The Church. When I say church, what do you think of? A little white clapboard building with a steeple and a bell, or perhaps something a little more modern than that.
The first picture is Seal Cove Wesleyan Church, and that was the church Angela’s mother grew up in and the church where Angela attended when she was on Grand Manan as a kid.
The second picture is 12Stone, and it’s a Wesleyan church in Atlanta. I worshipped there on September 11, 2011. They have a Starbucks in the lobby; I mean it’s no Tims but still.
Maybe you don’t think of a building at all, instead, maybe you think of people. Perhaps your friends and fellow believers at Cornerstone come to mind.
If that’s the case, that is good. Church means many different things to many different people. Some people feel warm and fuzzy inside when you mention church, others get angry.
But the reality is that if you are a believer, a Christ Follower, then you no doubt have had some experience with a church. And in the New Testament, if you were a believer, a Christ Follower, then it was expected that you would be a part of the church. That was the norm.
For some people, Cornerstone Church became a church when we moved into this building. But does a building make a church? When people ask me what I do, I tell them “I pastor the church across from Kingswood”, and for many that simply means that I work in this building.
The reality is that I pastor, or shepherd, the people who meet in this building.
So let’s start by defining what Church means. We looked at this last week. In the New Testament, the word that was used was a Greek word, which makes a lot of sense considering the New Testament was written in Greek.
And the word simply meant a gathering of those summoned or an assembly of called people.
And although that word wasn’t used exclusively to mean Church, it was the word used to describe the Church. The English word Church has its roots in a different word that literally meant “Of the Lord.”
But it’s not just the gathering of a group of like-minded people, there has to be more than that. Like-minded people gather for very unchurchy reasons all the time. And it’s not even the fact that they are religious like-minded people.
A.W. Tozer said, “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organizations do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.”
Through the month of June, our theme is “We the Church” and we are going to be looking at what the church is, and what the church isn’t.
Last week we looked at how the New Testament church could be large and growing and small and intimate at the same time. How the church was both inclusive and exclusive. And what that meant for Cornerstone.
For many of us, our present reality with the Corona pandemic has redefined what church looks like.
For most of us, church has centred around us gathering together on Sunday morning. Singing together, listening to God’s word for our lives together and then enjoying a coffee and chatting together afterwards.
And now that has changed. But has the church changed?
There is a metaphor that the New Testament used for the church and it is found in the scripture that was read for us earlier Ephesians 4:15-16 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
We are told here that the Church is the Body of Christ. But, more than that, it tells us that we shouldn’t be content to just be any body that we are to be a healthy body. So what does that mean?
How do we become and remain a healthy church? A church that had an impact on its entire community and the lives of the people in that community? A church that makes a difference not just for the here, but for nearby and for far way. A church that has an eternal impact and makes an eternal difference?
And that remains especially true in these strange times that we are living in. When we can’t meet together physically as the church, how do we remain, The Church?
Let’s go back to the scripture we started with: Ephesians 4:15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
1) A Healthy Church Will Have Christ at the Head. That seems almost self-evident, but I’m not sure that it is. Notice that I didn’t say a Healthy Church will be a Christian Church. The reason is that I don’t think that every church that calls itself a Christian church is a Christ following church, or for that matter a Christian Church.
What makes a church a Christian Church? Historically they were churches that fell in line with the Apostle’s Creed. What is the Apostle’s Creed? I’m glad you asked. Let’s read it together. Now it might seem a little strange reading aloud in your living room but work with me on this.
The Apostle’s Creed
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
So there are some essentials in there that make a church a Christian Church. Belief in God and the divinity of Jesus Christ, in the Trinity, in the virgin birth of Christ, of his death and resurrection and the reality of heaven and hell. And if a church doesn’t believe in those things, then historically and in my opinion they are not Christ Following Churches.
it has to go beyond that, it needs to go to following the directions that
Christ set down for His church and His people.
If we are going to be a Christ following Church then we need to take the
Bible to heart as the word of God. If we
aren’t willing to take our direction from the word of God then where will we
get it? Social media.
Ephesians 4:16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
2) A Healthy Church Will be A Growing Church.
