Twenty years ago I read a statement in the “preacher’s magazine.” And it said, “The church is like Noah’s ark, if it wasn’t for the judgement on the outside, you’d never be able to stand the smell on the inside.” I chuckled, I wrote it down, I filed it, but later I went back and read it and got angry. If that’s the church I thought, if the only reason we stay in it is to avoid the judgement on the outside, then not only are we cowards but we are hypocritical cowards. And while some may feel that we need to accept the smell on the inside, I don’t.
At the time you may recall it seemed like evangelical Christianity was a target in the media every other day, the church has been called to be many things, and to do many things, but it was never, never, never called to be a failure.
Christ told peter, “you are the very first to acknowledge me as Christ, and so you are the very first person in the church, and the church will be built upon my name and it will stand forever.” And friends listen up, when the church becomes corrupt, and when the church becomes a failure, and when the church begins to stink, you can be assured that what you’re smelling rot, isn’t what Christ established. Instead it is just another human institution that has gone bad, and that needs to be purged.
This morning we are going to look at five critical characteristics about the church.
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. 1) The Church Is A Divinely Appointed Institution.
The church was not established by man, not by Peter, or Constantine, or Augustine, or Luther, or Calvin, or Wesley, or Guptill. The church has been established by Jesus Christ. The church is a divine institution. The problem is that all too often we get the church confused with the church. We get mixed up. A building may be a church building but it is never the church, I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked by well meaning people, “How do you feel now that you have a church?” and my response is “We’ve had a church since 1995 now we have some place to put it.”
You folks are the church, but not all of you and you’re not all of the church.
Cornerstone Wesleyan Church, Full Gospel Church, Emmanuel Baptist church, The Rock Church, Stoneridge Fellowship are all man made, human inspired institutions. And God uses them, and works though them. But the church, the body of Christ is instituted, ordained, and approved by Jesus Christ. Paul refers to Christ as the head of the church and later talks about the church being the body of Christ, in the Revelation John refers to the church as the bride of Christ. And the New Testament reiterates time and time again that the church belongs to Jesus Christ.
God has used men through the years in guiding the direction of his church but don’t be deceived, it is still God’s church. When the Roman Catholic Church stopped serving God’s purpose he rose up the reformers and men like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli saw his church go on. When the Anglican church of the 1700’s became cold, detached and uncaring men like Wesley and Whitefield were used to see God’s work continue. When the Methodist church in the states chose to bask in their new found respectability rather then defending the abolitionist movement of the early and mid 1800’s Oange Scott was willing to be used. And out of the willingness came the Wesleyan church. And friends if we ever get to the point where we are more concerned about us, and more concerned with how people see us and view us, and respect us then we are with doing the job God set before us then God will call men and women out of the Wesleyan church to get on with the job.
Acts 2:41-42 Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 2) The Church Exists To Strengthen Believers.
The primary purpose of the early church was not evangelism, you did not bring your friends to a church meeting to get them saved, within the context of the church it is doubtful that you would ever hear an evangelistic message and very, very doubtful that an altar call would ever have been given, let alone done to forty seven verses of just as I am.
The early church was to provide strength fellowship and education to those who knew Jesus Christ as lord and saviour. Evangelism was carried out beyond the four walls of the church, regardless of whether those four walls were real or imaginary. The believers brought their friends and family to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and then and only then did they bring them into the church family. I mean you gotta understand that going to church wasn’t the “thing to do” during those first years, it was not appropriate social behaviour, as a matter of fact church membership often resulted in an invitation to dinner with the lions.
What then was the purpose of the church? Well the description of the first church in acts 2 says that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And so it would appear that the first priority of the church needs to be education in general and the education of the saints in particular. Every person in this auditorium needs to be learning something, you need to know more scriptural, theological and doctrinally truths today then you did yesterday. People tell me, I’m not into doctrine; I just want to learn the bible. Listen up, you may not be into doctrine but the bible is. The bible is doctrine, the bible is theology, and if we are going to mature in the lord, then we will need to get into the word of God.
And while we can’t limit our spiritual education to what we learn in church it’s a good place to start. It may come as a shock to some folks but this is not the only service that Cornerstone has. We offer Discover the Word small groups and at various time we offer courses like Christianity 101, Lights Camera Jesus, different courses on parenting and marriage. We will be offering a course on parenting teens in the New Year. And yet most of us are content to be here on Sunday Mornings and only when that doesn’t conflict with other things on our calendar. What would happen if you only ate a third of your meals? Went to work a third of the time? Went to school a third of the time? Or only took a third of your medicine? You’d never receive full benefit would you?
Our small groups not only offer bible study and prayer but they supply one of the most vital needs of Christians today and that is Christian fellowship. The purpose of the church is to help strengthen the saints.
God knows nothing of solitary religion, that’s why Jesus appointed 12, and the spirit came to 120 in the upper room and 3000 were added after Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost. Christ knew that we would need one another and that is the reason for the church.
Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. 3) The Church Exists To Make Life On Earth A Little Better
Two thousand years ago salt was used primarily for two reasons, to preserve and to season. And while preservation was the most critical in a practical sense the flavouring benefits of NaCl or sodium chloride can never be underestimated.
A number years ago a buddy of mine spent a couple of months in Zambia, in Africa. And he told me that the staple food there was called nsima. For breakfast you got nsima, at lunch you got nsima, for supper you got nsima, great heaping piles of nsima. And what you ask is nsima, nsima is ground maize and water, and John said that it tasted like a cross between oatmeal and wall paper paste. And there was no milk for it, and no cream for it and no sugar for it. And my buddy said that the only way that you could make it taste any better was by adding salt. And I remain convinced that without the Christian church that this world would be much like nsima, flavourless and dull.
