to play a little metaphorical LED version of the game where there's not even a real ball or real players, yes? If we're "ecclesia", I guess we can also admit that we're not just called to sit on the couch and watch the players on our really cool HDTV home theater unit -- we're not called out to be viewers from a distance, subject to blackouts when the stadium doesn't sell out -- because sitting on the couch doesn't qualify as "out". But let me suggest that we're also not just called out to be season-ticket holders who show up at every home-game, or true fanatics that have a ticket and a seat at every pre-season, regular-season and post-season -- because these people just come to the game no matter how personally they take it when their team loses.
We are called out to play on the team and be down on the field.
You think about that, and we'll come back to it.