19 November 2008

Is that the start, or the end?

by Frank Turk

Briefly today as I am travelling for work and am frankly worn out:

So God loves the church, and He's coming with the fuller's soap to make sure she's clean and pure. Now, how does that line up with my classic rephrase, "Be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people," replete with some pointed barb about your personal foibles intended for your own good?

Isn't the sort-of logical conclusion of my points here that church on Sunday is the end unto itself, and good for you for being there and doing that? You know: if you listen to Michael Horton talk about it, you might think that Sunday is the end-all of the Christian life.

Fortunately for me, I'm not saying that or implying that at all. In fact, I'd say this: the assembly on Sunday is not the end of Christian life but in fact the beginning of Christian life.

Listen: I "get it" that not every pastor is a Tad Thompson, a Lance Quinn, or even a Timmy Brister -- let alone a MacArthur, Piper, Dever, or what-have-you. But let me say this plainly: you're no Golden Apple yourself. I'm no bronze ikon of the Christian faith. But that's actually the problem, and the solution is not hiding in your personal fortress of solitude hoping that the golden age of the church will somehow "return".

The only "return" we are looking forward to is the return of Christ -- and we are actually looking for it: we want it, we believe it will be universe-changing. But until then, we are gifted with a Gospel which is good news, a savior who is like us in every way and who knows what we need, and He has given us the church. I'm tempted to say "such as it is", but the fact is that it is the same as it ever was, just like Corinth, just like Anitoch, just like Thessalonica (that's the city which rejected Paul, unlike the Bereans), just like Ephesus. So "such as it is" is actually "such as God has given it to us".

And if you think of the church as "they", let me say plainly that this doesn't bode well for you. The church ought to be a "we" if you are a believer.

And they can't possibly be worse if you joined with them. In fact, it might improve both of you -- especially if you personally keep the Gospel in mind.

Prolly won't get back to the comments until after dinner tonight. Carry on.


David Regier said...

May the Lord bless your perseverance on this subject.

donsands said...

Good exhortation. Thanks bro.

" But let me say this plainly: you're no Golden Apple yourself. "

Amen. But "we" are the apple of God's eye, those who are His elect children. That's incomprehensible really.

James Joyce said...

It's been said, "If you find the perfect church, don't join it. It will cease to be perfect."

Becky Schell said...

"the same as it ever was"
Great point.

JackW said...

Yes Frank, you are a good and faithful servant indeed for persisting in this truth. I cringe a little when I see “Lord’s house” instead of “Lord’s household,” but that’s probably because I’ve seen an awful lot of building worship recently.

Anonymous said...

A great reminder Frank. I'd echo Becky in thanking you for noting that the church is that same as it ever was.
How many times do we go off the rails in thinking that either we have advanced so far beyond the N.T. churches, or in thinking that, if only we could return to THAT age, then things would be hunky dory.

Carol Jean said...

FT said, "...the solution is not hiding in your personal fortress of solitude hoping that the golden age of the church will somehow "return".

The fortress route is the easy way out. It's a cop out. Just like virtually everything in the Christian life, doing church is hard work.

We recently left our church of 17 years through some very painful circumstances. We certainly heard the siren song calling us to just drop out for a while or go the "house church" route. In fact, we had friends who invited us to their house church. We were dealing with teens who were not so happy with us for leaving the only church they had ever known (and their entire social life). To be honest, my husband and I both struggled with the temptation to roll over and shut off the alarm on Sunday mornings (especially in the months we were contemplating leaving our church).

But we felt strongly that we are commanded in the scriptures to be with God's people and to hear the preaching of the word and to observe the sacraments. So, we dragged ourselves out of bed, dragged the kids out of bed, visited churches and told the kids were were going to stick with one for six months.

Praise God, we found one with solid, beautiful, expository preaching! But it's HARD work to integrate into a new church. Our older son, especially, grumbled greatly (hymns?!! no worship band??!!) It's been 2 1/2 months and we've finally made a few acquaintances. We go to church, SS, and Weds. prayer meeting and it's hard work! Sitting through a prayer meeting when you don't know the people you're praying for is a test of endurance!

Is it worth all the work and grumbling by the kids? Absolutely! The word in the hands of a prayerful and careful preacher is ministering to our family greatly. Our older son was lustily singing hymns last week :) The kids are being taught church doctrine in the youth group. We're actually looking forward to going to church each Sunday. Can't say we have "friends" there yet - we're still in process. But I'm confident that God will provide for our family.

Rachael Starke said...

Carol Jean,

I totally empathize - 2 1/2 months means only ten Sundays. Given that the average new job takes about six months to settle into, that's still pretty new in "church time".

But your story reminded me of being at our previous church and only a few days out from giving birth to my second baby. I got a call one night from a lady I'd met the previous week because she'd just moved sort of close to our area and had already decided to join our church (we had mutual friends who had helped her with the pre-screening), even though she hadn't been to more than one service. She was calling to say she was bringing dinner for our family and wanted to know how to get to our house. She lived over half an hour away and she had kids that were just as young as mine! Needless to say, we became friends and sisters from that day on.