First of all, this has nothing to do with numbers. A healthy church will be a church that is growing spiritually. If we could figure out a way to test people who attended church on a regular basis then we should discover those who attend a healthy church would know more about the Bible today than they did a year ago and they should know more about the bible in a year, than they know today.
Throughout the New Testament, we see this concept being taught time and time again. Believers are told to grow up and leave the elementary things behind.
To stop being content with spiritual milk and begin eating spiritual meat. To stop laying the foundation and start constructing the actual building of their faith.
We are told in Hebrews 6:1 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. . . Sometimes we get so comfortable with the beginning that we don’t want to move on, but we have to. When we stop learning, we stop growing. That’s true in your academic life. That’s true in your work life and that is true in your spiritual life.
So how do we grow spiritually? Well to a certain degree, it happens on Sunday morning, but if that is the only time you are being fed spiritually then you will starve to death. You will not grow spiritually if this is all the spiritual food you take in.
And don’t try to dump it on me with the “I’m not being fed spiritually” line.
My job is to provide you with good solid biblical teaching on Sunday. But think about it, if I provided you with a wonderful gourmet meal each Sunday for lunch. The very best food that you could possibly want, soup, salad, appetizer, entrée, dessert the works, would you be content to only eat on Sundays? And then only on the Sundays that you actually made it to Church.
No. You would make it your responsibility to eat on Monday, Tuesday and all the way through the week.
If you are going to grow spiritually, then you need to eat spiritually. Listen to what the Bible says about some believers, nobody at Cornerstone I’m sure. Hebrews 5:12-14 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
How do you learn more about the Bible?
A good place to start is by reading the Bible. Find a translation that works for you, I love the New Living Translation, if you don’t have a bible and can’t afford one let me know and I’ll get you one.
Or you could simply download You Version to your phone or tablet and listen to the bible in your car, or when you go for a walk or a bike ride.
Take the time to read Christian books. Again we have several shelves of them. Fiction and non-fiction, when you’re through with those let me know and you can come peruse my library, when you’re done there I’m pretty sure you can buy Christians books online.
Another way of feeding yourself spiritually is through small groups, not just for the knowledge that you gain but for the relationships that you build.
Presently we have a variety of groups meeting online, and going ahead in the fall when our small groups come back together in person, the online option is still going to be there.
Acts 2:41 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
3) A Healthy Church Will be A Growing Church. This has everything to do with numbers. We spoke about this last week, how the norm for the New Testament church was growth.
I truly believe that if we are going to be a healthy church, then we need to be growing numerically as well as spiritually. We need to be seeing new faces in our church family.
I know that when you talk about numerical growth people automatically figure that you are only in it for the numbers. And you know what they are right. I tell people; I count numbers because numbers count. Every number is a person, and every person has a soul that needs God. In the first chapters of the book of Acts Luke records that the church grew by 3000 and 5000and finally he gave up trying to keep track and just said “The Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.”
If we are going to reach people with the Gospel and if we are going to see them grow spiritually, then we will grow numerically. There are thousands and thousands of people in our community who need to know the truth of the Gospel, and we have a moral obligation to share that truth with them.
Matthew 16:18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
4) A Healthy Church Will be An Offensive Church. Now this doesn’t mean offensive in the sense that the church is supposed to offend people.
For too long the church has been on the defensive. We hunker down in our little trenches, cover our heads and hope that we can ward off the Devil until he gets tired and goes away.
In other versions, the scripture that I had read said “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And we have this vision of hell attacking the church and the church is putting up a great defence and we are able to withstand the attack of the Devil and his legions.
But that isn’t what the scripture says; it says the gates of hell will not prevail. Now I’m not a military strategist or military historian, but I don’t think that gates are normally used as offensive weapons. You don’t attack someone by brandishing a gate over your head.
Even in Canada with all the budget cuts the military has had to put up with, I don’t think they are issuing gates to our soldiers to be used as weapons.
We are to take the offensive, the church is supposed to take a stand and say this is wrong and this is right. We are supposed to be serious about depopulating hell and decrying immorality and injustice. And that means that we will need to take the offensive, not hide from the devil but attack.
