A Church For Today

1 Corinthians 9:19-24

Among the church culture in America it has become common to identify local churches with some troubling terms; “Contemporary or Traditional.”  Why do I say these terms are troubling?  Because the meaning of these words in this context has little to do with Christ centered and God honoring attitudes and actions—but generally speak about “the music” style.  This is sad because the church is, or at least should be, a great deal more than music.
Think about those terms for a moment, “traditional” and “contemporary.”  Even as I mention them in this worship context each of us conjures up our own images based on personal concepts.  Another really distressing truth is that we have a tendency to allow others to define our concepts for us.  Think about it; for some of us when we hear the word “contemporary” within the church we get a headache.  We think of loud, hardly discernable words, which are repeated over and over.  At the same time for another group, the word traditional means lifeless, dead, and without any real meaning.  Honestly, both of these concepts possess flaws.Defined, tradition means the oral handing down of stories, beliefs, customs, and proverbs handed down in this way, an inherited pattern of thought or action, a specific long standing practice.Defined, contemporary means living or happening in the same period of time, of about the same age, and/or in the “style of the present or recent times; modern.”
‚It is interesting to note that of all the things which Jesus fought, “tradition” headed the list.  He spoke harshly to the “traditions of the Pharisees” and took them to task for rising the level of their tradition to a theological height.  At the same time, Jesus desired to be “contemporary.” Better said, He spoke to the heart of people in the day He lived in terms they understood!  A church for today is one who refuses to be pulled into cultural wars because they are focused on the eternal things and making “sure” that these things are communicated in the most commonly used language.

I believe that the culture is seeking & searching for the truth, they are looking to us to see if we are “real” and “authentic” in our belief and faith.  They are looking at us not only collectively, but also individually.  So I ask the question, what does it mean to be a believer or church for today?

Let’s see what the Bible says.  Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 9.I remind you that Paul is writing to the church at Corinth.  This is a very carnal church.  They are the church who has taken the attitude that “sin among God’s people is not business of ours.”  Paul has already confronted them about confronting sin and in 1 Corinthians 9:19 he lays out the trek and focus of a spiritual filled, spirit let believer and thus, church for the day.  Let’s read.
Here, I find four (4) marks, characteristics, or qualities which are needed in the lives of people & churches to fulfill this task:

1) Changed people.

In l Corinthians 9:19, Paul says, “I have been set free.”  Do we dare ask from what he had been set free?  Well, to know the life of Paul is to understand that he was a “Pharisee” and lived in strict adherence to the law.  Now, not just the Law of Moses but the rabbinical law which was far more restrictive.  But there is more.  His “road to freedom” was the Damascus Road.  It is where he met Jesus.  His life was changed completely, entirely, and forever.  He had been set free from sin’s power and sin’s penalty and based on his writings; he knew that one day he would be free from sin’s presence.  He was so “changed” that in time he would be renamed and with the same passion he had attempted to destroy the church—he now builds the church.  With the same passion he attempted to dissuade people from believing he now endeavored to persuade them to believe.
  • Paul’s life was changed.  This was witnessed in every part of his life.  People could tell how much he loved His Lord.  Paul’s life was changed on that Damascus Road because he met the Jesus of Calvary.  This is exactly what happens to everyone who meets Jesus.  Many years ago Bill Gaither wrote a song which clearly expresses this truth.  “Thanks to Calvary, I don’t live here anymore.”
  • To be a church for today and believers for today means that Thanks to Calvary we’re different.  Based on Paul’s next letter to the Corinthians, he teaches this means we have been “transformed” on the inside, “reformed” on the outside, and are being “conformed” for the “upside.”
  • Have you been changed?  Have you made yourself a slave to all?  Here we are again in “self-denial.”  A person changed by God’s person is a person who gives up much for others.

2) Clear purpose.

The church of the 21st century is unusual for many reasons.  Within the church we get mixed reactions when we talk about “purpose” or being “purpose driven.”  It’s kind of weird.  It seems to center around Rick Warren.  Let’s just make this point and move on; Rick Warren did not invent the “Purpose Driven Life” or the “Purpose Driven Church”, he simply coined the phrase.  A purpose driven life goes back to the Garden of Eden when God gave Adam his purpose in the Garden.  A purpose driven church goes back to Acts 2 when the church was beginning.  They balanced themselves with worship, discipleship, evangelism, prayer, ministry, and fellowship.
  • For us we have stated our purpose by lifting up the name of Jesus, by preparing God’s children for His work, and by winning people to God’s eternal kingdom.
  • But in order for this to BE the purpose of the church, it must become the purpose of each member.  This means we have our eyes open for those who don’t know Christ and have a desire to invite them to this place where they may hear the gospel message and be changed.  It is our priority.  The church for today keeps this purpose clear and in focus at all times.  I heard Jay Strack say this many years ago, “We are playing games while Satan plays for keeps.”  Hearing those words and coupling them with the common thought that we are less than one generation from paganism causes me deep concern.  Today, burying people has a deeper meaning than ever before.  John 3:16 and Romans 6:23 are still valid.
  • People and Churches of purpose are so needed today.  We need God people to have his purpose.

3) Correct philosophy.

As you would know, there is a great difference between “theology” and “philosophy” within the church.  In simple terms our theology is what we believe and our philosophy is “how we accomplish” what we believe.  Although I make fun of us, I have been a Southern Baptist all of my life.  Have been behind the pulpit in some form or fashion since age 16 or 17.  There is a sad truth about Southern Baptists.  Many times our theology in given a subservient position to our philosophy.  That is, we hold to our traditions which are manmade while minimizing the Bible truths.  I just give one for instance.
  • Today many churches have made a change in their Sunday evening schedules.  They no long include a “large group” time of worship but give their Sunday evenings to small group discipleship.  This concept has been criticized by many but consider these things.  Sunday evening worship is a recent adage to the church landscape probably around the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th century.  Next, if a church decides to not have worship in the evening, does that truly alienate them from God?  Candidly, “to or not to” have worship on Sunday evening is a decision for each individual fellowship based on the impact to her culture.
  • A correct philosophy means not being in bondage to sacred cows of schedules and traditions, it means holding the purpose up (“saving some”) and doing whatever it takes.
  • Bob Russell, retired pastor of SECC, says, “Methods are many, principles are few, methods always change, principles never do.”  Our attitudes are revealed by our approach. The “Question is this “what are you willing to do?”

4) Common passion.

This should ring a bell with all us Alabama people.  Paul’s passion was to win!  His game?  Changing lives with the gospel. His opponent? The enemy. To win takes Passion.  Mediocrity is not good enough.  We must run to win.  If you believe we can’t reach all the people in town?  Please, don’t tell anyone, keep it to yourself. What is your passion? Is it to see people of Hueytown come to faith? What are you willing to do to make it so?
Jerry Watts
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