I Cor. 1:2; 3:5-10 and 16:19.
“I am an alumnus of the church”, the man said to a friend. He obviously had given up on the church. I don’t know that I have ever heard of that term until I heard that story. It raises the question, is the church really important?
When Jesus said, “upon this rock, I build my church”, He wasn’t mincing words. Jesus meant what He said. When Paul declared that Jesus, “loved the church and gave Himself for it”, he also was emphasizing the importance of the church.
In the N.T. there are two distinct ways the church is viewed. The church universal, represents all those who believe in Jesus and Savior and Lord. The church in the local setting, describes those believers of a local body of believers.
In his two letters to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing a local church in need of counsel and correction. They had a sense of divisiveness and personality worship. The church was also plagued with the problems of sexual sins. Corinth was a loose and lewd culture and the believers were influenced by this permissive atmosphere.
Add to these significant challenges, some real doctrinal difficulties, such as the understanding of the gifts of the Spirit, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, the doctrine of the resurrection and the practice of stewardship and you have a fellowship of christians confused, conflicted and calloused.
In this context, Paul the church health consultant, seeks to help the Corinthian believers to regain their spiritual, doctrinal and relational equibrium. He begins, in his first letter, to underscore the importance of the church as a people of God, on mission with the message of God, in a culture starving for the reality of God in their lives.
Take a brief journey through this first epistle to the Corinthians and discover or rediscover why the church is important today. Answer with me the question, why is the church so important? I believe we can see five reasons why it is so vital.
I. The church is important because it has a focus.
In chapter one, Paul portrayed christians as being “called of God”. He also reminded the Corinthian church that their calling was to take the message to the people of their area. This was a tough sell to the struggling church because their culture was antagonistic to the message of Christ.
Recently, I was listening to XM Radio, while traveling up and down the state, attending associational meetings, and visiting churches for preaching opportunities and personal consultations with church leaders. As I was making my way, I was zoned out, due the constant barrage of negative news about the economy and the shouting talking heads who were trying to make a case for their presidential candidate.
Then I heard a familiar voice during a commercial break. It was Oprah Winfrey talking to her spiritual guru, Eckhart Tolle. She said “I grew up a Southern Baptist but now I know the truth that the divine light is in me”. She and Tolle babbled on about their new age gospel, which is no gospel at all.
As I reflected on the twisting of Scripture and the misrepresentation of our faith, I admittedly became angry. First, Oprah technically was never a Southern Baptist. She was a Baptist in the south but not a Southern Baptist. We are just an easy target for all who want to mischaracterize evangelicals.
Second, Tolle and Oprah were totally twisting the Bible, like John chapter one, to fit their new age, human centered teaching, which essentially speaks of us becoming our own gods. That is the divine light teaching.
Oprah has long sense discounted the belief that “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life”. That, in her mind, is just passe. The sad truth is that Oprah is now a pastor of sorts to an online, radio and television congregation, who listen and digest her dangerous and fallacious teachings. These tenets are as old as the epistle of I Cor in the N.T.
When the church loses it’s focus then anything goes. It is not that people believe nothing, rather, it means they believe anything and everything. You take a little here and there and mix it all up and make a spiritual casserole out of it.
We must maintain our focus on being “called of God” and our “calling from God” to the people of our day. If we allow our focus to be blurred, then the gospel according to Oprah becomes the religion of choice. This just can’t happen!
II. The church is important because it has a fellowship.
I Cor 3:9 speaks of fellow workers. This means there is a team approach to the ministry and mission we have in Christ. We are not some kind of individual entrepreneur who does the work in isolation. No, there is a team.
In verses five through nine, Paul eloquently explains this fellowship or team work. He asked, “who is Paul, who is Apollos?”. Paul planted and Apollos watered. Both are important. You have to have planters and nurturers. But, “God gives the increase”. Twice he affirmed that reality.
Strong personalities have always been in the church. Paul was the definition of such a person. At times, he had the “my way or the highway” approach to leadership. Just ask Barnabas, he will testify to that truth.
Apollos was a very strong leader too. He was the silver tongued orator, who could leave the people spell bound with his speaking skills. Yet, without Aquilla and Priscilla, Apollos would have been theologically deficient.
I am thinking of a leader in one of my churches, who was an unlikely candidate for strong leadership. He was a rural mail carrier, with a high school diploma and not one day of college training. But despite this fact, this man was the go to leader in the church. We had doctors, PhDs, attorneys, CPAs and businessmen, who always looked to him for leadership.
He had wisdom! He was one of the wisest men I have ever met. His counsel to me and to others was of incalulable value. He was a difference-maker in our fellowship. When he died a huge void was left in that fellowship.
