Last week our young people had a “Summer Camp” at home. The camp finished at our Nueva Vida Service with a bi-lingual celebration. I thought I would share here the talk I gave to round things off.
During the camp, the young people learnt about: Calling God Father, Living for Jesus, Being filled with the Holy Spirit and why we get baptised. These are all great things to cover. We’ve been getting to grips with the basics of the Christian faith. However, the challenge when covering the basics is what to include and what to leave out. There’s so little time to cover everything and the risk is that we leave something out that distorts the picture. That’s the danger here. All of these things are good and essential but leave a big hole in the picture. In fact, we could up with something that is just an individual, mystical experience.
The two things missing are
- God’s Word –without it we cannot know what the Father is like and we cannot hear the Spirit speak to us and guide us. However this has been implicitly there as we’ve used the Bible each day to learn more about God.
- The Church. This is so important. Too often, faith is treated as an individual pursuit, it’s just about me and Jesus but in fact, we are not meant to be solitary Christians.
There are two big errors that people make. These often result in us failing to grasp the importance of church.
Church is seen as something we need to come through in order to know Christ.
The church becomes our saviour. We belong and so we are part of God’s people. This becomes obvious when there’s an expectation that you have to go to a sacred place to pray or when a priest is needed to hear confession and pronounce forgiveness. However, this can happen in all sorts of churches regardless of denomination. A church insists that it is the only true church, people within the church become controlling, members experience a heavy burden of duty and no longer serve with joy.
During the camp we saw that we are saved by God’s grace. It’s only through Jesus
However when we know that we can make the other mistake
Church is seen as a commodity
–I choose. The church that best meets my preference, whether that’s the style of worship or preaching, the type of people who attend, even how the building is decorated.
Church is not meant to be like that either. As a young person, through my late teens and into my student years I really fell into this trap. I became judgemental about church. I had my own list of things to assess a church by. Of course, some of the criteria I stumbled upon was right. Some of the criticisms I had of churches was fair. But in the end I was really seeing church as something that had to meet my expectations. No matter how spiritually I dressed it up, that’s exactly what I was doing. At the time I thought I was taking a stand, now I look back and realise that I must have caused a lot of discouragement and hurt to people who really cared about me as a young Christian. Some of the things I observed and pointed out may have been true but I did not always say it in a way that helped and built up. Also I bounced between churches at University, never really settling in one. There was of course plenty to choose from to meet my mood at each point
Later on, I joined a local church in the town where I went to work. It wasn’t perfect. At times I didn’t enjoy going to church, sometimes that was because it didn’t meet my preferences, sometimes it was because I was going through the deeply uncomfortable experience of being challenged, disciplined even by God and by those with responsibility for my pastoral care. And so over time I learnt to love my local church. I became a member of the church. I got involved. God used the church to shape and change me and I think that he also used me to help and encourage others there as well.
Do you notice the difference? Church wasn’t something distinct from me, something that did something to me or for me. I was part of a church.
And that’s why I want to talk about belonging to a church. You cannot be a solitary Christian. You must not be a consumer Christian. You need to be part of the body. That’s what those early believers discovered in Acts 2
- If you believe in Jesus, then you belong to The Church
Acts 2:41 –The people heard Peter preach, believed and were baptised. Then it says that they were added to “The Church.” The church is God’s family. It stretches all around the world, it is made up of every nationality, male and female, young and old, poor and rich. You have a family wherever you go. You already belong. This is Christ’s church, not Dave’s church or Jose’s church or the property of any prominent Christian. This is good news. It means that wherever you go in the world, wherever there are Christians then you will have family with you. You will not be alone.
But then we see that the believers start to show their membership of the wider church by their commitment to a local congregation. (They joined with other believers v42)
- You need to be part of a church to be taught God’s Word so that you can grow in your faith
Acts 2:42 –They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.” This is what we now find in the Bible. A church should be gathered around God’s word. It’s a mark of a healthy church –what is central –is it about emotion, performance, personality, rules and committees or about gathering to hear God speak through the Bible?
- You need to be part of a church because we are meant to encourage and care for each other
We see this as the early church members care for each other (v44-45) and offer hospitality (v46). Please note that one of these things were unique to their situation but the general principle of love and care for each other becomes normative for church life together. For example, sometimes the early Christians shared all their belongings “in common” but this did not always happen and they were not under compulsion to do so. However, the reason they did this was a root principle that we live as though our possessions are not our own. This is liberating. It frees us from guilt. If God provides us with a good job, nice house, large salary then we should not feel guilty about his. We live as though they are not our own. We do not cling onto our possessions. We enjoy them, we share them, we know that God has lent us these things for his glory. Secondly, it frees us from fear. We know that god is the owner and giver of everything. We trust him tp provide for us and we find that provision within the church family.
This is not just about big things and extravagant acts. We can look and think that hospitality means throwing a big meal for lots of people. You may think “I can’t do that” But actually it’s just about being open, giving time, caring offering whatever I can.
- You need to be part of a church because this is where the Holy Spirit works
Sometimes there are extraordinary signs and wonders (v43)–that’s the sense of things here. Things were not always like the Day of Pentecost. However, -the common threat that run throughout the New Testament is that the Holy Spirit was at work in people’s lives.
When we looked at Acts 4 we saw some people praying and the room shook and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. That would have been an amazing experience. However, you don’t always fin rooms shaking and tongues of fire appearing in the New Testament but you still see the holy spirit working. I guess if our building shook every time we prayed it would get a bit concerning for those responsible for the building’s maintenance!
Our experience as a local church is that we ’ve seen people come and their lives get changed. No, it’s not on the front page of any newspaper. No it’s not spectacular and some people miss itt. Butt as people gather around God’s Word and care for each other we see the Holy Spirit doing incredible things.
- You need to be part of a church because we are meant to worship together
Did you see that there is awe (v43), praise (v47) and that they worship (v46)? Now looking at these verses gives us some clues about worship. I can’t help thinking that we often get our understanding of worship wrong because we get our understanding of God and the Church wrong. We use the word worship to mean just those times when we are singing together. We evaluate whether the worship is good or bad by how well we sing, how loud the music is and how emotional people appear. We see worship as something that we create in order to do something. Worship becomes the means by which we seek to come close to God, to get into his presence and somehow to persuade him to act, to speak to us, to do miracles, to love us.
We have got things the wrong way round. God is sovereign, he cannot be manipulated to act by us. He is omnipresent (everywhere) but also he specifically is present with us through the Holy Spirit, we are saved by grace and have been reconciled to God at his initiative. So we do not need to and in any case are unable to do anything g through our singing that will move us nearer to God or earn his favour or push him into action. Rather worship is a response, a heart response of awe, wonder, joy, gratitude and hope as we see God at work.
Some of you will move away from here to University or due to economic circumstances. If and when you do, get properly involved in a local church –not as a consumer but as a member.
Some of you –are going to be here for a long time yet. So I would encourage you to get involved. Join in, become a member, belong. No, your local church will not be perfect, yes, there are things you will see that can be improved. But in the end we are not consumers, we are family members
Remember that you are not joining or belonging to a church in order to become Christians. You join a church because you are Christians.