Months later, I asked her what had prompted her to do what she did. And she replied "Well, my husband and I have always been committed that we don't have to know people before we start meeting their needs. We actually find that as we help meet needs first, that's what helps us get to know people."

That really stuck with me when my family joined our current church two years ago. We looked for ways to serve first, and in the process, began really great friendships that are built around not just affirming the truths of the gospel, but living them. And it's been great. I don't have the same depth yet of "sisterhood" relationships that I did at my old church, but they're growing.

I'm perhaps being presumptuous - perhaps you are doing this too. I just wanted to affirm Frank's point that if you are part of the church, you have a part to play. And the beauty of being the church is that you don't have to practice for months and months before you're permitted to play it. Just as God what it is, and look for Him to show you! :)

Caveat: That last point probably doesn't apply if your husband is gifted as a teacher. If they ask him to get in there and lead Sunday School on week two because they don't have anyone else, that's prolly a red flag and a whole separate discussion. :)

Stefan Ewing said...

Frank: Good words.

Carol Jean: your kids upset at leaving the old church, picking up hymns, and learning doctrine in their youth group? That is so incomprehensibly different from my own youth as a cynical atheist that all I can say is wow, your husband and you must be raising them right!

Carol Jean and Rachael: Yes, it certainly is hard work making the transition from a mere Sunday morning attendee to a flesh-and-blood, bricks-and-mortar church member—joining a prayer meeting group as a "newbie" when the other participants have been doing it for years; joining a new small group and all the accountability, shared prayer requests, and so on that that entails; learning to serve the body of Christ in other ways. But it sure is worth it, isn't it?

For me, I started attending our Wednesday morning prayer meetings when still a new believer, at first out of curiosity and some selfishness (wanting others to pray for my wife and me). But over the last year and a half, it's grown on me. Worshipping; offering prayer, thanksgiving, supplication, and intercession; studying Scripture together; and all with a small group of brothers and sisters who were walking with Christ before I was even conceived in my mother's womb...and all for the service of the body of Christ, and for the glory of God.

I used to wonder what my place of ministry was, then half a year ago when we had our annual Prayer and Care Ministry banquet, it sunk in: this is it! My wife and I have even moved, and I now have to go an hour by bus to get there on Wednesday mornings, then another 90 minutes by bus to work—and yet I can't stop going now! And not out of obligation, but out of love for Christ. It's an amazing thing.

(Oh, add I do have that same odd experience of praying for the health of elderly, longstanding members whom I've never had the privilege of meeting face to face.)

James said...

Hmmm, I agree wholeheartedly. Its actually rather refreshing, considering that I have taken the opposing viewpoint as of late, and am so disenchanted with "church" that the disillusion is overwhelming. Now faced with the understanding that it is scriptural to be in fellowship, having knowledge that the church does not look much more different than the 1st century, I would contend that American Consumerism has tainted the purpose of most of us and the motives we have for fellowship in the first place.

SO while still in agreement with this post, I still believe that the church of today needs an injection of reformational and missional motives....stat...

W. Ian Hall said...

If I had a dollar for every excuse I have heard from Christians for not joining the local church that they attend I wouldnt be a millionaire pastor but Id sure as heck be eating a lot more t-bone steak.

Live As If said...

Don't you ever get tired of preaching the truth, or the Truth? Because I sure am getting tired of being convicted.

Heh. That was the old sin-loving me and what that person would have gleefully said. But your words did spur me on to looking into myself and finding some attitudes that shouldn't have been allowed to take hold, but I did allow them, and will be shortly praying about losing them.

Frank, thank you for your faithfulness and obedience. If it weren't for Jesus' salvation, I'd be right where I belong and deserve to be.

thanks, man.

James said...

Who said anything about not joining a local church? OR do you mean not joining the local roles?

Carol Jean said...

Faithful Servant said,"SO while still in agreement with this post, I still believe that the church of today needs an injection of reformational and missional motives....stat..."

I think there is a movement afoot, consisting of people who are tired of the Saddle-Creeky model of church and are looking to reclaim biblical truth and God-centeredness in the church. It's out there, you just need to be diligent in looking for it and not become cynical and give up.

The church we are attending is bursting at the seams and it seems like every third person we meet has come out of that kind of situation, including the worship leader. The stories I've heard are stories of desperation - people desperate for the deep truths of the scriptures - people who were starving at those churches. There is definitely a counter-culture rising up to combat the Saddle-Creeky shallowness.

@Stefan: "your kids upset at leaving the old church, picking up hymns, and learning doctrine in their youth group?"

For the record: Grumbling at the hymns and not having any friends. Not grumbling about the doctrine. Loving that! They had had enough of the "everything-is-a-gray-area-let's-talk-about-it-but-never-tell-you-the-answers" style of teaching!

cj hoyt said...

Thanks for those encouraging words, Frank.