We are here partly to make life on this old terrestrial ball just a little more flavourful. And we have! During the past two thousand years the church of Christ has been in the forefront of the battle to make the human existence just a little bit better. Throughout history when hospitals were established it was the Christian church, when schools were established it was the Christian church, when lepers colonies were established it was the Christian church, staffed by Christian men and women. In is no coincidence that the dog that is famous for rescuing lost travellers in Switzerland, the Saint Bernard, is named after a clergy man.
Do you remember in the early 80’s the press played up the aid provided Ethiopia by rock groups who participated in band-aid, and USA for Africa. And the organizer of the event Bob Geldof was knighted for his part. Remember. What the press failed to mention is that the Christian church was there firstest with the mostest through groups like World Vision and World Hope and Compassion. But why wasn’t that news, because it’s expected of the church.
And twenty five years later when the rockers are all back to their hedonistic, self indulgent life style the church is still in the trenches providing aid. Geldof released a song in the nineties called the “The Great Song Of Indifference” and some of the lyrics said: “I don’t care if the Third World fries It’s hotter there I’m not surprised Baby I can watch whole nations die And I don’t care at all.” I know Geldof was using satire to make his point but here is another point, the church cared then and still cares today. When I was travelling in Africa when I saw groups that were making a difference the vast majority of time they were faith based Christian groups.
We fail to remember that the church was responsible for the end of child labour in England, and the end of the slave trade in the western world, and the feminist movement neglects to mention that it was the evangelical and holiness church that were in forefront of the women’s rights movement at the turn of the century and the Wesleyan church today is on the front lines fighting to stop human trafficking.
Making the world a better place to live in not just a part of the history of the church, it needs to be our mission both for today and tomorrow. Individually we do it by following Christ’s admonition in Matthew 19:19 Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ” Each one of us needs to reach our in love to those who surround us, the world is full of hurting people, and you shouldn’t have to look very hard to find one.
Corporately as a local church Cornerstone Wesleyan Church will do it by following Christ’s admonition in Mark 12:31 T ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The church needs to continue to look beyond it’s four walls to see where there is a need to fill. Whether it’s through foreign missions, or Operation Christmas Child, Harvest for the Hungry, Ronald McDonald House, Operation Happy Feet or supporting the Gideon’s we have been put here to make this world a better place.
As a denomination we do it by following Christ’s admonition in Luke 10:27 “Love your neighbour as yourself.”and the Wesleyan church again does that through relief work, world missions, home missions, and such ministries as the orphanages, senior citizens facilities and schools that we run as a denomination.
Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” 4) The Church Exists To Be An Example.
If salt was used to dispel blandness, then light is used to dispel darkness. We are here to provide a light for a world cloaked in darkness. People would say, “Well you’re not doing a very good job of it.” Au contrar, I think that we are doing an excellent job of it.
Sometimes when people asked what I do when I tell them they immediately bring up some of the scandals that have been in the news lately. I’m going to start telling people I’m in insurance, fire insurance.
Anybody here ever have a non-Christian friend wag that stuff under your nose, what about this and what about that.
But do you know why the world makes such a fuss over those incidents? Because they make the world look morally alright, the world could say “oh yeah, well what about. . .” But they forget that for every scandal you hear about there are millions of Godly men and women, who live holy lives day in and day out and who show the world for what it is, bad to the core.
Hebrews 11:7 It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith. How does Paul say that Noah condemned the world? By his righteousness. Because the dark doesn’t look to bad until you light a candle. And the deepest, thickest darkness cannot cloak the light of a single candle.
There needs to be a standard, if you are not going to measure something that is 300 mm long, it is not that long, nor is it that long it is this long because this is 300 mm long. Hebrews 12:14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.. And in John 13:15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. And Stanley said of Livingston, “If I had been with him any longer I would have become a Christian and he never spoke to me about it.”
Ezekiel 16:2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable sins. 5) The Church Is Here To Confront Society.
Ezekiel 16:2 should be the watch word of the Christian church. We are not in a popularity contest, Jesus did not put on this earth to become little Miss congeniality, respectability isn’t supposed to be the mission of the church, instead we are to stand tall in a corrupt and decaying world, and proclaim righteousness and decry unrighteousness, even if it don’t make us real popular.
Abortion is killing babies, it’s not removing foetal tissue, it’s not terminating pregnancies, it not getting rid of a growth and it should not be legal and the Christian church needs to stand up and say “stop the killing.”
Homosexuality is sin, not an option, not an alternate life style, within the context of the Word of God, and it is called sin. Human rights, nuclear armament, world hunger, AIDS, human trafficking
The church needs to use its voice. And if the world is going to take us serious then it needs to hear more then simply Jesus loves you. It needs to hear about the love of God but it also needs to hear about the wrath of God. At some point the church will have to decide if it is going to be a compass pointing in the right direction or if it’s going to be a weather vane pointing wherever the winds of society say it should point. Let’s never forget Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.
We weren’t called to be popular but we were called to be faithful to the entire word of God.
It was the Scottish poet James Thomson who said ” I think a bishop who doesn’t give offence to anyone is probably not a good bishop.” And Denn Guptill who paraphrased it to say ” I think a church which doesn’t give offence to anyone is probably not a good church.”
And remember the words of Christ in Matthew 5:11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. He didn’t say if but when.
We don’t have to look very far to realize that as a local church and as a denomination that if you don’t stand for something then you will fall for anything. No I don’t agree with the man who compared the church to Noah’s ark, and I don’t think the smell is all that bad on the inside. And I know what God knows and that is this that ultimately the church will be triumphant, because Christ told us the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, and the failings of some Christians certainly won’t bring the walls down around our ears.