Why Church? 6-25-17
It is believed that 100 million in the country don’t go to church at all. I think that’s low. It is projected that by the year 2050, only 10% of the population will go. A couple of surveys conducted by the Barna Group about this time last year reveal some alarming trends:
• One-third of American adults had not attended a regular church service in the past 6 months
• 62% of the unchurched consider themselves to be Christians and ¾ of those people claim they are at least moderately committed to the Christian faith.
• Fewer than one out of every five adults firmly believe that a congregational church is a critical element in their spiritual growth and just as few strongly contend that participation in some type of community of faith is required for them to achieve their full potential.
• Only 17% of adults said that “a person’s faith is meant to be developed mainly by involvement in a local church.”
To much of the world today, it seems like the church doesn’t really matter. Here is a joke that actually isn’t a joke now days, because too often it’s a fact. Three pastors got together for coffee one day and found all their churches had bat-infestation problems. “I got so mad,” said one, “I took a shotgun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling, but did nothing to the bats.” The second one said, “I tried trapping them alive,” then drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church.” Now the third pastor said, “I haven’t had any more problems. What did you do?” asked the others, amazed. “I simply baptized and confirmed them,” he replied. “I haven’t seen them since.”
That’s kinds of funny, but it’s not. Now we shake our heads and look at all the world church statistics, but the reality is that we need to look right here at home first, right here at Patoka UMC. Why church? And why go to church? Why? How would you answer that?
Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” This points out one fundamental issue that truly bothers the unchurched. Notice two key words that Jesus said in this scripture, “my church.” Patoka United Methodist Church is not my church or your church, or even our church. It is Jesus’ church. It is His church because He is the One who has done everything that was required to bring the church into existence. He is the One who has torn down the wall of hostility and division so that Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, men and women and yes, even IU and Purdue fans, can come together and be one in the church.
When we come together in the church and we become the church that Jesus died to create.
The church is the only N.T. institution that Jesus specifically promised to bless and to build.
Peter was blessed because of his confession he made that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Peter did this before Jesus made the my church statement. The church is meant to be God’s kingdom and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Did you know that and do you understand that? The purpose of the church is to show Jesus. It was not made for you to have power and position and control of a religious “club”. Why church? Why should I go to church?
Paul spoke about the church in Romans and 1st Corinthians “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.”
That scripture means that we are the body of Christ and each person is part of the larger picture. The church is to be made of people working together with one main reason and it’s the real reason for church, period. It is to advance the His kingdom, God’s kingdom. Frankly it’s funny that Paul would use the analogy of the body, but it is a very appropriate analogy because most of us see imperfection in our bodies. Church is not perfect, we are not perfect, but the head of the church Jesus is and we who have imperfect bodies are to be part of this body doing the will of our head Jesus. There is no perfect example of church yet it is about content. It is about putting Jesus first. All of us imperfect people are to come together and lay everything aside and put Jesus first.
Why does the Church matter? Why is Church important? How would you answer the question? Have you ever answered the question? You see I firmly believe everyone should have an answer to those questions. For me to answer that question, in a fairly short time, I would have to say church didn’t matter at all to me for 45 years of my life. But after I surrendered to Jesus, it became the place on this earth that connected me to Jesus. Can you say that? Does Patoka UMC connect you to Jesus? Is that what you would tell somebody?
Through the imperfect people that make up the body of the church I dived deeper and continue to dive deeper into the holy Word with others. God has used the church to hold me accountable. God has used the church to give me guidance and the knowledge of God’s will. Through the church I have felt loved. Through the church I have done things I never thought possible. I have been supported by the church. I could go on but when I have used the word “Church” I mean the people of the church. Jesus was the big difference in my life but the church has made a huge difference in my life.
Through the church, I encounter God in Christ Jesus weekly in special ways through worship, study, prayer, and fellowship with the community of Christians that you see here. Do you? Is that what you would tell others? I learnt the concept of Christian service in the church, have you served in the church? The calling of the mission field was founded in the church and so sharing the love of Jesus in the world around me was born in church. In the church we should experience the love of Jesus from others here at church so we can go out and love others. In the church, I learnt what it is to be a Christian; to value what Christ values and to follow Christ’s example in my own life.