Matthew 15:12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”
5) A Healthy Church Will be An Offensive Church. Now this means that the church will sometimes have to offend people. As a matter of fact every time the word “offend” is used in the New Living Translation it is in reference to something Jesus either said or did. You cannot be obedient to the word of God without offending people. And if you are committed to taking a stand for what the scriptures teach, then you will be offensive to some people.
If you take a stand for traditional marriage, then you will offend those who live together and same-sex couples. If you say you must be born again, then you will offend those who believe their own goodness will get them into heaven. If you say that Jesus is the only way to heaven then you will offend the Muslims, the Hindu’s, the Buddhists etc. etc.
The only way that we will never offend anyone with our Christian faith is if we never say anything about our Christian faith and never do anything in the name of our Christian faith. And then we will be offending God with our disobedience.
As James Thomson said, “I think a bishop who doesn’t give offence to anyone is probably not a good bishop.” And a church that doesn’t give offence to anyone is probably not a good church.
After all, Jesus warned his followers in Luke 6:26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Let’s keep going.
1 John 3:16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
6) A Healthy Church Will be a Sacrificing Church. Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with money. You understand don’t you that as a Christian there will be sacrifices that you have to make. Decisions that you make as a believer that you might not have made were you not a follower of Jesus.
Lifestyle choices that you make because of your commitment to God’s word. In other times and places, those choices have resulted in people surrendering their lives. In our culture, you might be put into a position where you lose a promotion or popularity because of a stand that you take.
Maybe when someone asks you what you thought of a particular television program or movie and you have to tell them that you didn’t watch it because of the language or content. That is a sacrifice.
As a church, there will be stands that we take that make us less than popular with those around us.
Paul told the believers in the church in Corinth that there would be times that they would have to abstain from actions not because they were wrong but because they could cause fellow believers to stumble. That’s a sacrifice. There may be times that you won’t agree a hundred percent with the direction the church is taking but unless it’s a direct violation of scripture, you might say “at this point, I’m willing to agree to disagree for the greater good.” Sometimes the sacrifice that we need to make for the church is our own preferences.
We aren’t talking about uniformity. We are not asking you to check your brain at the door. We don’t all have to agree on everything we do as a church.
If we insisted on complete uniformity at Cornerstone, then we wouldn’t be a church we would be a cult. However, if we are going to move ahead, we will need unity.
You won’t be the first to make a sacrifice, Gandhi speaking of Jesus said “A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”
Acts 2:44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.
7) A Healthy Church Will be a Sacrificing Church Now this has everything to do with money. I know, I’m only supposed to talk about money in March, but this year it was cut short.
I promise I will keep this short.
I am convinced that nothing great is ever achieved without sacrifices being made. Every one of us has made sacrifices to achieve something. We have all given up something for something better or something we want more. That is sacrifice. Throughout the history of the church financial sacrifices were made. Acts 4:32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.
And if we skip ahead twenty years, we read this description about the church in Macedonia,
2 Corinthians 8:2-3 They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will.
This church exists because people made sacrifices to make it happen. When we started we had people all over the Maritimes giving sacrificially to see this dream become a reality. And today this church and every other church around exists because people give sacrificially. You understand that every dollar that someone gives to Cornerstone could have been spent somewhere else, you have sacrificed something in order to give to God’s work.
This building didn’t happen because people gave their spare time and spare change; it happened because people made sacrifices. And that is kind of abstract now because it’s like the building has always been here, but a committed group of people gave up vacations, and buying new cars and building bigger homes so we could have this building to worship in. Philosopher George Santayana commented, “Nothing so much enhances a good as to make sacrifices for it.”
And who will decide what that sacrifice should be? You are the only one who can do that.
If Cornerstone is going to be the church that God wants it to be that will only happen as the people who make up Cornerstone are the people that God wants them to be.
Our individual responsibility as Christ-followers is to follow Christ, to be spiritually healthy and spiritually mature.
Let’s go back to where we started this morning Ephesians 4:15-16 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. The church can’t be all that it’s supposed to be unless the individual parts of the body are being all they are supposed to be as well.
Are you committed to helping Cornerstone Wesleyan Church be the church God desires it to be? Both in Hammonds Plains and Sackville Beaver Bank?