III. The church is important because it has a field.
“You are the field”, Paul proclaims in I Cor 3:9. The term church field has gradually begun to leave our church vocabulary. The urbanization of our society, where communities are no longer defined geographically, have led the way for this change.
The church field still exists though. The church field is Acts 1:8. Remember these words of Jesus? “You will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth”.
Jerusalem is you local area. Judea is you Alabama. Samaria can be understood as North America and the ends of the earth represent our church field around the world.
As Southern Baptists, you have the opportunity to participate in all four of the areas of your church at one time, at the same time and all the time. Through the Cooperative Program, you are in your Jerusalem, your Judea, your Samaria and your entire world.
It is our way of taking our focus on Christ and the people of our world and uniting in fellowship to reach others for Christ. Since 1925, Alabama Baptists have contributed one billion dollars through the Cooperative Program and we now have the largest mission force for Christ of any faith group. It is unparalleled. That is why this church and every church is important.
IV. The church is important because it has a foundation.
Chapter three verse ten and following point to the foundation of the church. This, of course, is not an agricultural term, like field. It is an architectural one.
Foundations are so important. Ask those who are building our new facility. They will attest to this fact. With a weak foundation, the building collapses. With a strong foundation, the building stands the test of time.
When I was growing up in Birmingham years ago, we had a news making event to take place in our community. A house caved in and fell into the back yard of the residence. It had a weak foundation.
Later, we learned that there was below the surface of the landscape an underground river, which a local plant was accessing for it’s operations. The river became depleted and the ground gave way, breaking the house into two pieces. There was a huge crater in the ground, where half of the sat in broken debris.
I remember riding my bicycle to the house and taking a look at the situation for myself. I could not believe what I was viewing. This strong and sturdy looking house had been broken like a toy house into two pieces. The front of the house looked relatively normal but the back part of it was mired in a deep mud hole.
Everyone in the community became concerned about their house. Is our foundation strong? Will the ground under our home become a huge hole like this one? What can we do? The company restored the home and ceased drawing water from the subterranean river but the questions were still being asked years later, “what about the foundation of my home?”.
If we build our church on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, we do not have to worry about the foundation. “For there is no other foundation to be laid, but on Jesus”. He is the rock solid foundation of the church.
V. The church important because it has a future.
What is the future of the United States of America? Will it become like the Roman Empire and decline to historical oblivion? Will we become like Europe, only a shadow of our previous influence? These questions abound today and they are critical ones to consider.
I have a more frightful question on my mind and in my heart, “what is the future of the church?”. Recently, I read a book entitled UnChristian. It was a downer for me because the book was a compilation of research and case studies about the younger generation (18-34). In the view of the writers, this generational demographic is quitting the church in masses.
I have read some other somber and sobering reports which seem to agree with these authors. But, in all candor, I have read some research, which counters the contention that the church has no future.
I refuse to believe the church does not have a bright future. Granted, I am not a research specialist, but I believe the church has a bright future. Is it going to be difficult? Yes, I know the future will be tough and challenging. However, when the church was persecuted, as described in the book of Acts, the dispersion of believers actually was used to spread the gospel.
When the old Soviet Union disintegrated, we were amazed to discover that the believing church was strong and healthy. China has had to conceded that christians are growing in number in their vast country.
I am praying for a revival, a genuine revival in America. I am praying that we will be counter-cultural and live like our spiritual ancestors, who faced their own tough times.
Robert Leslie Holmes has helped me understand the true nature of what “revival” means. He said, “True revival comes when people get serious about doing business with God, under God’s terms of absolute surrender”.
The future of the church is not just here on the earth. We have a future in heaven to consider. Our future is promised by God and it has nothing to with Wall Street, Main Street, your street or my street. It has to do with heavenly streets.
In John 14, Jesus gave us an abiding promise, “I go and prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will receive to myself, that where I am there you will be also”. That is our future. That is our hope.
Earlier this year, we lost a christian leader in the world of politics and journalism. Tony Snow had served as the President’s Press Secretary and he had been a mainstay in the world of journalism for decades, most notably with Fox News.
Following a diagnosis of a recurrence of his colon cancer, Tony Snow, an evangelical Catholic, spoke to The Catholic University of America. In that address, he said, “Wherever you are and whatever you do, never forget at this moment, and every moment forward, you have a precious blessing. You’ve got the breath of life. No matter how lousy things may seem, you’ve got the breath of life. And while God doesn’t promise tomorrow, He does promise eternity”.
Years ago, I read about an elderly farmer who had two mules he used to do his work. One was named, “Willing” and the other bore the name, “Able”. The old farmer had a sense of humor because he described his mules this way, “Willing is not able and Able is not willing”. We have to be both willing and able, if we are going to reach his world for Christ. Are you willing? Are you able?