We are here today because the church has meant something to each of us. And many of us can tell stories as I did about why the church matters to us. But as much as the church is about impacting and transforming the lives of individuals, it’s also about impacting and transforming the world.
And here’s why:
Christ is not here anymore. That is, Christ is not physically present on this earth today as he was 2,000 years ago. Which means that if people today are going to experience Christ, it’s going to have to happen in a different way. And Christ knew that. So after his resurrection, at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ went to the disciples and he commissioned them.
Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That is a really fancy way of saying that he told the disciples, and he tells us, to go out and, in his name, do what he had been doing for the last three years of his ministry.
He sent them out into the world as witnesses to do ministry in his name; to heal in his name, to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins, and to share the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus and God’s coming kingdom. Her sends us out to care about and minister to the poor, the outcast, the “Others” of this world, the people that are not the elite. Jesus did not travel with, nor worry much about the elite. Now what’s that say about our world today? That is to be our mission.
Then he left them and ascended into heaven. That was the beginning of the church, and it is also the key to why the church matters to us and others. What would have happened if Christ had ascended without commissioning the disciples; or if those first commissioned disciples had decided they were through with this Jesus-business and they were going to go back to home and get their lives back to normal? That would have been the end.
Christ would have lived, taught, healed, died and been resurrected, and within a few generations he would have been forgotten; the healing would have stopped, the resurrection promise would have been lost, the hope would have faded away. Christ’s love and salvation never would have been known beyond those people who encountered him during his years on earth.
Fortunately for us, for billions of others, and for this whole world, it didn’t happen that way. The disciples got busy and they kept Jesus’ ministry going; they kept his message alive sharing the good news “to the ends of the earth.” And the church today, this church, can do no less. If we in the church do not continue Christ’s ministry, no one will. That is why the church matters! Christ made a difference in people’s lives. He healed the sick. He helped the poor. He forgave sinners. He shared God’s grace and love. And he died on the cross so that we might have eternal life with our loving God. We are talking about the difference between life and death, and it is the church’s task to get that message out into the world! Christ can transform people’s lives if only we will show people who Christ is and what he is about! That’s what church is meant to be and why.
Recognize that this is to be done inside these walls AND probably most importantly outside of these four walls. The church is meant to be outside the four walls on the church touching others. Can we say that we are doing enough? Can you say that you are doing all you can? That is how people outside of the church see Jesus. They see Jesus not by what we have but by what we give.
In Colossians Paul said, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church.”
The church is the body of Christ and we are to be his mouth and his ears, his hands and his feet in this world outside of these four walls! The church is the body of people who believe the good news and most importantly, are chosen by God to bear witness to it. We are to bear witness to God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ! And that means much more than that we just go out and say some words to people about this person named Jesus. Or we just sit here and pray to God and hope they walk in the door.
It means that the entire life of the church is alive with Christ’s love and faithful to his gospel. It’s so we can point to the church and say, “You want to know what the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness of Christ means? Well, take a look at this! Look at what’s happening here! Look at how lives are being changed here!”
That is why the church matters! Our world hurts today. You walk through schools and you hear kids bullying each other. You turn on the news and everything is negative: murders, economic hardships, rising unemployment, graft and corruption. You read in the papers about starving people in Africa and endless fighting in the Middle East. Relationships fall apart and work stresses us out. Everyday people lose their lives to cancer and AIDS and a host of other illnesses and diseases that we cannot yet prevent or cure. All around us is bleakness, despair, death.
But through the church, God in Christ Jesus is able to offer something else to the world. Christ brings hope in the midst of all the hurt because Jesus feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, heals the sick, and forgives the sinner. God in Christ Jesus offers justice, peace, and rich blessings. And above all Christ gives unconditional love and abundant life. Only in Christ can we find the strength to make it through all the difficulties of this life. Only in Christ can we find the joy of this life and the hope of the life to come. And the best way to encounter Christ today is through the witness of the people of the church in the world! We are his light! We are his body ministering to this world in the same way Christ himself did so many years ago!
The Christian Church isn’t simply about a particular way of being religious; there’s lots of ways to be “religious” in the world today. The church isn’t even about a particular system for how to be saved here or hereafter. The church isn’t simply a different way of holiness. The Christian Church is about Jesus Christ! The church matters because the church makes it possible for people to have real encounters with Christ.